FORSKARBLOGG: GÖRAN KARLSSON
In November 2012 I decided to start applying for independent grants to form my own research group. In October 2014 I hired my first PhD student and was appointed Ragnar Söderberg Fellow in Medicine. The 2.5 years that have passed since I wrote down the first draft of my research program has been a roller coaster ride of emotions that I certainly was not prepared for.
1. Anticipation; I did my postdoctoral training at UCL Cancer Institute in London. Working in central London sure has its advantages; walking distance to the theaters of the West End, equally close to shopping in Covent Garden and Oxford street as well as the art and history of the British Museum. Not that I really experienced any of these things. I was working, and more importantly I was working in the fifth best university in the world. An inspiring scientific environment that has hosted no less than 32 Nobel laureates. A place where the sky’s the limit and ideas flourish. Writing my first grant application was easy. I just opened the dams of ideas and hypothesis that I had built up during years of research training and let them flush out on a piece of word document. I wrote night and day for a week and was quite satisfied. It was 10 pages of brilliance, together with a CV that included everything I thought a reviewer wanted. I moved back to Lund, bought a house and just waited for the money to roll in.
2. Desperation; Almost a year later I had been served humble pie by grant reviewers and evaluation committees six times! Apparently my kind grew on trees and my ideas were not at all spectacular enough, but at least maybe feasible. I rewrote the program, I designed new projects, I got new preliminary data, and desperation kicked in. What do I do when my return support from the research council expires? How much is the house worth?
During this time I was offered several new postdoc positions. I turned all of them down. It was all or nothing and I started to seriously evaluate my plan B:s.
3. Joy; Suddenly it all changed. It started with a couple of bigger project grants. Very appreciated but they could not pay my salary. Then an e-mail in the mailbox. Just one sentence from the Swedish Society of Medical Research and suddenly my career was saved…for now. And others followed. I was invited to the Ragnar Söderberg Foundation for an interview. The decision would be released only two weeks later via a countdown timer on the foundations homepage - Ragnar Söderberg Style. All candidates had recorded a short movie during their interview and when the clock reached 00:00, the movies of the new fellows in Medicine were released on the homepage. The moment of truth. My movie was the forth.
4. Anxiety; Now I am sitting in a brand new lab with a group of six people. We are currently running seven projects. Everyone who has done scientific research knows how difficult it is. Experiments often technically just don’t work or your hypothesis might be wrong or you have asked the wrong question. A research project is a slow process paved with failures. As a student or postdoc I had one or two projects to worry about. Now there are seven. Insomnia.
5. Gratitude; My job is to perform cutting-edge research with the goal to cure leukemia. I have the funding, the people and the ideas to do it. Truly inspiring. We will work hard and it will be difficult at times but we will be persistent, have fun, and make sure to celebrate our success.
Here we go!