SELECTION OF DEAN. Strengthen collegial governance, seek to resolve differences between different parts of the faculty, increase external funding, for example, by establishing centers and through fundraising, and defend the autonomy of the departments. These are important goals on Agneta Holmäng’s agenda if she becomes Sahlgrenska Academy’s next dean. She also wants to elevate the Academy’s standing within the university and at the national level.
For eleven years, Agneta Holmäng has been head of the Department of Neuroscience and Physiology, a department that is as large as the university’s smaller faculties.
“I have really enjoyed being head of the department, and I am pleased that it has grown so much in the last decade,” says Agneta Holmäng.
Diversity is a strength
She sees many similarities between her own department and Sahlgrenska Academy as a whole. Like the faculty, her department is wide ranging, with clinical disciplines (such as neurology), preclinical (such as physiology), laboratory medicine (such as neurochemistry) and other health sciences (such as physiotherapy and speech therapy).
“Sometimes I hear it called ‘the sprawling institution’, but this should be seen as a strength for us and for the Academy as a whole. Thanks to our breadth, within our department we have been able to establish successful interdisciplinary and translational collaborations,” says Holmäng.
Unfortunately, there are some disagreements within Sahlgrenska Academy, which Holmäng views as unnecessary and which she believes can be overcome by increased awareness of the different conditions prevailing in different areas. She also thinks that there are too few meeting points where researchers from the faculty’s various parts can meet and interact.
“We must help each other to meet the fierce competition we are seeing from, for example, Karolinska Institutet. And one of our main missions is to convince politicians and research funders to understand that, with many highly trained researchers from a wide range of health professions and with close proximity to one of Europe’s largest hospitals, we have a unique opportunity to conduct first class medical and health science research.
“I want to see a strong faculty with a good work environment where all staff and students feel proud and happy to be associated with Sahlgrenska Academy. I want to rejuvenate collegial governance by activating our peer-appointed council and other means. And I want to increase the pro-dean’s and assistant dean’s influence,” she says. “But we need to also remember that the administration does not have the last word when it comes to important issues. The Academy Board is the executive body. At the same time, it is important for departments to maintain their independence and that they can work based on stable budgetary conditions.
More lobbying and fundraising
As department head, she has refrained from trying to steer research from above and has delegated much of the decision-making power over faculty allocations to the sections. Instead, she has spent much of her time trying to increase resources for the Academy’s work, including through close collaboration with the hospital and through contacts with private donors.
“Sahlgrenska Academy risks diminished scientific competitiveness, which is largely because we, with some pleasant exceptions, have not been the focus of the special efforts made by the State at several other universities,” says Agneta Holmäng.
She says that this can partly explain our decrease in grants from the Swedish Research Council: “We need to be more visible nationally and improve our lobbying! The next dean has to prioritize making Sahlgrenska Academy’s research visible to politicians and research funders, including by participating on research councils and foundations to create an extensive national and international network.
The importance of private donations should not be underestimated. For her own department, private donations have had a significant impact, including donations for AgeCap and the Gillberg Neuropsychiatry Centre (GNC). The Sten A. Olsson Foundation for Research and Culture has recently announced that it plans to endow a new center for spinal cord injury research and finance two visiting professorships in the areas of diabetes and rehabilitation.
“Through my contacts in the private sector, I know that there is a large and untapped interest in participating in the kind of fundraising that has worked very well for Karolinska Institutet and that could also be very important for Sahlgrenska Academy,” says Agneta Holmäng. “Here, our department had the great benefit of our focus on establishing centers, which are often appealing for private donors.
More mid-level positions
If she becomes dean, Agneta Holmäng wants to work with department heads to increase external recruitment and to make it more attractive for our best researchers to stay at Sahlgrenska Academy.
“But it is equally important to support the many talented young researchers within the faculty. We need to create more competitive, open mid-level positions that can be applied for, such as research associate positions,” says Agneta Holmäng, who also wants to work with Future Faculty to implement reforms that promote the careers of talented young researchers.
“I also believe that it benefits our organization to attract successful guest professors who can introduce techniques and know-how, generate grants and assist us with master programs and graduate courses. Our department has almost 40 percent of the faculty’s guest professorships, and we have had very good experience with this.
Agneta Holmäng is concerned about the Academy’s future methodological expertise, and she argues that lab technicians and medical technologists are an important resource that are declining at an alarming rate. The faculty needs to build more methodological infrastructure, both infrastructure that we need locally and so that we can serve as a national resource,” she says. She also highlights our core facilities as an important asset.
The Department of Neuroscience and Physiology has worked for all teaching posts to include both teaching and research, to support those environments that are naturally complete, i.e. that include both research and teaching. Researchers benefit from this through the wide-ranging knowledge they acquire as teachers, and instruction also benefits from prominent researchers lecturing.
It is also important that all the younger staff in the faculty have the teaching assignments they need to qualify for teaching positions, which, among other things, can be done by arranging master programs within broad Academy-wide areas.
“To increase the quality of our teaching and be able to attract the best students, we must also modernize and gradually reform our academic programs, for example, with digital technology and student-activating methodology. Internationalization should also be strengthened, since student opportunities for travel influence their choice of higher education institute and their interest to continuing to research after their studies,” says Agneta Holmäng. She does, however, note that the program and subject representatives on the Education Council (UR) have ultimate responsibility for these questions.
A stronger voice within the university
Agneta Holmäng feels that the good cooperation with SU and Västra Götalandsregionen (VGR) is one of the Academy’s greatest strengths. She had a very good collaboration with the head of Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Ann-Marie Wennberg, when she was area manager. Together, they had many joint initiatives to strengthen clinical research.
“The proximity between the Academy and the hospital makes us unique and this creates a competitive advantage that we have to leverage. The cooperation between our organizations works well, but could be even better. This is especially important now, when ALF funding will be subject to competition at the national level. And another important common challenge for healthcare and academia is getting more young colleagues within healthcare to want to conduct research. Renewal is a big concern.
The proximity to Chalmers is also an asset we should make better use of:
“If we compare with the Karolinska Institutet, they do not have much collaboration with KTH. A deeper cooperation with Chalmers can provide us with competitive advantages in many areas and increase our chances of both fundraising and attracting other external funding.
Holmäng also wants to strengthen the Academy’s position within the university. “The faculty is responsible for more than 40 percent of the university’s budget, and this should be more visible at the University level. We have not been able to fully defend our interests in GU. Despite our size, we have just one vote on the University Management Council, and we should have greater influence, for example, on the large central initiatives conducted within the university.”
She also wants to see a review of the university-wide e-systems, so that they become easier to work in.
“This is important, especially for our administrators. We also need to minimize unnecessary and time-consuming reporting,” says Agneta Holmäng.
Despite her extensive obligations as prefect, she is also active as a researcher and leads a group that works with gestational diabetes. If she is not chosen as the next dean, she would like to continue being involved in research, but expects to have to take a step back:
“I have a well-functioning and autonomous research group. I also have a very good postdoc who will be able to step up if I become dean. But I love writing articles, so I would never drop research entirely.”
What does Sahlgrenska Academy look like in six years, with Agneta Holmäng as dean? By then, the faculty will have strengthened its collegial governance, improved its finances through effective fundraising, reversed the negative curve in terms Research Council grants, set up a large number of mid-level positions for local and recruited researchers, strengthening its voice within the university and nationally, increased the number of applications to its undergraduate programs and convinced more students to focus on research.
Selection of experience
- 2003-2005: Member: Department Board for the Department of Emergency and Cardiovascular Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Gothenburg
- 2006-2014: Chairperson: Sports Scientific Council for Medicine (currently board member)
- 2006-2015: Board member: Swedish Brain Power
- 2004-2006: Chairperson: Associate Professorship Committee, Sahlgrenska Academy
- Since 2007: Member: Sten A. Olsson Foundation Travel Scholarship Committee
- 2009: Accepted to the National Board Program initiated by the Ministry of Industry: Styrelsekraft.
- 2009-2011: Chairperson: Food & Health Concept Centre (FHCC) (board member 2007-2008)
- Since 2012: Member: The steering committee for the Centre for Sport Science, GU
- 2010-2013: Chairperson: Review board, Norwegian Research Council
- Since 2015: Board member: Swedish Society for Medical Research (SSMF)
- Since 2015: Chairperson: Review board, SSMF
- Conducted evaluations for research councils and foundations in Norway, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Austria, Australia, Iceland, Qatar and Italy.
- Been a member of the assessment group for the Swedish Research Council. Assessed ALF applications in Lund and Umeå.
- Agneta Holmäng’s Swedish Research Council-supported research, which is both clinical and experimental, examines obesity and gestational diabetes. She has been a supervisor or co-supervisor for a large number of graduate students and postdocs (>25).
PHOTOGRAPHS: ELIN LINDSTRÖM CLAESSEN AND JOHAN WINGBORG