Acceptance and Commitment therapy, eHealth and People with Chronic Pain – Half Time Seminar by Charlotte Gentili

Charlotte Gentili from Karolinska Institutet did her half time seminar towards receiving a PhD this fall. I was honoured to be on the committee for her seminar, and learned a lot about her reserach area. She has truly done an amazing job, and reached very far in her PhD studies. I think that society need more of this kind of reserach which is multidisciplinary, applied and addresses an important societal problem!

Charlotte is a psychologist with a focus on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).  The definition found in Wikipedia is:
Acceptance and commitment therapy is a form of psychotherapy and a branch of clinical behaviour analysis. It is an empirically-based psychological intervention that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies mixed in different ways with commitment and behaviour-change strategies, to increase psychological flexibility.”

As readers of the blog might know, I am not a psychologist, so experts might disagree, but I would say that it is a kind of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) that they have designed for mobile phones. Hence, Charlotte Gentili´s research area is smartphone ACT treatment for adults with chronic pain. This area of eHealth is quite new, and in her reserach she has done a pilote study as well as some follow up studies that look very promising.

She has also used an excellent user-centred design approach, and also written an experience paper based describing the methods used. I would highly recommend reading this paper to people working with eHealth and deevelopment. You find it here: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41746-020-0228-4

Among other things Charlotte Gentili has looked at psychological flexibility and  the effect of the usage. Flexibility is a personality trait that includes the extent to which someone can deal with changes in circumstances. To what extent can we think about problems and tasks in novel, innovative ways? This trait is used when stressors or unexpected events happen. The results show sychological flexibility significantly contributed to the prediction of pain interference and depression. Moreover, participants with low levels of psychological flexibility were more likely to be on sick leave.

We discussed future studies at the seminar and Charlotte Gentili is really very intrested in the intersection of psychology, eHealth and UX – which is close to my area. So I am super much looking forward to reading more about her work, and hopefully also be invited to the PhD defence!

The Art of Saying NO – Six Tips

I am not very good at saying no, and for many years I though that prioritizing means deciding on the order of things you need to do and then do everything on the list. I did not understand that prioritizing means taking things off the agenda. The other week I was asked about saying NO and prioritizing what to do, and I mumbled some answer realizing that I need to become better at this. Writing this blog post is the first step. For me personally I think many things are very interesting, and I have this feeling that I might be missing out on interesting things. But I also know that a too full calendar is awful, and I hate the feeling of not doing anything in a proper way due to time constraints.

  1. Think carefully if this opportunity is something that really interest you – or will take a lot of energy and time.
  2. Do not answer until after 24 hours. This makes it more likely that you think things through more carefully and that you don’t automatically say yes.
  3. Don’t apologize when saying no. You can politely say no without saying much about why you need to say no. This makes it easier to respond saying no.
  4. Suggest another person for the task and see it as a possibility for them to shine and get some possibilities.
  5. Say no and add that this might be a interesting at a later point in time.
  6. Be realistic about your time. Have an updated calendar and do an honest assessment if you do have the time for this.

Good luck with saying NO, and good luck to me too. I need to improve in this area. 😮

Interview-Style Discussion on Career, Work-environment and Work-life Balance

I was invited to attend a research group seminar the other week with another research group led by my excellent colleague professor Isto Huvila. Isto is an extremely talented researcher, and we have worked together for many years, and on top of that also a very nice person to work with. We have published a lot in the DOME collaboration on eHealth, and I have really learned a lot from our multidisciplinary work.

During the seminar, Isto and I talked and discussed our experiences from working in academia. We did it in kind of an interview-style discussion and had prepared a few areas that we wanted to cover. None of these was the traditional style things such as presenting a paper of research results, quality of research, methodology or how to make use of theory. We then informally discussed different topics, and the attending PhD students and postdocs asked questions and commented. I think that this worked very well, and we talked and laughed filling in each others’ stories. The areas covered were of the same variety as the emojis of this blog post.

Some of the topics we covered where:

  • Work-life balance and having a family as an academic.
  • Career paths and our own backgrounds. What did we base our choices on?
  • Networking and choosing whom to collaborate with
  • Saying NO to things – how is that done or not done?
  • Playing an academic career game and getting a job.
  • How assessments are done of applications for a position
  • Failing badly at publishing
  • Impostor syndrome feelings
  • Our best moments as academics
  • What do we think are the best things about working as a professor?
  • What motivated us to work in academia?
  • What are our plans forward?

We need more of these informal talks in academia generally, and the PhD students enjoy seeing a variety of different senior researchers and the diversity of who we are. I recommend trying this informal discussion like a way of addressing this – it worked really well.

Internationalisation and Equal Opportunities

My excellent colleagues organised a Zoom seminar on Internationalisation and Equal Opportunities that I chaired together with the Adviser on Equal Opportunities Anders Backlund. We had more than 100 people attending and there were three things discusses.

The University’s Language Policy – Here you can read that Uppsala University is a multi-lingual university and we are recommended to use the language that everyone can understand if we have non-Swedish people at a meeting and to mix languages if we have people who are not skilled in English at the meeting. However, decisions and formal documentation need to be in Swedish. One fact that was new to me was that students always have the right to do their examination in Swedish!

The Work with Internationalisation – This was a super entertaining presentation of an important area of the university’s work where the focus is to be better at internationalisation for students and for staff. You can read more about this work here: https://www.uu.se/om-uu/internationalisering/

Best Practices and Examples of Successful Work: Here we got to hear many good examples of what has been done when it comes to equal opportunities and internationalisation and the university. The presentations were about students, staff and teachers with a large variety.

I am impressed at how good we are with working with internationalisation and equal opportunities, and my colleagues had really set up an inspiring and thought-provoking seminar. Our next seminar on Equal Opportunities will be in spring 2021, and most likely also on-line. I heard plans that we might focus on the many inspiring projects that are ongoing in the organisation and invite people to present their work. I am really looking forward to that!

LGBTIQA+ and students- what works well and what can be improved?


Gotland Pride was Zoom based this year, and I participated in a hearing with students together with Campus Gotland’s student union organized as a part of their Rindi Rainbow Week. The illustration used in this blog post is from their official Facebook site.

Together with my excellent equal opportunities colleagues, we had set up a workshop with an informal hearing of students on the topic: LGBTIQA+ and students – what works well and what can be improved. We started off the presentation with a few facts about Uppsala University and the work with equal opportunities. I must say that have a very ambitious goal to work towards, and many people in the organisation are interested in equal opportunities. This is our mission in the goals and strategies: 

”Equal opportunities are a matter of rights for the individual and quality for the University. An equal opportunities perspective must be mainstreamed in all parts of the organisation and the University’s study and work environments must be characterised by openness and respect.”

Our Vice-Chancellor Eva Åkesson had also sent us a message for the workshop. She is indeed a strong proponent and excellent champion of equal opportunities! Her message was that Uppsala university is working hard with equal opportunities, but that we need to be even better and that the student’s input is extremely valuable in that work. 

We used an online tool at the workshop and the students were able to write anonymous input for us about LGBTIQA+. Some of the things that we need to be better at, according to the students are: 

  • It needs to be possible to use preferred names, and not only the name reregistered in the official government databases. Some transgender people find this very disturbing. This is also important for international students. 
  • It should be possible to have pronouns available in the student registries so that teachers and other students are made aware of what pronoun to use. 
  • LGBTIQA+ and the intersection with mental health problems need more attention, and we need to be better at informing students about the available support.

The Number of Male Students is Decreasing in Academia

Recent numbers from the Swedish statistical board describe that the number of people who continue studying after high school in Sweden are: 

* 50% of the girls study after high school

* 38% of the men study after high school

There are also shortcomings in gender equality in terms of throughput and academic performance. Women generally have better throughput than men in education both at the undergraduate and advanced levels – and this contributes to the education level being higher for women (measured as the proportion of the population with a degree from a university).

This is also true for Uppsala university, and on an overarching level looking at the whole university, there were more women than men who studied at undergraduate and advanced level education, and the distribution between men and women was within the gender equality interval (40–60 per cent). However, if you look into the details you see that the gender distribution was on the border or outside the gender equality interval in the three subareas humanities, social sciences and Science and technology. There was a majority of women in the humanities and social sciences and a large majority of women in medicine and pharmacy. The field of science and technology, in turn, had more men than women.

I have read up some on the existing research in this area, and there are some things that are pointed out as possible reasons for this inequality:

– Boys and young men’s education results are 10% lower than girls’ and young women’s

– Young men are more often satisfied with a passing grade and prioritize hobbies and friends

– Gender researchers believe that it has its basis in notions of masculinity and that perceptions about how young men should be are an obstacle for them.

 Another thing that affects, as I see it, is the norm of the male genius who is bron with the knowledge and skills needed and who does not have to study hard. 

If you are more interested in this area and read Swedish I recommend reading Ann-Sofie Nyströms PhD thesis http://uu.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?- pid=diva2%3A466041&dswid=-2987

Another interesting read is this report from UKÄ: Kvinnor och män i högskolan, UKÄ rapport 2016:16 https://www.uka.se/download/18.5d85793915901d205f9a852/1487841854015/rapport-2016-10-14-kvinnor-och-man-i-hogskolan.pdf

This blog post is based on a presentation that I did for the university board about men and academic studies. 

Sexual Harassment, Harassment and Victimisation in Academia

I remember very well one of my first conferences abroad as a PhD. student. We were socialising in a pub and meeting researchers from all over the world. My colleague and I were introduced by my supervisor to a male professor. He looked at us briefly and exclaimed something like:

I can fully understand why you chose these two as your new PhD students.

*lol*

Their breasts are great!


I can still remember how extremely painful the situation was. I was completely shocked and did not react at all. And neither did my colleagues. I strongly felt that I did not belong in academia, and that this was obvious from the comment. I so wish I could say that I said something clever, and that I walked out of the situation strong etc. That did not happen at all. I felt like such an outsider and the comment rested with me the whole conference.

Until very recently little has been known about sexual harassment, harassment and victimisation in academia. But now one of the well known Swedish universities has done a study to understand the occurrence of sexual harassment, harassment and victimisation in academia. Recently they presented a report around the topic that is based on questionnaire, interview and focus group data from employees, doctoral students and students. In total, 61 interviews and 21 focus groups were
completed, and the surcey was sent to all employees, doctoral students and students who were registered for the autumn of 2018. The response rate was 34% for employees and doctoral students, and 32% for students.

The report can be downloaded from Tellus’ blog.
In Swedish: https://tellus.blogg.lu.se/lunds-universitet-starker-det-forebyggande-arbetet-mot-sexuella-trakasserier-med-stod-i-kunskapsunderlaget-fran-tellus/
In English: https://tellus-eng.blogg.lu.se/the-report-from-tellus-is-published/

From the report: “Amongst employees and doctoral students, 25% of women and 7% of men state that they have been subjected to sexual harassment at some point during their employment at Lund University. 8% of female respondents stated that this had occurred in the last 12 months; the corresponding figure for men was 3%.”

Robots should not reproduce our mistakes – teaching about equal opportunities and AI

I was an invited lecturer to the introductory course for Technical Mathematicians at the Royal Institute of Technology a few weeks back. The students were really great, and thet had really many interesting view points and reflections related to Equal Opportunities. It was indeed a well worth effort to go to Stockholm and to meet them and to discuss this with them!

We did the course as a flipped classroom experience where the students watched three TED talks before the lecture, and we discussed these during the lecture – and of course other things. One of the TED talks posts was on how to keep human bias out of AI, by Kriti Sharma and the students very much appreciated this.

I think many people have the image that AI is neutral, and that it is disconnected from equal opportunities. Unfortunately this is not true, and AI can indeed be carriers of strong bias. Or as in the below Ted talk where Kriti Shama concludes that the “Poor robots suffer from sexism”, and that the newest technologies are created to reflect a society that is strongly biased.

Robots should not reproduce our mistakes and we need to be careful when launching AI systems in decision making. The problem basically lies in the material that we provide robots with, and how diverse that material is or isn’t. Also there is sexism in what the robots do, and helpful robots that support us are for example often women.

Of course Kriti Shama’s TED talk also provides some ways forwards. Her conclusion is that we should be  

1) Be aware about the biases around us .

2) Give diverse experiences to learn from

3) Make diverse teams build the technologies

New Word? Sourdough Paper is a Paper you Need to Rewrite and Rewrite to get Published.

In Swedish we can talk about things being a sourdough. Being a sourdough means that it is something negative from the past that is still around. However, I think that the word is quite good to use about research papers that you need to rewrite, and rewrite before they are published. We often use this word in my team such as in this sentence: I’m working on one of my sourdough papers.

First, I think this is a good word since sour dough bread is a kind of bread that takes a very long time to prepare but it is a good bread in the end. It includes many different steps, and you need to leave it for some time before you bake it. A sourdough paper is a paper that takes some time to prepare, and it will be rejected several times before being accepted but in the end the paper is quite good. I have indeed many such papers!

Moreover, a sourdough bread It is however an especially delicious bread, and some of the papers that were sourdough papers are now among my very best cited papers. Doing them over and over again inproved the quality!

Also, when writing on your sourdough paper you need to practice grit – and this is a good thing to practice since we know that this kind of grit is what is required in academia! Don’t give up and keep struggeling

Failing in Getting Funding

I have written so many funding applications this year. But so far very few have been funded, and none of the ones where I can recruit a PhD student or a Post Doc.

Most of the time you don’t even get feedback on your application that you spent weeks and week writing. The only thing you know is that someone else’s project was seen as more interesting , more doable or in some way better.

No feedback makes it difficult to really improve and I need to find other strategies to get better at this. Some of my strategies so far are:

  • I know that so far I have learned a lot from more senior colleagues and their way of thinking.
  • I have also learned from reading other’s applications in detail.
  • Finally getting feedback from colleagues before submitting, when there is time for that, is always a good idea.

I will have a look at these strategies again and start writing again. I know that when I get going I often enjoy it very much!