Text written by Nóra Lehotai and Anna Överby Wernstedt. Pictures: 1) Anna Överby Wernstedt, credit: Mattias Petterson, 2) Work in the Överby lab, credit: Mattias Petterson.
This is a MIMS Spotlight Series Extra article before the longer summer break. I chatted with Anna Överby Wernstedt, who is now a rather senior MIMS group leader. She was born and raised in Sweden and during her studies and career so far, she has lived in Scotland, Canada, the USA and Germany, to return to Sweden and join MIMS in 2011. Her life is full with activities, which she shares with her husband and their two children.
Can you tell us about your role at MIMS, what are you working on now?
I am a MIMS Group Leader,but as my 9 years-period is up, I am justfinishing the leftover funding for a postdoc in my group and will take up a new association within MIMS.My research field is virology, specialized in virus-host interactions. I am supervising a group of 9 people, and we are working with tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) virus and other mosquito- and tick-borne flaviviruses, and during the last year, it has been a lot of COVID and SARS research which means that a third of the lab switched to work on that topic and the rest of the group continued to do TBE research.
What were you doing before you joined MIMS and what attracted you to start a position here?
I did a 3-year postdoc in Freiburg, Germany, but I was looking for a possibility to move back to Sweden with my husband and son. Sweden is very generous when it comes to childcare and has goodbalance between raising a child and working while stillbe able to persue a normal life. This was already very attractive for me, and the open position at MIMS for group leader with a generous package for research, was a dream come true.
The MIMS Group Leader positions are outstanding. The environment, which is full of young scientists starting their own lab at the same time, is always vibrant, and this is another unique feature of MIMS, rare to find elsewhere. I was super happy to be able to move to Umeå. I thought that I will end up in Stockholm because my husband is from Stockholm, we have friends and family there. Thus, it was very nice to end up in Umeå in the end, closer to my side of family who live more north, in Piteå.
If you would not have your current profession, what do you think you would be doing?
I have asked this several times from myself and I don’t really know what else I would do. I think that to be a scientist, you have to be strong-headed, I do my best and I will see how far that brings me. I simply don’t see any other profession for myself.
What do you do in your free time and what are you most enjoying in living in Umeå, Sweden?
I am quite active, doing a lot of sports. In the winter, me and my family go skiing, running, I climb indoors, and we just generally like to spend time together outdoors; hiking, visiting cabins, chopping wood.
I really like the pace in Umeå, it is a bit more relaxed, allowing you to live and do research. You can escape the rush hour subway journeys and just cycle to work. Workwise, the internal competitiveness is not so high, and I don’t feel hierarchy or sort of political influence and the pressure of juggling all sorts of things, affecting my work. Umeå also allows you to be close to nature. So, in a few words: the quality of life is why I enjoy living in Umeå.
Is there a little known/interesting fact about yourself?
I played underwater rugby for many years, and I was part of the Swedish National Team from 1997 until 2019.Underwater rugby is played in the deep water part of the swimming pool, and it requires free style diving (without additional oxygen source). I played the last time during the 2019 World Championship in Graz, Austria.
If you would like to get to know more about the Swedish underwater rugby sport and team, visit their website: https://www.uv-rugby.se/
In this video, Anna explains the connection between thicks, flaviviruses and her research on TBE. The video is produced and owned by Stiftelsen for Strategisk Forskning (SSF). Swedish original language with English subtitle.