The lighthouse principle
In 2008, Nitya Jayaram Lindström won the Torgny Wännström award for best doctoral thesis within the field of clinical medicine and public health. Her thesis, “Evaluation of Naltrexone as a treatment for amphetamine dependence”, was a result of hard work, passion, networking, and what she refers to as the lighthouse principle.
Career portrait written by Lina Rådmark. The interview was performed in 2020.
“I’ve never had a detailed plan for my career, but that does not mean that I have been aimless. It is more like a lighthouse – I see where I want to go, and make my decisions to go in the direction of my vision,” Nitya explains.
Her career started off in India, her home country, where she studied psychology for altogether 5 years. At that time, the only available track was in general psychology. However, she found out that psychiatry was more of her interest.
“Together with my father, the director of a center for drug addiction, I decided to go to USA to have more opportunities.”
During her Master studies in clinical psychology at the University of Chicago, Nitya practiced at a psychiatry clinic where she worked with drug dependent patients. These individuals captured her interest and she started working at a substance abuse clinic in Chicago. She loved her work and could have continued working at the clinic, but life wanted different. She met her husband to be – Jonas – and when it was time for him to go back to Sweden, Nitya went with him.
At a dinner in the summer of 2002, Nitya came to sit next to Yasmin Hurd – a professor at Karolinska Institutet (KI) who worked with translational neuroscience and the effects of cannabis and heroin on the brain. This was the start of a longstanding collaboration and also of Nitya’s academic career. Through Yasmin, Nitya was introduced to Johan Franck – her future main supervisor. Johan was an assistant professor in the field of neuropsychopharmacology and pharmacotherapy for substance abuse and at first Nitya thought the pharmacological orientation was too far away from her own background in dialectic behavior therapy. But eventually she was convinced by Yasmin and the trio started to plan a PhD for Nitya.
Nitya took a lot of responsibility for her PhD studies and worked independently, in the lab as well as with managing clinical trials.
“I learnt a lot from this time! Today, I am really grateful that my supervisors had confidence in me and trusted me.”
During her PhD her first son, Hjalmar, was born. The family has always been the center of Nitya’s life and even more so when she became a mother. When she was offered a postdoc at Yale, she hesitated – was it possible to combine with family life? But once again she was convinced by colleagues.
“It was a really good opportunity and I am glad that they were willing to meet my needs and requests.”
Nitya describes her postdoc as a training postdoc rather than a productive postdoc. She gained valuable knowledge on new models that she could bring to Sweden where she continued her work as an assistant professor at KI. In 2014, she was being asked to apply for the position as Student Director of Psychiatry Research School at KI. Since only professors had had that position up to then, Nitya hesitated but applied.
“I really enjoyed it, education is so important and I got the chance to both revise the curriculum and give lectures and teach.”
The next step in Nitya’s career was the position as Deputy Director at Centre for Psychiatry Research (CPF), where she worked in close collaboration with the former Director, Clara Hellner Gumpert. After only six months, Clara moved on to new challenges and Nitya was offered her job.
“I was a bit scared and discussed the offer a lot with my mentors. The possibility to work with education and leadership together with colleagues that I really appreciated, settled the case and I accepted. Being the Director of CPF is a lot of hard work, but it is very rewarding and interesting!”
Nitya’s career advice:
- Have mentors! And choose them wisely. If you don’t share fundamental values, you won’t be able to use their advice.
- Network! Dialogue and interaction are central, we are dependent on other people to get things done.
- Love what you do! Everything is so much easier when you do it with passion.
This career portrait was published in the booklet “A Phd can take you everywhere” in 2021.