APPOINTMENT. Martin Lagging, Professor of Clinical Virology, has been appointed the new Vice Dean for Third Cycle (PhD) Studies (also known as doctoral studies or research education). His position commences on 1 November, and he has already started familiarizing himself with current issues on the agenda for the Council for Third Cycle (PhD) Studies (Rådet för utbildning på forskarnivå, FUR).
“Sahlgrenska Academy’s research education is outstanding, and several surveys have shown that people who obtain their PhD degrees at our academy usually continue to thrive. But of course, as always, there is potential for improvement,” Martin Lagging says.
Having just recently received news of his appointment as Vice Dean, he will now take time to immerse himself in topical matters, including the results from the Research Evaluation for Development 2019 (RED19).
“It is a comprehensive survey that will require considerable time for the whole faculty, at all levels, to evaluate. It also provides constructive suggestions on how to improve our third-cycle studies. I want to carefully study these viewpoints so that I and my colleagues in FUR can jointly consider the best way to move forward.”
Interesting and important
For Martin, the Vice Dean’s remit is part of the democratic organization that characterizes the faculty: proposals are first discussed and reviewed in working groups, committees and councils, whereupon decisions are made jointly and pragmatically.
hope I can suggest improvements for undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD students, as well as for teachers and supervisors. I also wish to promote development of PhD studies at Sahlgrenska Academy. I am aware and grateful that my predecessors, Anna Karlsson-Bengtsson and Kristoffer Hellstrand, previously have done excellent work along these lines.”
Former external doctoral student
One of the suggested improvements identified in RED19 — and that FUR will now discuss, along with the remaining Faculty — is to upgrade third-cycle studies for PhD students with external positions, i.e. primarily those employed by the Region Västra Götaland.
Martin points out that he himself once had a similar external doctoral position, and that conditions have markedly improved since then. A pivotal reason for this was the hospital management’s decision that healthcare employees must be guaranteed time for research. Another example of how life has improved for clinical PhD students is the establishment of positions under the “ALF Agreement” (Avtalet mellan landstinget och staten om samarbete om Läkarutbildning och Forskning, i.e. the Agreement on Government Compensation to County Councils for Costs Arising from Research and Education) for several categories of hospital employees.
“Doctors’ training, on which the ALF Agreement is based, would not be possible without the participation of many other healthcare employees. I want to work towards enabling a higher proportion of professionally qualified hospital staff in the Västra Götaland Region to embark on, and complete, PhD studies. Another of my aspirations is to attempt to level the terms and conditions of research for these various staff categories, thus puting them on a more equal footing. It is encouraging to note that two of the four ALF cooperation groups, Medi-SAM and Hälso-SAM (for medical and general health issues respectively), have recently taken key steps in this direction.”
Martin also thinks it is vital to remember that excellent PhD studies also are provided at our preclinical departments.
“Clinical research and basic research complement each other. I want to work towards enabling more physicians to obtain PhDs in preclinical subjects, as it is essential for more teachers with medical training to become involved in basic medical education for doctors as well as for other healthcare professionals. This also applies to other training and study programs within the healthcare sector.”
Four years in FUR
Martin Lagging attended medical school at the Karolinska Institute and obtained his PhD degree in Gothenburg in 2002, with a thesis on the hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. He has been the principal supervisor for two doctoral projects and assistant supervisor for three, and is currently the principal supervisor for an additional two doctoral students and assistant supervisor for a further two. He has held a six-year research position funded by the Swedish Research Council and was appointed Professor of Clinical Virology in 2014, combined with a post as senior consultant physician at Sahlgrenska University Hospital. Recently, his research focus has partially shifted from HCV towards another flavivirus, tick-borne encephalitis (TBE). Until last year, he was one of two directors of studies at Sahlgrenska Academy’s Institute of Biomedicine, and at the time he was also a member of the Council for Third-Cycle (PhD) Studies (FUR) for four years.
“During my time as director of studies, I gained experience in dealing with the problems that unfortunately sometimes may arise between supervisors and PhD students. I want to work towards minimizing the risk of such conflicts arising,” Martin says.
Antidiscrimination efforts a priority
One of the tasks that Martin will prioritize is a continuation of the questionnaire survey on doctoral students’ work environment that was conducted by the Doctoral Student Council (DoR) with support from FUR. He wants to explore whether additional investigations can further evaluate the findings provided by the survey. For example, it was noted that a considerably larger proportion of the international students — 20 percent — felt that they had been discriminated, as compared with PhD students with a Swedish background (7 percent). Unfortunately, however, the response rate in the survey was low.
“Not a single PhD student should need to feel discriminated. Obviously, we must examine this more closely,” Martin Lagging states emphatically.
TEXT AND PHOTO: ELIN LINDSTRÖM