Vice-Chancellor's speech at conferment ceremony

Acting Vice-Chancellor Karin Dahlman-Wright’s speech at Karolinska Institutet Conferment Ceremony, 13 May, 2016

Excellencies, vice-chancellors, honorary doctors, gold medallists, new doctors, Guests of honor, distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen

A warm welcome to Karolinska Institutet’s conferment ceremony! I would especially like to welcome the promovendi, who are the main focus of today’s celebration, and to congratulate you for your impressive achievements made over these past years.  Today, we also celebrate our three new honorary doctors and two gold medallists, and I would like to offer our deepest thanks for the many important contributions you have made for our university.

It is also an honour and a pleasure to welcome our external guests, as well as all the families and friends of the promovendi, who are gathered here in the Blue Hall to join in the celebrations.

It is you, who have the closest relationships to one of our new doctors, who know best what a challenge it is produce a doctoral thesis.  It is you, who have closely witnessed, the painstaking work, time and endurance it takes to reach the goal and finally bring a doctoral project to conclusion. Perhaps you have not always been wholly positive – obtaining a doctoral degree is not a 9 to 5 job but something that also invades evenings and weekends. But I hope you have been able to share some of the joy and satisfaction that follows when work goes well and when new, exciting knowledge is discovered. 

The knowledge that you, promovendi, have now acquired will mean a great deal to you personally - but it is also knowledge that will benefit our society and be an important component in the development of welfare and improved health.  

The insignia you will soon receive are a visible testimony to the knowledge you have gained, knowledge that is valuable, both for Karolinska Institutet and for you personally in your continued careers in or outside academia.

Karolinska Institutet is over 200 years old. We have often told the story of our history, of how the modest training of army surgeons eventually grew into a leading medical university. We have become accustomed to hearing about the successes that have followed this journey. But even a top university can find itself in crisis – and the crisis that has recently hit our university has influenced both the image we present to the outside world and our own view of Karolinska Institutet.

Yet Karolinska Institutet is – and was – both before and after the so-called Macchiarini case, a prominent, world-ranking university where, thousands of projects are being run by over 5,000 employees, and over 5,000 students and 2,000 doctoral students receive their education and training. Despite this, our public image has been dominated by one single issue – and correctly so, as it is an extremely important one.  

The issue is one of fundamental ethics and values, matters that are of critical importance to a medical university. We have every reason to be self-critical and must carefully review everything that went wrong in the Macchiarini case. We must also reflect upon the internal culture at Karolinska Institutet, how we interact with each other and how we deal with problems and difficult ethical issues.

But, we know that we are, and that we do, so much more than what has been recently perceived. And to move forward we must focus on the future and reflect over the responsibility we each have, at the individual level, to ensure that our actions will lead to success for our organisation as a whole.

To describe my vision of the Karolinska Institutet that I want to see, I like to paint a picture of the ideal team including research and education. A similar picture could of course be painted for other parts of our important activities.

The ideal team includes a leader who is both receptive and humble, but also highly recognised in the field. Group members are allowed to grow to their full potential and there is lively debate about science, methods and ethical values. In the ideal team there is no inappropriate behaviour and no one is permitted to hide behind excellence or their status in order to get away with actions that are incompatible with our fundamental values. The ideal team is thus a mixture of the unique opportunities that arise when one works with world-class research and education - and ethics and morals as well as the common sense that ought to pervade society in general.

I hope that you, our promovendi, have been part of such a team during your doctoral studies, and that you feel both pride and pleasure from being part of Karolinska Institutet.

You have no doubt already discovered that a doctoral education opens doors and leads to a world of opportunities, but I would nonetheless like to mention some areas in which doctoral graduates are needed and will make a difference. The most obvious area is of course academia. Those who choose to continue their research career at Karolinska Institutet or another university, certainly have an exciting future ahead of them.

As researchers in your teams, and together with other teams, you will make discoveries or observations with future applications in medicine and healthcare in the form of improved diagnostics and new, more efficacious health care processes and drugs. You might make observations that have no immediate and obvious significance, but that might, decades later, result in a Nobel Prize or a new blockbuster drug. But this is of course not to say that all the improvements, big and small, that continually help to improve human health are any less important.

The health services are in great need of personnel with a research training, such as doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, dentists and occupational therapists, who can work both clinically and with education and research.  The Stockholm County Council is Karolinska Institutet’s most important partner. 60 per cent of our activities are performed within the healthcare environment, which will experience radical changes during the coming years. We must take an active part in this change, and here doctorate holders will play an important role.

Another area where doctoral graduates can make a great difference is within global health, where enormous challenges need to be overcome before adequate healthcare can be made available worldwide. Many parts of the world are still hit by endemic infectious diseases such as malaria or by epidemics such as the recent Ebola virus outbreak in western Africa. Many problems that we face at home, such as threats from multiple antibiotic resistance have causes and probably solutions that lie outside Sweden and the boundaries of the developed world. The challenges are many and solutions few!

In the business sector known as Life Science there is a large also need for employees holding a doctoral degree. The sector has historically played an important role in Sweden and we all hope that this will continue as we move forward at the level of both major pharmaceutical companies and start-up companies exploiting exciting new knowledge such as digital health. It is our shared responsibility to contribute our part in ensuring that this vital part of Swedish business can look forward to a bright future.

Others amongst you might work with research financing, patents or registries.

No matter what path you choose, your contributions will make a difference to Sweden’s continued role as a strong research nation. A doctoral thesis is not an end, - but rather the beginning of an exciting research career or profession. During some periods things will go well but sometimes you will experience difficulties. And when the difficulties come you have now learnt that you have to work harder, never give up and find a way forwards. As a devoted cyclist, I can tell you one thing – you can’t stand on the breaks if you want to get up a steep hill!  We can apply this insight both to Karolinska Institutet’s future and to our own daily lives in good times and bad times.

In closing, I would like to wish you all the best of luck in your future careers. Great hopes are riding on you, that the education and research you do will help to find solutions to the challenges facing our local and global communities.  You graduate on Friday 13th – but worry not! There is no cause for concern since we’re in the business of science and established experience, not superstition.

And remember – A PhD can take you anywhere! The world is waiting for you! Good luck!