Long Live the Northland!
Scandinavia's life science community is on the rise, as reflected in The Scientist's 2006 Best Places for Postdocs survey. Three research institutions in the region ranked in the top 15 this year, and postdocs from around the globe are immigrating there to take advantage of the stimulating research environment.
That environment is characterized by a non-hierarchical structure, and postdocs there feel they have the freedom to take their own initiative. "We work in teams," says third-ranked University of Bergen (Norway) postdoc Abdullah Madhun. "If you have a good idea, it doesn't matter if you are a professor or a postdoc." Madhun, a microbiologist working with influenza response, left Palestine in 1994. He completed his Master's degree and PhD in Norway and has been a postdoc there for three years.
Postdoc Caroline Heckman from Stanford, Calif., was drawn to 13th-ranked University of Helsinki by the Molecular and Cancer Biology Research Program, in which she now works. "This well-known group is one of the reasons I came here two years ago," she says. "The facilities are excellent and very up to date." Those facilities include the Biomedicum Helsinki: Completed in 2001, it now houses over 1200 active biomedical researchers.
Sixth-ranked Umeå Plant Science Center, home to 170 experimental plant biologists, attracted Tatjana Kleine from Marburg, Germany. "We are many researchers gathered in the same center, and this creates a rich environment for me as a postdoc," says Kleine, whose research focuses on chloroplast communication.
All three postdocs agree that some obvious hurdles have been easy to clear. Language barriers aren't a problem, since almost everyone in Scandinavia speaks English. On-campus saunas alleviate the harshness of the long winters (Heckman has one next to her office). And, the bright summers are good for outdoor sports: "I spend as much time as I can hiking and skiing in the mountains surrounding Bergen," Madhun says.