International story by Eric Libby



Eric Libby Associate professor at Dep of Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics

1. What was your general impression of Umeå and Umeå University when you arrived? Has your impression changed during your time here? 

I arrived at the end of November and stayed in an apartment missing some light bulbs, so my first impression was simply Umeå is DARK. I also started teaching very soon after arriving so I felt a bit like I was thrown into the deep end of a swimming pool. Summer eventually came and I survived teaching so my impression obviously changed.

2. What is most challenging in your profession as an Associate Professor?

The most challenging aspect of life here both at work and home has been finding information. I live in constant fear that I am somehow in violation of some obscure law or cultural norm that everyone else seems to know. This is exacerbated by the fact that I occasionally find documents buried in websites whose titles are impenetrable but whose contents are somehow very applicable to my work life. It also happens that things get lost in translation so even if I do find the appropriate information in English, it can have a very different meaning in Swedish. The word "should" is very problematic.

3. Do you have any general or good advice to other in the same profession as you? (newly arrived)

Ask a lot of questions. I think it can be hard for people who have lived most of their life in Sweden to understand the perspective of an international person trying to adjust to a new place let alone a new job. Each time you ask a question you are also helping to inform others about what international visitors might want to know.

4. Have you experienced situations where cultural differences has affected your work or private life and how did you deal with it?

Absolutely. I think the strict separation between work and social life in Sweden is particularly challenging. If you are an international employee with no Swedish ties, the first and only social interactions you have are those from work. So if those colleagues don't socialize outside of work, it can be a lonely existence. My past work experiences have been mainly in North American institutions where there is more fluidity between work and social life. So it can be a bit of a shock coming here from such environments.

I am not sure to what extent I have overcome the social challenge. I am lucky to have work colleagues who include me in social activities. And my family and I have connected with other international employees to socialize. It is funny but I think the effort to reach out has made me exaggerate certain aspects of my personality. The Två Fiskare employees know me as the "guy who likes crawfish without dill" which apparently is mind-blowing to them.

5. Do you have any hidden gems in Umeå?

We love the buffet of nature reserves. There are many different ones and it is relatively easy to find information about what they offer. I think for newly arrived international employees it is useful to know that there are a lot of very beautiful places within a short drive of Umeå. You can find forests, hills, caves, rapids, and beaches (sea, river, or lake). I guess technically these gems are not "hidden" or "in" Umeå but we certainly did not appreciate them until living here for a while.

I work as an Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics and am based in the interdisciplinary center IceLab. My primary research projects use mathematical models to understand the evolution of complexity in microbial systems. But because I am at IceLab, I am also involved in other collaborative projects including detection of multi-brain systems, predicting antibiotic resistance mechanisms, and working with NASA on ways of detecting alien life. My teaching consists mainly of introductory mathematics classes, supervision of masters theses, and leading a PhD course on Mathematical Models in Evolution.

                                                                -  Eric Libby

Rosita Nilsson