Fredrik continued his career in academia as a Researcher in the UK
Fredrik Schaufelberger graduated from the master’s programme in Molecular Science and Engineering in 2012. He now works as a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom.
Hi Fredrik, how is your career going?
For the last two years, I’ve been working as a Postdoctoral Researcher in supramolecular chemistry at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. I am working in Prof. David Leigh’s group as a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow, and at the moment we are researching molecular machines and mechanically interlocked molecules such as molecular knots. It sounds a bit science fictiony when you mention those research topics in your elevator pitch, but in practice it is essentially a fun and exciting fusion of fundamental organic chemistry, nanotechnology and physical chemistry.
What can a regular day look like at your job?
I spend about half of my time in front of a computer and half in the laboratory. When I’m in the lab, I mostly make new molecules for our research projects, mentor and supervise PhD and master’s students, or analyse our molecules using different spectroscopic techniques. Working with molecular machines always means you have to construct the molecules you want to study first, which means you piece together the different molecular fragments bit by bit according to the rules of organic synthesis until you have the molecule you originally envisioned. It is often very interesting (and challenging!) work, and you learn immense amounts of fundamental chemistry while doing it. People often compare what we’re doing to architecture or engineering, in that we’re designing something from known rules and then try to construct the system in the most efficient way possible.
When I’m in my office, I spend a lot of time managing the different projects in our group. This means sitting down with the junior lab members to look at their results together, having meetings with our sub-teams to determine the course of different projects, keeping up with the scientific literature and generating new ideas, as well as taking care of the necessary administration that always comes with doing research. I love the mix of laboratory and office work. The topics we deal with are super inspiring and fun and there is never really a dull moment in our laboratories. The British Friday pub crawls are definitely a big plus as well!
Have you worked with anything else since you graduated?
I have been in academia ever since I graduated from my master’s programme; first staying on to do PhD studies at KTH for four years, then spending a few months teaching courses and giving lectures before moving to my current position in Manchester. However, the PhD studies at KTH were more like a regular job than most other graduate programmes I’ve come across, since you’re given a lot of freedom and independence, and you help out with a lot of the organization, teaching and similar aspects. I’m quite happy with working in academia since it suits my personality well (curiosity-driven, enthusiastic, always interested in new challenges).
Why did you choose this programme at KTH?
I did my bachelor’s studies at KTH and was overall very content with the way the programme was constructed and what I was learning during those three years. Having gotten familiar with the different directions at KTH Chemistry during my BSc, I felt that the content in Molecular Science and Engineering was very much aligned with what I wanted to learn more about and specialize in. Fundamental science has always been close to my heart, and I really liked the different courses that were offered along with all the nice research being done at the School of Chemistry (which made for many really interesting master’s thesis options when it was time to find a subject to write the thesis on).
When I applied to KTH back in 2007, I was admitted to a special language programme where I combined studies in German with the normal degree program, which is a combination I found very interesting. As part of that program, I also spent the better part of my first year of the MSc program in Switzerland at the ETH Zürich for exchange studies, which was a tremendous experience that really gave me new perspectives. Moving to a new country and getting to know a new culture is incredibly rewarding and helpful, and I cannot recommend the experience enough.
Anything you learned at KTH that has been particularly useful in your career?
Compared to every other university I’ve been to, the greatest strength of KTH is the unified perspective the programmes give you. Every KTH graduate gets excellent training in not just the specialized science and engineering, but also in things like scientific presentations, writing, coding, project organization, career management and similar. These aspects of my studies have been incredibly helpful to me over the last few years. Most universities strive to have this type of integrated approach to learning, where you develop soft skills along with the technical knowledge. But I really have to say KTH is leading the field in this one, and employers know that anyone with a KTH degree has received a great deal of training in many different areas.
In terms of specialized knowledge, several of the courses in the master programme had superb small research projects integrated along with the main lecture course. These were absolutely great, as they gave you a chance to learn how to “think about research” before tackling your own first major research projects (in a MSc thesis, internship or similar).
What were the best aspects of your studies at KTH?
The people and the learning environment are absolutely great! So many of the teachers are world experts in their subject, yet they’re incredibly nice, humble and approachable people who generally want you to learn the subject and will go to great lengths to help you with that. The labs – always an important part in chemistry – are top notch and we were able to do some stimulating and enjoyable laboratory courses as part of the studies.
Also, the “tentapubs” (the post-exam celebrations) are always an absolute blast, KTH students really know how to enjoy themselves!
What is your best memory from your time at the universities?
I would’ve like to answer this question with something science-related, but I have to say that getting to know my amazing group of friends was the most important experience for me. Our whole group of friends (about ten people) went through much of the BSc and MSc programmes together and are still extremely close now, almost a decade later. Almost everyone went on to do PhD studies together as well, so in total most of us spent almost ten years together at KTH. In the end, I’ve found that the people you get to know along the way are almost always the most important with anything you do – both for your career and for your life as a whole. I’ve been doing scientific collaborations with several of my best friends for several years now as well, so friendships can also help out in your professional life!
Considering the master’s programmes, I had fantastic experiences during my master’s both in Zürich and Stockholm. For me, it was really the time when I started to piece things together and understand how all the knowledge I had gained during my bachelor’s studies fitted together into a greater whole. I also really loved being able to take courses from both the Biotechnology Institute and the Polymer Department, so there was always something exciting to study.
And, of course, I have to mention sitting on the lawn in the courtyard in the summer months with an ice cream from T-Snabben (the local supermarket), soaking up the sun and recharging in between lectures. Priceless memories!
What’s next for you?
I am staying in England for another year or so, before I hope to be able to move back to Sweden with my fiancée and cat to hopefully start up my own research group. I want to study how molecular machines can interact with living systems.
What would you say to a student thinking of applying for this programme?
Go for it! KTH is an excellent university that will prepare you very well to tackle some of the greatest challenges in our modern society – either in academia or industry. I found my years in the MSc programme very enjoyable in every possible way!