Maren Wellenreuther works for the Lund University Post-Doctoral Association. She is originally from Germany but has also found time to conduct research in countries including Australia and New Zeeland.
Foreign postdocs:

Smart recruitment instead of stipends


Instead of recruiting as many postdocs as possible, Lund University is trying to recruit them as smartly as possible. This is one of the results of an initiative to introduce stricter regulations on stipend funding.

“At Lund University we generally try to avoid stipends. Instead we focus on employing postdoc candidates where possible,” says Cecilia Agrell, Personnel Development Officer at Lund University.

There have been number of changes in the funding of postdoctoral students at Lund University. These changes were the result of problems that existed previously.

“It is vital that everyone has the same rights and obligations. There are clear-cut directives. All postdocs who are funded by a stipend, for example, must be entered into our register.”

Help from Humans Resources

The requirement that all postdocs need to be registered means that the HR department is automatically engaged in the process.

“By handling the employment process judiciously, you can avoid quite a few problems. We have certified HR personnel who can assist us by asking the right questions in order to determine whether the candidate has the right qualifications,” says Cecilia Agrell.

Sub-standard recruitment is often the cause of problems that arise at a later stage. But while we need to have a clearer set of rules, postdocs also need to understand that they are responsible for staying informed and for expressing their demands, she says.

“Our job is not to hold the hands of postdocs, but to ensure they know where to find the information about the rules that apply.”

Limited influence

Swedish universities depend on external funding providers and foundations. The universities themselves have little influence over it and many funders would prefer to see five stipend positions being advertised rather than two employment vacancies, says Cecilia Agrell.

In Cecilia Agrell’s view, stipends are acceptable in one case only – for exchange programmes with developing countries over a shorter period.

“Sweden’s research environments will then assume the role of a kind of foreign aid provider. Removing this option will have an adverse impact on those countries and their development.”

Recruit young researchers who will stay put

Maren Wellenreuther works for the Lund University Post-Doctoral Association and is putting together a team of researchers with assistance from a Swedish Research Council grant for young researchers. She is originally from Germany but has also found time to conduct research in countries including Australia and New Zeeland.

Now she and her family are staying put in Sweden for the time being. In her view, Swedish universities would benefit by recruiting capable young researchers who are prepared to stay put.

“The way things are today, postdocs are generally expected to stay no longer than two years. But it is precisely at this level that Sweden has the best chance of recruiting capable young researchers. Later in their careers, it becomes harder to compete with countries such as the USA which can offer salaries and resources that are in a whole different league,” she says.

Stipends a last resort

Maren Wellenreuther confirms that Lund University is actively against stipends. In those few cases when stipends are used, they are extended by at least one year at a time. And if the funding comes from an external source, the money goes straight to the scholar, bypassing the university on the way.

“Sometimes a stipend is the best solution to a bad situation – for bridging a period between two jobs, for example. The academic system can be quite brutal, and sometimes these options are necessary just to enable researchers to get by,” she says.

Read this article in Swedish:

Smart rekrytering istället för stipendier

Text: Natalie von der Lehr
Photo: Charlotte Carlberg Bärg

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