“My passion lies in solving real life problems”

Name: Lydia Kwak
Did PhD at: Maastricht University
Current position: Associate professor in worksite health promotion, assistant head of the unit Intervention and Implementation Research, KI
Interviewed by: Liyun Yang

Lydia Kwak is now an associate professor in the Unit of Intervention and Implementation research at IMM, Karolinska Institutet. Her main research area is intervention and implementation research, with a focus on health promotion at workplaces.

We meet at the Café at the Aula Medica, a suggestion made by Lydia. “It’s usually a quiet place and will be good to talk!” Lydia arrives on time with a big warm smile on her face. I joined a doctoral course held by Lydia two years ago, and was deeply impressed by the nice design of the course and the thorough and detailed knowledge she revealed and prepared us with during the course. I had also heard compliments about her good research from my colleagues at KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

Lydia came to Sweden after finishing her PhD in the Netherlands in 2007, and the reason to move here was simply because of love. She got involved in academia first as an assisting researcher in a group at KI, of which the head was a contact of her doctoral supervisor in the Netherlands. Later she got a post-doc position with funding offered by FORTE, the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare, working with the topic of physical activities and health of children.

“It was a nice group with many international researchers. We had a lot of interactions and also hard work, and many publications during that time.” Lydia still has collaborations with some of her colleagues from that group, and still appreciates the network she has built from her first post-doc position.

After the first post-doc, Lydia felt that she still missed the research topic on occupational health promotion which she was pursuing during her PhD. She succeeded to switch back to the area and got another post-doc position through the contact from one of her colleagues at that time.

”I have developed a lot during my time in this group. This is to a large extent thanks to my boss, who has been very stimulating and supportive to help me building a career”, she says.

“I trust the people I know and their opinion, and it has worked pretty well.” Lydia didn’t know or discuss with her boss-to-be before she started, but they have developed a great relationship and research collaboration. Now she is the assisting head of the unit and has applied to the position Senior Lecturer at KI.

What is the most difficult moment in your career?

“I guess it is about research funding. As a researcher you always need to apply for funding, and sometimes it can be really difficult. I would suggest applying both for big and small grants, because small grants may have less competition.”

In the first years, Lydia had difficulties to get funding since the area she focused on was not the main problem that Swedish society had. “You can sense the trend by reading headlines of the news. It’s also important to collaborate with others who have the expertise in other areas and make a strong application”, she explains as one of the lessons she has learned in this career trip.

What is your driving force in your research?

“I like to meet people and help them to solve the problems in real life. It feels great to be able to do something important with influences on the real world.”

For Lydia it is important to keep the good quality of her research. “You need to stick to your standard of good research.” It can also be to say no to certain things. “Make sure that you have enough time to do the work. And know your collaborators and how they do research before you agree on a collaboration project. You feel that you can sleep at night and think that you have made the correct choices.”

What advice would you give to those who are about to finish their PhDs?

“Plan earlier and think strategically! Try to find someone with experience to help you look at your CV. Even if you are not sure that you’ll become an associate professor, it’s good to know in advance what is required and fill the gaps.”

“Talk to people and ask around if you’d like to do a post-doc! Most people want to know of good candidates through their contact, instead of just looking at the CVs. Don’t be shy!”


Photo: used under creative commons, downloaded from pixabay

This career portrait was originally written for the PhD course “Career skills for scientists”, organized every spring by KI Career Service. As explained in the introduction post, all participants in the course interviewed PhD holders with an academic or a non-academic career. Keep an eye on the tag #CareerPortrait for a selection of these portraits. Get inspired and learn more about your options for your post-PhD career!




Related posts