Name, organization: Sören Östlund, KTH Royal Institute of Technology
Current position: Professor of Packaging Technology
Areas of expertise: Solid Mechanics in general but paper mechanics, fracture mechanics and composite materials are my main areas. In my research, fibre-based packaging materials, such as paper and carton board are of particular interest.
Roles in FibreNet: Supervisor and co-supervisor
Where were you born/ where have you lived as a child? I was born in the town of Gävle, but my family moved to Västerås when I was 8 years old, so today I say that my hometown is Västerås. Västerås is by the way the hometown of ASEA, which is the A in the multinational company ABB.
What are your hobbies: Golf, wine-tasting, all kind of sports and heavy metal music.
How did you become a researcher/scientist?
A lot by coincidence. At the end of my undergraduate university studies, I was asked by the then head of the department if I wanted to pursue graduate studies, and on that way, it is. I did not have any dreams to become a researcher before then.
What do you like most in your current work?
That I am challenged with exciting problems, that I learn something new almost every day, that I meet interesting people and not the least, I also like to teach a lot. To meet students who get the insight into something new and make progress in their learning and personal development is very exciting and rewarding. I am also a person who likes to organize things and even can find administrative and leadership tasks interesting and enjoyable.
What has been the biggest change in your working life, and how did you adapt to it?
There has not been any dramatic major changes, but every time you begin to teach a course, start a new research project, get a new administrative or management task you have to reflect on your overall work load, because it is very easy to suddenly end-up doing too much. I have experiences of being burnt-out, and such things should be taken very seriously. It happens when you least expect it.
What has been the hardest decision you have made during the last years? Tricky question. I cannot come up with one single decision. Rather as a leader, you frequently have to make more or less difficult decisions, and, for me, every decision that is not straightforward puts a lot of stress on you. One hint is to try to make such decisions, as soon as possible, but not too soon, of course. I also work hard on communicating with all involved in order to reduce the potential negative impact on as many as possible.
How do you organize your time at work, reveal some of your effective time management tricks. I always try to finish a task I am working on before I go home every day if possible. For me it is extremely annoying to leave in the middle of something. I rather finish something working overtime, than leave that task to the next day. Another time management trick is to write down my what to do list on a simple sheet of paper split into four parts where the four parts represent 1) important-urgent, 2) important-not urgent, 3) less important-urgent and 4) less important-not urgent things to do. By that, you focus on what is necessary to do now, and not necessarily, on what is most fun to do.
What are the three most important things in your current job? Teaching, supervision of graduate students and master students, research.
Describe the best colleague or boss that you have worked with. What was it that especially impressed you? I have had the honor to work with many excellent colleagues, at both KTH and elsewhere, and it is difficult to pin point just one.
One person I would like to mention is my former supervisor, Professor Peter Gudmundson, who besides being a brilliant researcher, teacher and leader also is a very good friend with whom I have had close contact during almost my entire career. He has a fantastic analyst, he is always well prepared, and he has the ability to make you enthusiastic and make you think yourself, even when he perhaps always know the answer. Doctoral studies is not about doing exactly what your supervisor tells you, but to learn to do things on your own, and he really has this ability.
Another important person is Professor Edward F. Crawley at MIT, with whom I had the pleasure to work with during more than five years in an international educational reform project known as the CDIO Initiative. Of all people I have met, he has the absolutely strongest ability to get things done, and an imaginative ability to inspire people to work hard and feel proud of their progress.
When was the last time you had to “sell” your idea to your team? How did you do it and what was the outcome? It happens regularly and includes everything from convincing your colleagues to change the way we are teaching a course, to persuade your students that they should tackle a problem in a certain way. In both cases, you should remember that you probably have given your idea much more thoughts than they have, and that you need to explain the background in detail in order for your arguments to be convincing. This is actually something I am not good at, really, and it still happens, frequently, that I find out that my explanations have been too vague and therefore has created unnecessary misunderstandings.