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Camilla Sjögren

A first class academic career and a family of five – both are challenges in themselves. How do they go together and at what prize does the combination come? Inside spoke to Camilla Sjögren who is equally passionate about science as she is about her family.

Camilla studied Natural Sciences at Stockholm University and completed her dissertation in the field of cell motility and signal transduction. By the time she obtained her PhD-degree in 1997, her first child had already been born.

For her postdoctoral research, Camilla decided that she wanted to work with yeast. The organism seemed intriguing – basically a living test tube. Camilla approached Kim Nasmyth, one of the “Gurus” of yeast-genetics, who was at the time director of the IMP. To her delight, she was accepted but the arrival of her second child postponed the move to Vienna until January of 1999.

The IMP opened the world of chromosomes for me.

Camilla Sjögren

When Camilla finally joined the IMP, she changed the subject from her original intention and went straight into chromosome research. “The IMP opened the world of chromosomes for me”, she recalls her time in the Nasmyth lab. “The science was at the forefront of chromosome biology and I got to know the field really well. I learned almost everything there was to learn in the field of yeast genetics and chromosome stability from Kim and the people in his lab, in particular from Frank Uhlmann, Attila Toth, Sara Buonomo, and Marta Galova.”

With two kids to look after, Camilla established a kind of rota system, taking turns with her husband. She came to the lab early in the morning and left early, sometimes overlapping with those colleagues who worked really late hours. Camilla recalls scaring Mark Petronczki one morning when she came in at half past four, surprising Mark on his late night shift. Her odd hours were widely accepted, but of course she missed out on a lot of lab-gossip and most of the parties.

After two years, Camilla felt the desire to start her own independent research team. Making the decision was an important point in her career and she still recalls the exact spot and time, standing outside Stadtpark with her two kids. The family left for Sweden in the spring of 2001. By this time, their third child was on its way.

Camilla first took up a position at Södertörn University College south of Stockholm. Essentially a one-person-group, she wrote grant applications and was engaged in teaching. In 2002, after her application was approved, she moved to Karolinska Institutet and became a Group Leader at the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology.

At Karolinska, Camilla continued to work on cohesion and DNA repair, using the budding yeast as a model organism. Eventually, she started investigating the Smc5/6 complex which brought her and her group into chromosome replication, segregation and DNA topology.  The team is still active and very successful in this area.

In 2010, Camilla became Professor in cell and tumour biology. Apart from her research and teaching career, she has taken over a number of functions in administration and management. As a member of the Karolinska Institutet’s Board of Research and vice chairman of the CMB, she is able to shape research policy and to promote science. “It is important that scientists are involved in administrative activities. You have to know why and how certain decisions are made to fully appreciate how the system works. If scientists aren’t involved at this level, the voice of science doesn’t get heard at all.”

Numerous appointments as evaluator of applications, reviewer of manuscripts, organizer of conferences, editor of journals and even coordinator of Nobel conferences are also taking their toll and gnawing away on her time. How does she fit all this into her busy life? “It’s about being focused and knowing your priorities, but above all it’s about liking what you are doing”, Camilla says.

By Heidemarie Hurtl, first published in 2014