Matilda Liljedahl, PhD student at the Unit for Medical Education (UME)

Matilda Liljedahl is the doctor who, during her medical studies, was annoyed with the fact that the pedagogical research was rarely made use of in the daily education. This year she will defend her thesis on the subject.

portrait matilda liljedahl
Matilda Liljedahl.

"I saw a lot of potential in how the education was conducted and how the medical programme was put together, but I thought that the pedagogical research was often kept in the background if considered at all", she explains.

She engaged herself as student representative and soon realized that much of the pedagogics was based on common sense and experience rather than science. She was also curious about all the assumptions on how medical students learn and the myths of what it is like to be a med student. She wanted to find out if any of if was true. This combination became the starting point of her PhD project.

Thus Matilda’s thesis will explore the clinical learning environment for medical and nurse students and aims to understand how and why different clinical learning environments affect under graduate students’ experiences of learning. The projects and qualitative and the data collection is mainly based on interviews and observations.

Her path to doctoral education started when she conducted her degree project here at LIME, which she followed up with an application for funding for a follow-up project. It was approved and the rest is history.

"I had a great opportunity to create my own project based on a research question that I am truly interested in. I think that’s quite unique", she says.

Matilda wrote the application, but it was her supervisor, Klara Bolander Laksov, former director of UME, now working at Stockholm University, who submitted it. To apply for KI’s pedagogical funding you do not need a doctoral degree, but you must be teaching at KI, hence Matilda was not eligible to apply as she was a student at the time. She used her supervisor as a cover-up, she jokes laughing. She thinks it is good that students can not apply for research funding since the PhD is a sort of drivers licence assuring quality research. And she empathizes that she could not have accomplished the project without the support of her supervisor. "However, on the other hand, if you take an interest in a certain question and you do not have a doctoral degree it is difficult to find funding if you are not allow to apply for it", she says.

So what is it like to be a doctoral student at LIME? Overall Matilda enjoys is as she finds it very educational. To be a doctoral student includes not just developing as a researcher but also as a fellow colleague at the university. You run projects, organize seminars and see other students making the same journey, which she thinks is very stimulating and developing.

At the same time being a doctoral student includes a lot of ups and downs.
"You can have bad weeks when you feel that you just want to do something else, or you get writer’s cramp and get nothing done. So if you look at periods of one to two weeks it can be a very tough, but in a broader and longer perspective I think it has been a positive and fun experience", she says smiling.

So how does she tackle those down periods? Well, she concludes that most of the time you eventually snap out of it, since you almost always have a deadline and simply have to come around and get things done.

"You just have to tie yourself to the desk. Or ask your colleagues for help and to discuss. I guess it depends on what kind of person you are, but I function much better when I sit down with people and discuss issues rather than sitting alone in my room and try to figure things out".

Sometimes when she gets stuck she gets a feeling of being the only one in the world in her situation.

"I’m so bad. But then you talk to others and you realize that sometimes they have the exact same problem. I find that really helpful. You’re not alone and you’re not an idiot", she says.

Matilda is a young woman who likes to keep herself busy. In addition to her doctoral studies she is the student representative in The President's Council for Clinical Research and Education and doctoral student representative on The Board of Doctoral Education. She also spends 20% of her time working Clinical Genetics at Karolinska University hospital. In June 2015 she posted for @KI.

"When you line it up like that I sound very ambitious, but I actually do all that. But I do it because I enjoy it. Things I don’t enjoy don’t work very well for me".

Part of the explanation is that Matilda is driven by pleasure. If she does not find something fun and stimulating it becomes difficult, which explains her periods of writer’s cramp. She finds monotone work, like transcribing interviews, difficult.

"Some people think that that part is the best. It is a no-brainer and you can do it without thinking. But to me it is not something I long for", she explains.

There are two issues that Matilda find particularly important to consider before starting doctoral education. The first is that you need a subject that you find interesting and you need some kind of passion for that subject. It is rare to have the opportunity to create a project around your favourite subject, but at least you have to feel for it, she thinks.

The other is to choose the right supervisor, meaning that it is important to choose a supervisor with whom you believe in a long-term working relationship. Matilda’s advise is to check references thoroughly and to talk to other doctoral students who have the same supervisor. It can be difficult to know if and how it is going to work and it will surely not work the same way in the end as it did in the beginning – or in between. She also encourages not to get fooled by titles and purely scientific and research related track records, but to find out how, for example the research group led by the supervisor actually works. In many cases you have the possibility to try out a group, for example if you work as a research assistant or are a student. That also gives you a chance to see how you like the group and function. It goes both ways as the supervisor probably is equally interested in getting to know you.

"It’s all about chemistry since it is a long and close relationship. Then, of course, you have to live with the fact that some things are a certain way if there are other things to balance it", she says.

Matilda did her half time in September 2014 and will defend her thesis in autumn, 2016.

Matilda recommends PhD Comics when you need a laugh.