Professor Anna Sobek. Photo: Stella Papadopoulou

Like every year on 8 March, Sweden and many other countries celebrate International Women’s Day that focuses on the achievements and challenges of women around the world. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day campaign is #EmbraceEquity. To mark this special day and important theme, we talked to Professor Anna Sobek, who not only is our new Head of Department but our first female leader as well since becoming a department of Stockholm University. 

Professor Sobek was guest speaker at a Baltic Sea Breakfast seminar on environmental toxins. Photo: Jenny Rosén

Hi Anna! You’ve been our new Head of Department since the beginning of 2023. How’s it going so far?

It has been busy! There are many things for me to learn and it will take time to really get into the job. Luckily, I have great people to work with and to ask, which I do a lot.

Tell us about you. What drew you to environmental science? Describe in short how you got to where you are now.

Wow, that is both a very long and a very short story, I will take the short one here. I was early on interested in the environment, and wrote essays about acid rain and eutrophication in school. The term “research” was not present in our home, and when I started university I was the first in our family to do so. I studied biology and chemistry in Uppsala and hoped to one day get a job within “something with the environment”. I had no real plan. When I did my master project, I met PhD students and got interested in the academic world and therefore applied for a PhD position myself. And so it continued, one step at a time.

Photo: Private

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day campaign is #EmbraceEquity. What does equity mean to you as a woman and as a scientist?

It means a lot! I have been thinking so much about gender equity, the mechanisms behind it and how to improve. I was lacking role models that I felt I could identify with, and I hope and believe this has improved for the young women in science today. Gender equity in research means that everyone is given comparable benefits, encouragement, access to networks, visibility, research time and is asked to do a comparable level of service and administration, regardless of gender. Equity and equal opportunities is important not only for the individual researcher, but for the entire research environment. It is a win-win for all.

How could we as a Department/University uphold gender equity? How are you planning to ensure that?

We need to and will do many things in parallel. Recruitment is of course extremely important, and here the faculty has done a great job in ensuring a process that favors equity aspects, meaning the best candidate should get the job! I believe we see the results of this at the Department. The section has discussed mentoring programs for young researchers and other structural solutions. Working with equity must also include work on increasing our awareness about implicit bias. We are all biased, and we can only change when we realize that we are.

Do women make better leaders? 🙂

Ha! No. But I do think that the structures of our society form us and that many women might develop certain characteristics and competences that are useful in leadership roles. As do men. Again, we need to work on gender equity to have both. In the end, it comes down to who you are, what you want and how much you are interested in people and finding solutions for others.

Being Head of Department is stressful! How do you relax after a hectic day/week?

Well, family life and all that comes with that takes up a lot of time, and helps me think about things other than work. If I have time for myself, and it is not too late (for my neighbors’ sake…), I love to play the violin. And I read a lot.

More on Professor Anna Sobek

Global study finds the extent of pharmaceutical pollution in the world’s rivers

Watch Anna Sobek’s presentation at a Baltic Sea Breakfast seminar on environmental toxins – March 2022





Contact information

Visiting addresses:

Geovetenskapens Hus,
Svante Arrhenius väg 8, Stockholm

Arrheniuslaboratoriet, Svante Arrhenius väg 16, Stockholm (Unit for Toxicological Chemistry)

Mailing address:
Department of Environmental Science
Stockholm University
106 91 Stockholm

Press enquiries should be directed to:

Stella Papadopoulou
Science Communicator
Phone +46 (0)8 674 70 11