How to navigate the Swedish Academic System

Dear future or current uni student,

We all know the feeling of starting a new essay or thesis…. aka the ultimate PROCRASTINATING. “Yeah, the dog ate my textbook, my cat wants to take a bath, a fly flew to my eyeball and I can’t see….etc”.

But before you jump into desperately looking for the late submission date and read the makeup assignments, let me just give you some academic tips. Tips I was told about or learned on my own skin.

Sincerely, an equally desperate uni student

The secret life of academics

Lecturers, teachers, researchers are quite scary, sometimes intimidating! Because they are smart, and they seem to have it all together. BUT! Let me tell you a secret. They have all been there, and they know what we stress about, and sometimes they like to show a bit of solidarity behind their podium.

I also got some good news. In Sweden, most teachers are preferred to be called on their first names, and they refuse to be formal with you. The mutual respect between teacher and student doesn’t come from the inconvenience and authority but from the passion between common interest and (sometimes even mutual) knowledge transfer. A good debate, a deep discussion is always something that Swedish universities support.

And if you don’t understand something? Simply Ask. Teachers are always willing to help you. They are teachers, right? 🙂
My experience is also something very similar. No matter what kind of problem I had, all of my teachers replied to my email with nothing but kindness, understanding, and of course helpfulness.

Let me tell you a little personal story: Once I really needed an article, and it was kind of expensive, but oh well I thought it’s worth a try. I found the email address of the author, and I told her, that I am a uni student, and for a course paper I’d like to read her article because the Abstract describes exactly what I am looking for. I never thought I’ll get an answer, but half an hour later, this awesome professor sent me her article, and she even sent me some other possible references! Sometimes it really does worth trying!

The pursuit of  (the) academia 

The whole language of the universities and academia (and higher education in general) is really confusing and hard to get used to. Credits, modules, researches, questionnaires, terms, semesters, etc. (the list is really endless here)…

You might be thinking “it’s silly, why is she telling all this to Us, it’s so obvious, or should be obvious”. But trust me perhaps your country has a completely different educational system, or certain things are called in a very different way.  Or perhaps you are going to be a bachelor student, and you have never met these definitions and words.

I have only one and a very obvious answer: ASK! ASK!

Me, chasing Academic happiness / Photo: Sara Heindl

As a quick lesson, here are the most important and – most obvious – terms We use at my university (University of Gothenburg):

  • Credits: credits are basically recognition points for the amount of time you have completed. For example, usually, an MA program is 120 credits (30 credits per semester), a completed BA program  consists of 180 credits.
  • Modules: a module usually refers to a self-contained course, that usually lasts for several months. (In my program is approx.  2 months usually).  It covers just one subject and is assessed independently of other modules.
    In each semester We have two modules 🙂

Sources of choices

No matter what field are you’ll probably have to hand in some essays, papers, reports, or any other kind of written document.

One thing that every single academic written (and spoken) discussion will contain are the sources, aka something that has been previously written or said by someone who is smart :D, and you can quote from.

But where can I find relevant sources?

The fantastic academic library!

Every university (sometimes even each faculty) has its own library! If you are a student at the University in Sweden YOU ARE a member of the university library (yes, you already BELONG somewhere isn’t nice)?

In a typical university library, you can not only borrow books, but you can also study, print/copy/scan, ask the advice of the librarian (yes I annoy their guts out sometimes :D), or just simply mingle (not too loud of course) with your peers!

Course books, journals, textbooks, academic journals, scholars’ thesis’s, essays, articles, etc. are all to be found in school libraries, and they are easy to access.

Pay close attention to the opening hours of different libraries! City libraries might have a completely different schedule than university libraries. Especially due to COVID restrictions. Before you thoughtfully pack your study stuff and leave, check out the opening hours on the internet!

You can also book study rooms, and computers if you need to!

Our wonderful Emma has written a great article about the university libraries in Sweden! Definitely worth to check 🙂

Tip: every academic paper has its own reference list! Always take a look at their bibliographies and reference list, you might find something there as well.

Autumn equals school season for me / Photo: Sara Heindl

Libary online? What?! That’s the 21st century for you, baby!

Libraries have online databases but what is more impressive: they “assure you” free access to many academic articles which would normally cost you a fortune. You can sometimes only borrow them for a few days, or simply download the PFD version or an online look at the online version. In any case, it is extremely useful and of course convenient!

When you are a student at a Swedish university, you are entitled (and encouraged) to use the library!

There are many other databases online some of them require a yearly or monthly payment, some of them require payment after each article.

Other useful programs and websites to help your academic career:

  • Google Scholar – it gather everything virtually. If you’re looking for books, articles, dissertations, student thesis, working papers, etc.
  • Zotero:  this is a free and easy-to-use reference manager where you can collect, organize, share, and cite research.
  • Mybib: if you’re not sure how to cite a certain article, you can use Mybib. It’s free and you can customize it to the style (of referencing) of your choice.

And now it’s your time to shine! Leave your tips and tricks in the comment section, so we can all share our academic wisdom!!!

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