Experiences from an international postdoc
Name: Cris Edmonds-Wathen
In 2014, Cris moved from Australia to Sweden, for a two-year postdoc position in mathematics education at Umeå Mathematics Education Research Centre (UMERC). Here she shares her experiences of that period.
Why did you apply for a postdoc at Umeå university?
The description of the postdoc was really interesting to me: it was a great opportunity to work on topics I was curious about, and to work with other people on those topics. I had started work after my PhD as a lecturer in my home town, and I also thought it would be good to get some research experience in another environment.
What were your expectations, for example on the position, the research group (UMERC), Umeå and/or Sweden?
I was very interested in being part of a large mathematics education research group. At my previous university, I had been mostly working alone in terms of research. I didn\'t have any real expectations of Umeå or Sweden as I didn\'t know much about them
Were your expectations met?
There were lots of opportunities to work closely with specific people, and to interact more generally with the research group, discussing mathematics education research.
What is your main impression or memory of your stay in Umeå?
While I found Swedish culture in general quite reserved, I made friends with many of my lovely colleagues, who were very warm and caring. I has many wonderful experiences in nature, many with my colleagues: skiing, iceskating, hiking, gathering berries and mushrooms, and even some dips in icy lakes or the sea after a sauna. The climate was a challenge for me, as I came from the tropics, the opposite extreme. It took me a while to get over being scared that I would be trapped outside and freeze! I was just telling a friend here in Australia about the different types of snow - two sorts I liked were when it was fine like icing sugar, and when it was really fluffy.
Would you recommend other mathematics education researchers to apply for similar positions at UMERC?
I think that there are two really good reasons to apply for a postdoc at UMERC.
The first is the opportunity to work with others who are interested in a similar research topic. So I would check that the specific postdoc is in a field that interests you.
The second is the opportunity to concentrate solely on research for two years. This is a real privilege. In Sweden the postdoc is seen mainly as a chance for the researcher to develop themselves, but don\'t so it if you want someone else to be setting expectations for you.
What advice would you give someone that was accepted as postdoc at UMERC?
There is a remarkable amount of freedom in a postdoc at UMERC, and you are mostly accountable to yourself, so you need to be self-motivated to make the most of the precious time. For me, I had been working as a lecturer with teaching responsibilities as well as research projects, so it was a bit hard to not have any daily deadlines.
It\'s also good to have some hobbies or sports outside of work, because even though your colleagues will be friendly, they already have busy lives with their families.
And the winter darkness can be a major challenge, so make sure you take active steps to deal with it, such as taking vitamin D supplements, using light therapy or getting lots of exercise. A holiday south in winter also helps!
Any other comments?
I feel like my time at UMERC has given me the opportunity to develop as researcher in ways that will become more apparent in my future work. I had a lot of time to explore ideas, and the opportunity to learn from more experienced researchers. It was a challenge to live so far from my home, but the great infrastructure and friendly research group really helped.
Finally, learning Swedish is hard, mostly because everyone speaks excellent English, and you don\'t really need to speak Swedish. You will have to force people to speak Swedish with you if you want to learn - I motivated some of my colleagues with a competition and prizes of candy. External motivation works!