Vice-Chancellor’s speech at autumn conferment ceremony 2017

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Distinguished guests, esteemed promovendi, jubilee doctors, colleagues, families and friends

It gives me great pleasure to welcome all of you to Karolinska Institutet’s conferment ceremony.

This evening we celebrate you, our new doctors. In just a little while you will receive your doctor’s hats and diplomas. You have reached an important milestone in your career. 

And we celebrate you, our jubilee doctors. You reached this important milestone 50 years ago. For half a century you have contributed to the academic life and to the Swedish and international society.

We salute you all.

I am also delighted to welcome families and guests from our university and beyond to this solemn and dignified celebration of science.

Our celebration takes place in the Blue Hall of the beautiful Stockholm City Hall that was inaugurated on Midsummer’s eve in 1923. The Blue Hall as conceived was intended to be painted in blue to remind its visitors of the water surrounding the city of Stockholm.

However, when the architect saw the brick walls that had been painstakingly assembled, he was stunned by their beauty and changed his original plan. The hall was declared complete without the blue color in place. But the hall retained its name – evidently because no one came up with a better one!

Becoming a promovendus and receiving your hat and diploma in the Blue Hall  is a conclusion of many years of diligent work. It is a conclusion of a time of trials and tribulations, of failed experiments and of ideas that led nowhere. But it is also the conclusion of a fascinating journey. Step by step – or perhaps we should say brick by brick – you have built a solid edifice of knowledge and wisdom that will last a lifetime. For a society the edifice of knowledge and competence is not as visible as an edifice of bricks and mortar – it is not as imposing as the beautiful hall that contains us. But it is just as important – or, I dare say, more important. Indeed, when people and politicians complain about the high costs of education I respond by paraphrasing Derek Bok: If you think education is expensive, try ignorance. 

Your work has generated publications in prestigious journals and results for others to build on. But we should not forget: a major outcome of your doctoral education is your proficiency in critical reflection. In today’s society, critical reflection is in high demand. Society requires of universities and academics that we develop new technologies, new innovations and new treatments at high speed. But history is rife with examples of how progress has been hampered when technologies are introduced in societies that are ill-equipped to handle them. We need to reflect on how technologies and new knowledge should best be absorbed and put to good use by individuals and society at large. We need critical thinking, we need ethics, and we need insight from the social sciences and the humanities. Standing alone, new technologies are fragile edifices. As a medical university, we should nurture our collaboration with other universities so as to ensure that our excellent research is not lost in translation but assimilated in a society that is duly prepared for it.

Dear promovendi,

With your competence, insight and critical reflection you will be contributing importantly to the Swedish and international society, like the jubilee doctors before you. You will make the Swedish edifice even stronger and more prepared for the changes to come. For changes there will be. We have an ageing population, we are facing diseases coupled to a sedentary and unhealthy lifestyle, we are seeing how resistant microbes are breaking through the defenses of current antibiotics, we are observing an increasing death toll due to pollution and environmental toxins, and we are realizing with dismay and concern how inequities in health persist and even get bigger. In my capacity as chair of the Lancet commission on Global Governance for Health I saw grave and unjust inequalities in health in many parts of the world. But there are unjust inequalities in health even in our own country – right before our eyes. These inequalities – whether international or domestic – must be attended to. Medicine is certainly about molecules and cells, but first and foremost it is about our fellow human beings.

Dear promovendi, dear jubilee doctors. Through your research you have contributed to society, and through your research you have contributed to Karolinska Institutet. Our university – our edifice - has become stronger because of you. Nearly half of all scientific publications from KI are authored or co-authored by our doctoral students, and our doctoral students are significantly involved in most of our international collaborations. Simply put – the doctoral students – you – are an invaluable part of our university. Today about 25 percent of our students, nearly 2300, are pursuing doctoral degrees. In fact, of all doctoral students in medicine, pharmacy and health sciences in Sweden, 45 percent are studying at KI.  

The doctoral education at KI is of utmost importance and must be of the highest quality.

Recently we published the Exit Poll for Doctoral Students 2013–2016. The poll shows that over 90 percent of KI’s doctoral students are satisfied with their doctoral education. This is fine and attests to the quality of our educational programs. But we must shy away from complacency. International competition is fierce and we should strive to become even better. I am pleased to see how such high ambitions are driving and motivating those who are engaged in our doctoral education. I thank you all for your efforts. 

We have just initiated our work on KIs new strategy plan. This plan will have 2030 as its time horizon. With such a long time horizon we are compelled to bring education and career development to center stage. With such a long time horizon we are forced to think creatively and innovatively. My vision is that KI by 2030 is seen as a sterling example of a university that recognizes and builds on the competence and perspectives of its doctoral students. My vision is that KI by 2030 will be held in high esteem internationally as a university that spearheads new and innovative practices for PhD training, with due emphasis on social responsibility and ethical preparedness. My vision is that KI by 2030 will stand as an academic edifice as solid, attractive and robust as the building and hall that provide such a perfect stage for our celebration tonight. This vision can be realized only if the bricks are solid. This vision cannot be realized unless we have a superb doctoral education.

Once again, congratulations, and thank you for your attention.

Ledning