Director of Studies for the Toxicology programme
Some people love Karolinska Institutet so much that they never want to leave. Take 53- year old Annika Hanberg, for example. She graduated from the Masters Programme in Toxicology in 1987 and has been working at KI ever since, eventually becoming the Director of Studies for the very same programme. ‘Yes, you can say I really know the Masters,’ she smiles.
Annika pursued a PhD at KI after she received her Masters degree and was employed by several agencies as a toxicologist. ‘I worked for example with the Swedish Food Agency on the risk-benefit analysis of eating fatty fish from the Baltic Sea. Fatty fish is really healthy for you, but there are also contaminants in the Baltic Sea like dioxins. As a toxicologist, you have to weigh up the risks and the benefits. The conclusion was that young women shouldn’t eat this fish too often,’ Annika explains.
Her office in the Institute for Environmental Medicine on KI’s Solna campus is adorned with pictures of numerous graduates and current students. ‘It’s important for me to know all the students and to keep track of the graduates,’ Annika explains. ‘Also, I had such a great experience when I was a student all those years ago. It really was one class and we called the Director of Studies our ‘Tox Father’. I want the current students to have the same experience.’
Over the years, the programme has endeavoured to keep abreast of the latest developments in the field of toxicology. ‘Science is evolving very fast in this area, the different chemical legislations as well. We involve that in the programme. We aim to give the students a broad basis in toxicological testing, research and risk assessment. In this way, they have a broad picture when they start working or pursue a PhD.’ Annika continues:
‘The exciting thing as well is that toxicology is a growing field. Due to the sharpening European legislations for chemical safety, there is a bigger need for toxicologists. The responsibility is now more and more in the hands of the industry - they need to show that their products are safe. So these industries need more toxicologists. We see more and more graduates finding work in that field.’
The Masters in Toxicology opened its doors to international students in 2010. This catalysed a big change according to Annika: ‘I think the group got more active and of course more heterogeneous. And that’s really fun! We have different types of personalities with a lot of different experiences. One of the goals of the programme is also to reach to all parts of the world where there is a great need for more competence in chemical safety.’ To apply for the programme, a bachelor in biomedicine is the ideal background – but people from other backgrounds are also encouraged to apply. ‘We want people with dedication, ambition and a fascination for toxicology,’ says Annika.
One of the highlights every year for Annika is the introduction camp, where the new batch of students gets to know each other, the programme, and enjoy the beauty of the archipelago just outside of Stockholm.
‘These days are really important to me, I get to know the students, I try to explain what the course is all about, why we do a lot of group work, what we expect from them in the group assignments and so on.’ She smiles and adds: ‘I try to be their “Tox Mother”.’
Profile by Maike Winters and Photography by David Humphreys.