A walk for life and science

2020-11-18

Column by Ulrikke Voss, lecturer at University of Oslo, about her walk from Ystad to Abisko and the 28 scientists she met on the way.

In late 2019 I had reached my limit, after years of pursuing an academic career at Lund University, I let go. I needed to regain my footing, no, I needed to reimagine my life and science. I had stayed in academia for 6 years after my PhD, publishing papers, teaching students, engaging with society and in science policy.

I had advocated for young scientists in local networks and the National Junior Faculty of Sweden. I had done what I could but never had the luck or maybe the political skill to succeed. Running out of funding and realizing that I had forgotten why I was in academia in the first place helped letting go. But how do you reimagine your life or science when you are exhausted?

I had forgotten why I was in academia in the first place

For me the solution was to get out on an adventure with my husband a hike from Ystad in the south, to Abisko in the north about 3000km. Along the way I would interview scientist and let their stories inspire me. We left Lund early in the morning on February 2nd with packs weighing in at 21kg, boots barely broken in and were not to be back until 138 days later.

Social media has never been my strong suit but with a desire to break old habits and share the journey I lined up accounts on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, a website and a YouTube channel. Why jump when you can leap! In hindsight this line-up may have been a little over the top.

But my blog got to be a place where I processed my experiences. LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook were the places where I wrote about the kindness and generosity we met everywhere. Twitter and YouTube the communication channels for the #walkntalk project.

The idea of the #walkntalk project was my way of finding a scientific purpose with the trip.

When we left we didn’t imagine that our hike would be in the shadow of a pandemic, that the way of life would change as we changed ours. In mid-March infection numbers were on the rise and neighboring countries were locking down. We could have returned home but decided to continue north, complete the adventure and my project.

The idea of the #walkntalk project was my way of finding a scientific purpose with the trip. Through my engagements with Future Faculty and Women in Great Sciences at Lund University as well as the National Junior Faculty of Sweden I have had the privilege and joy to meet scientist from different disciplines and universities. Extending this into a walk and talk video series was natural step.

Before we left I worried that it would be difficult to find scientists interested in participating. But even during the height of the pandemic in the spring, scientists from all disciplines lined up supporting the project. While some were contacts from my network most were found looking at university websites allowing my curiosity to guide me.

…even during the height of the pandemic in the spring, scientists from all disciplines lined up supporting the project.

The project ended up including 28 interviews spanning the humanities, arts, natural and social sciences, business, agriculture, engineering and medicine. Reminding me of the wealth of ideas that can be explored and that there is no one path to follow in our scientific life.

At some point I may put my scientific hat on and analyze the interviews looking for common traits or drivers. But for now, as I dive back into academia following my own path, I will enjoy the many memories. Including knowing there are stars in the Milky Way that didn’t originate there, that Heathcliff in Wuthering heights was an imp of Satan and that the Aspen tree in Umeå turn it’s leaves on the 10th of September.

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  • Sofie Singbrant Söderberg

    Thank you Ulrikke for your interesting and inspiring Walk n Talk series! It has been a pleasure to follow your journey.

    2020.11.19

  • Katharina Herzog

    It has been a pleasure following your path on the social media accounts, and it's so great to see a summary of your journey here, highlighting your 'scientific project' with the Walk'n'talks throughout Sweden!
    Such a great story - thank you for sharing it with us!

    2020.11.19

  • Christopher Grant

    Fantastic column! I admit I’m left wondering, will there be more? When perusing through the individual tweets, articles and of course walk-n-talk videos it seems like there’s so much potential for more, to keep going. I for one would enjoy that.
    But maybe I’m being self-serving? ;)

    2020.11.20

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