Midsummer is Sweden’s biggest festival. Midsummer literally means the middle day of summer i.e. the longest day of summer. Considering the dark and cold winters, the warm and long sunny day of Midsummer or Midsommar as the Swedish people call it, is very special to everyone. The temperatures go all the way up to 25 degrees and it is bright throughout the 24 hours of the day. The sun sets at around 11 pm and rises at 3:30am.
According to the Swedish tradition, people come together to do the traditional dance around the May pole. The dance steps represent various household activities such as grinding, and winnowing, as well as some of mimics some of the domestic and commonly found animals such as frogs and rabbit. However, this year due to restrictions put in place due to covid-19, we classmates decided to do a small picnic near the lake and try some traditional Swedish food eaten on this day.
In the evening we went to the Lappis beach and made a bonfire and tried the midsummer tradition of snaps. Snaps are shots of strong alcoholic beverage that are taken along with meal. However, today people have them at the end of the meal to celebrate and toast to various things. We made a toast to our graduation!! Finally we stayed up all night to enjoy the midnight sun and see the sunrise in the following few hours. Another midsummer tradition is to go take a dip into the water, since we were at the beach we tried that as well, to some extent at least (haha).
Midsummer is filled with Swedish traditions and I strongly recommend everyone staying in Sweden to experience this culture.
The MTLS students have the freedom to do our masters thesis in any lab around the world.
Generally, the thesis is 5 months long, officially starting in January to the first week of June where we defend our work. As a thesis student, we are expected to submit a thesis draft to an expert examiner i.e. Principal Investigator in the related field and an opponent (fellow classmate). They provide feedback on the thesis which is incorporated in the final draft along with the comments from the thesis defense presentation.
The thesis defense is a 20 minute presentation followed by 10 minutes of Q&A session. The thesis defense is mainly attended by fellow classmates. However, it is a public defense which means anyone can attend it. This year given the pandemic, I was able to make the full use of the fact that the defense was public as I had invited my lab and neighbouring labs, lab from Cambridge as well as some other colleagues from academia.
Which institute am I officially registered during my thesis?
Students are officially registered either at Karolinska Institute or Stockholm University depending on the topic of thesis. For instance, the students performing experimental/clinical work are registered at Karolinska Institute, whereas computational/dry lab related thesis are registered at Stockholm University. For example, I am registered at Stockholm University, since my project is related to RNA and small RNA sequencing. Although I generated the experimental data my main work was related to do custom sequence data analysis, which is why I was registered at SU. It is important to note that the registration does not affect the final degree or grade in any manner. This is simply done as a part of formality, which means that the everything right from submitting the project proposal to evaluation is done in parallel for students registered at SU or KI. MTLS students are not officially registered at KTH.
Importantly, irrespective of the registration status, MTLS students have access to library and other facilities of all universities until the end of masters.
Can I extend my thesis?
One of the most common question is “Can I extend my thesis?”. The answer is no. According to the policy at Karolinska Institute and Stockholm University, we are not allowed to extend our thesis beyond the final date. Any submission after this is considered as late submission and leads to reduction in the grade. However, this year given the pandemic and difficult situations we were given a few options to extend our thesis.
The thesis for the MTLS masters is 1 semester long. This is the standard length of thesis in Swedish universities and institutes. One of the big advantage of MTLS joint programme is that being part of three institutes, one is already exposed to researchers from various labs from the 3 institutes as well as SciLife Lab within the duration of the programme through lectures and seminars. Thus, one can start planning and approaching faculties very early during the masters for a thesis position. And of course, you are free to apply to any other lab anywhere in the world!!
When to look for a lab for masters thesis?
I strongly recommend to start looking for labs as early as possible, because although there are many labs, it still becomes quite challenging to get a position in the lab of your choice, since there are many students applying for the same positions. Many positions in well known labs are filled 6 months or a year in advance.
How to approach?
The best way to approach is by writing an email with a cover letter and CV. It is always better to have a cover letter that is a tailored towards the lab and how your research experience so far is linked to the work done in the lab. However, if you have not had any research experience in the field then you can always link it to the courses you had in your masters and say how you would like to explore the field a bit more.
What if I don’t get any position?
As mentioned before, getting a masters thesis project of choice can be difficult. Luckily, the project course during the 2nd period of KTH semester can be very helpful. Before the beginning of the course, students are given two options 1) to approach a lab of interest and propose a project yourself 2) select a project from the list of projects proposed by different labs that are interested and willing to take students for this course. If you haven’t been able to find a lab or if you are confused about the field you want to go in, this is one of the last chance to try something new. Some of my classmates who selected the 2nd option are now continuing their thesis projects in the same lab!
Moving to a new country is very exciting but also comes with a lot of responsibility and new information. For students outside from EU, moving to Sweden, this information change is even big. Not just because the services have different contact details but also because many of the services have a different unfamiliar systems of working.
Emergency services numbers are not something that everyone thinks about when first moving to a new place. However, it is one of the most important aspect to maintain personal safety. As an international students moving to Sweden, I definitely and boldly say that Sweden is a very safe place for people of all gender and ethnicity. One can roam around the city at 2 am and take the last metro going back home all by oneself without a slightest doubt and worry.
However, just like any other country in the world even Sweden has some cases of crimes that are reported. Which is why I am writing this blog. Let’s hope you don’t ever have the need to actually use this. However, it is always useful to know things.
How to report a crime?
If you are a victim or if you have seen a crime take place, then you can report the crime. As a responsible resident, as well as for personal rights and protection it is advisable to make an official report with the police, describing the incident. It is equally important to report to the police if you have lost an identity document such as passport or national ID. Further information on types of crime, etc. can be found on the official police website. (Do not worry they have an english version too!)
There are three main ways to make a police report: call the police, make a report online, and the conventional way is to go to a police station in person. The easiest and most convenient is to call the police on their helpline. It is important to note that the emergency helpline (112) is different from the one used to report crimes.
To make a police report by call:
Dial 11414 (inside Sweden), +46 77 114 14 00 (if calling from abroad) – it is open 24*7
You are connected to an answering machine, which asks you if you wish to communicate in English or Swedish and to press appropriate numbers for the language of choice.
After which you are connected to an operator who asks you about the type of crime you wish to report. Based on that you are further connected to a police official from that particular department
The police officer asks you questions about the crime’s date, place, time and to describe the incident. Further, you are asked a few yes or no questions.
Lastly, you have to give your personal number to connect it with you. This enables them to send a hard copy of the report to your mail address. The hard copy arrives within 10 working days, in the meanwhile you can ask for your case number on the call
It is important to keep this police report with you, as it can be used for various services
For example – In case of frauds, an official proof (police report) is a must for internal investigations in many private companies
Further, you can use this police report to block your personal number to protect you against frauds on a long term basis. (Read more on identity fraud here)
Although Sweden is not under complete lockdown, the government and the FHM (Swedish public healthcare agency) has issued recommendations. One of the recommendation is to work from home as much as possible, thus avoiding the use of public transport and reducing the possibility of spread.
Since, MTLS programme has a large part focused on computational analysis, most of the master’s thesis projects are either partly or completely computational. However, the computational component allows us to work from home as advised by the FHM as well as many of our supervisors.
However, working from home while seems to be relaxing initially but can pose multiple challenges when implemented for a longer time period. For example, difficulty separating work from the daily routine, further the setting at home is not always suitable for work.
Here, I have given some tips that me and many of my friends implement to improve the efficiency and productivity of working from home, while taking good care of mental health.
Follow a fixed daily schedule that includes all the activities of the day
Spend fixed time for work, equivalent to what you would spend on a normal working day (this avoids over-exerting yourself)
Dress comfortable but properly so you feel positive about working rather than feeling sleepy and lazy in sweatpants
Use proper ergonomic set up (table and chair while working on computer), instead of sitting on couch
Have a fixed place for work in your house, and use that only for work related things and nothing else (thus physically separating work)
Communicate well about your progress with your team mates in regular meetings.
Given the pandemic many companies are taking steps to improve convenience of their employees, so if you are facing any problems/situations then discuss them with the team leader or HR (helps manage your as well as your employers expectations)
Apart from these, here are some other tips that complements the above list and help maintain the work-life balance even during the times of pandemic.
Spend at least an hour to go outside for a walk or a run everyday (this can be increased on the weekends)
Talk to friends and family to get some social contact especially if you live alone
Follow fixed schedule for food and often treat yourself with comfort food