Back to work at the Advanced Light Source

The holidays are over and 2019 begins – I hope it’ll be a year that brings implementation of the compromises made in Katowice. For me, the coming year brings more work over at the Advanced Light Source (ALS) synchrotron in Berkeley including standard compound measurements, updating sample stage capabilities at the beamline, and applications for beam time for the autumn season. Going to and from work, there are some famous landmarks to look at from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory site up the hills from Berkeley as shown in the image below.

View from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory towards the Bay area. Silhouette of San Francisco is visible to the left of centre, the small island of Alcatraz with Golden Gate bridge behind it is off to its right. The Campanile (bell tower) at the bottom centre is the Sather tower located in University of California, Berkeley campus.

As I was with my family during the holidays and showed some pictures like the one above, I was asked how it is to work abroad as a research scholar. So far, it’s amazing how the common scientific language enables conversation on complex issues. Compared to my earlier stay in Wien, Austria, the work over here in USA provide an added level of complexity through the time zone differences. It hasn’t been uncommon to start with phone meetings during European office hours from around 2-3 in the morning and then continue my work day until I go home from ALS at about 18-19 in the evening. I’m not typically a morning person so this has been a bit of change, fortunately my roommates didn’t complain about early morning discussions.

Other than such things that mostly concern personal situation, I’ve seen significant differences in matters that determine your day-to-day work between the countries, but also between Swedish universities. Seemingly mundane things like purchasing a small piece of equipment isn’t a pain for the individual researcher in Austria or the US in my experience. By comparison, the Swedish system of procurement of seemingly cheap equipment that is required for studies in natural sciences or technology probably does hamper scientific progress in Sweden.

There are other examples, but since I’m looking at equipment upgrades here at ALS has become so clear that the focus here is placed on how science could best benefit from whatever is purchased – not whether a disgruntled manufacturer could challenge the process. The contrasting sluggishness in Sweden is obvious where procedure is seemingly regarded more important than science, and this comes at a huge cost. Staff from all levels are putting in hours to create procurement documents, there is a lack of progress in projects with deadlines that are in need of the equipment, and in the worst cases post-docs or guest researchers are not able to acquire data they need for publication before they have to leave their position. As a researcher who relies heavily on experimental and analytical equipment, I sincerely hope that the scientific outcome will be prioritized in Sweden as well in the future.

This is one of the lessons I’ve learned so far while working abroad, that there should always be room to reflect on whether a procedure benefits the goals or not. With these words, I wish you a great 2019!

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