“I had never lived outside the US and I wanted an adventure,” Field, a post-doctoral researcher in epigenetics, explains. “I was particularly interested in Northern Europe because the culture matched my personality, and when I found a lab in Stockholm that was a good match, that was it.”
Field says the process for finding work in academia is similar in Sweden to the US:
“You send your CV and personal statement to labs you are interested in, and hopefully get a chance to interview. My PhD advisor wrote me a recommendation letter, reviewed my statement, and helped me prepare for the interview, but that was the extent of help.”
So is it tough? “Yes, but not any more tough than at home.”
Her interest in genes was sparked at high school. “I learned it was possible to potentially make any change to an organism by manipulating its DNA. I was so interested in the possibility of solving problems by making more nutritious vegetables, or creating insects that can no longer pass on disease.”
Epigenetics is the specific study of the inheritance of traits based not on DNA sequence itself, but on how the structure of the DNA is modified before it is passed down. The structures can be affected by many things in the environment, including behaviour.
“It is amazing to me that the way a person behaves (what food they eat, how stressed they are, how attentive they are to their children, for example) could change the genes of their children and grandchildren,” says Field.
She explains that in a relatively new research area, even experts only know the basics. But the American is definitely “looking forward to seeing how this research affects our understanding of ourselves and how we take care of ourselves.”
Photo: Roshan Vaid
The work sounds complicated, but Field puts it simply.
“The majority of my daily job is moving tiny amounts of liquid from one tube to another,” she jokes.
“But besides that, every day is different, depending on the experiments I need to get done. I look at a lot of fruit flies, sort them and set up crosses of male and female flies with the DNA I'm interested in.”
Other tasks include staining embryos to visualize RNA, photographing them under a microscope, and keeping up-to-date with other research in the field.
In Stockholm's archipelago during a family visit. Photo: Private
University life, in the sciences at least, is not very different in Sweden compared to the US, Field tells The Local.
“You get the same level of responsibility, similar pay, same long hours, similar resources.”
However a different kind of working culture is one of the big advantages of Sweden for the expat.
“I like the emphasis Swedes put on taking days off work; I think it's a healthier and happier way to live. I still feel anxious and guilty about taking a day off – I hope this fades with time,” the 31-year-old says.
“I'm also really enjoying getting to know different kinds of people, I've never had so many friends from all over Europe. It also makes my life much easier that everyone here speaks such great English, although this is a disadvantage when it comes to trying to learn Swedish.”
The American also enjoys life without a car, praising Stockholm's public transport for being “excellent and cheap.”
However, not every new experience has been so easy to adjust to and Field warns any fellow expats to “be ready for a long and difficult learning curve, and be patient with yourself”.
“Moving here has been fun and exciting, but also hard in many ways. I read a lot of blogs written by Americans who moved to Sweden before coming, and that really helped me prepare myself,” she says.
“Even so, just learning how to live everyday life takes energy, and it is surprising how tiring it can be to deal with the small things.
“It took a long time to get my identification and open a bank account, and it was a bit frustrating. I don't fully understand how health care or insurance works here, and I find it quite difficult to make a doctor's appointment.”
The practical scientist has one further tip for others planning on making the move.
“Be sure to go clothes shopping before you come – everyone is very stylish, but clothing here is so much more expensive!”