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Published: 03 Dec, 2020

Open climate for groundbreaking research

FEATURE “I really miss the environment at Umeå University.” That’s what Emmanuelle Charpentier said in conjunction with the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her discovery of CRISPR-Cas9. But the Nobel laureate isn’t the only one who believes that the research environment at Umeå University is quite unique. In fact, many others can confirm this

Text: Johanna Fredriksson

“To be honest, I love it. When I first came, I was excited. It was a completely different environment to where I was before in my lab in Russia. It’s more open. It’s much easier to communicate and collaborate. And the facilities are of course great.” 

That’s what Professor Lev Novikov at the Department of Integrative Medical Biology had to say in 2018, when he and some other professors from various parts of Umeå University were asked what they think of the research environment at Umeå University. 

“Open, non-hierarchical and modern”

Professors describe the climate at Umeå University.

Something that many of them mentioned, and that Emmanuelle Charpentier also emphasised at the press conference following the Nobel Prize announcement, was that the hierarchy is seemingly flat at Umeå University.

“What we have in Umeå seems to be a comparatively unique situation of a very flat organisation with no hierarchies that are creating barriers. We have a campus where we have close access to everyone from different disciplines,” says Lotta Vikström, Professor of history at the Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies.

There are no walls and no barriers. That’s what’s so great about Umeå University.

And Martin Fahlström agrees. He is professor at the Department of Clinical Sciences and also expresses his appreciation for geographical closeness. 

“You can walk over and talk to people at other departments. I collaborate with a colleague at the Department of Psychology. I can just get on my bike and head over there. There are no walls and no barriers. That’s what’s so great about Umeå University,” he says. 

There are a lot of areas where we have the opportunity to meet.

Camilla Sandström, Professor at the Department of Political Science, mentions that many people know each other and that creates opportunities for building relationships.

“There are a lot of areas where we have the opportunity to meet,” she says. 

"No high walls"

Professors describe the climate at Umeå University.

Umeå University is a comprehensive university covering research and education in several disciplines. Promoting knowledge exchange and cooperation across fields and faculties is something Umeå University works actively towards.

“We believe that a dynamic and open culture lays the foundation for research and education of the highest quality,” says Hans Adolfsson, Vice-Chancellor of Umeå University, and continues: 

“Having a cohesive campus where everything is close by fosters a feeling of participation and promotes scientific and educational meetings, which in turn contributes to an open culture in which we dare to take risks and in which we celebrate the success of others.” 

High international presence

The geographical closeness is one thing, but at the same time there is a vast geographical spread if one looks at researchers’ countries of origin.

And vast international influence is something Mikko Lammi, Professor at the Department of Integrative Medical Biology emphasises as a factor for success when it comes to the research climate at Umeå University.

“Compared to Finland, there are more international people here,” he says. 

It’s strong because it’s collaborative and because there are very good, well-supported and well-managed facilities.

Oliver Billker is a professor at the Department of Molecular Biology and director of the Molecular Infection Medicine Sweden (MIMS) where Emmanuelle Charpentier worked when she discovered CRISPR-Cas9. He also wishes to mention the international atmosphere which he finds is one of the reasons behind the successful molecular biology research at Umeå University. 

“The environment is very strong in molecular biology. And it’s strong because it’s collaborative and because there are very good, well-supported and well-managed facilities, and a very broad and international outlook,” he says.

Model to attract

MIMS has a particular recruitment model based on a model that the Nordic EMBL Partnership for Molecular Medicine has developed. The purpose is to reach and attract young international researchers by setting up good conditions. 

Successful research at MIMS

Bernt Eric Uhlin, senior professor of medical microbiology, describes MIMS.

Emmanuelle Charpentier knew about the EMBL model before she joined MIMS. She praises it and says it was a good reason why her attention fell on Umeå to start off with. But what interested her even more were the infrastructures at Umeå University. 

“I know a lot of people who have spent time at some point either at Umeå University or at other places and they’re always impressed by the quality of the infrastructure. There is an ability to form an environment with social rooms where people meet and can really find exchanges,” she said in conjunction with Umeå University’s digital celebration after the announcement of the Nobel Prize. 

She also wants to emphasise the international atmosphere and the flat organisation.

“There’s an opportunity for the students to feel recognised, and they can speak to anyone in the corridors, even a professor. This is something I think is very nice.” 

What is the Umu Spirit?

At Umeå University, there is a concept called the Umu spirit – "Umu-andan". Employees and students tell what it is.