Photo credits:
Sarah Thorén

SCAS News - 21 May, 2019

Reflections by a Fellow - Steve Chenoweth

Steve Chenoweth reflects on his time as a Fellow of the SCAS Natural Sciences Programme

“My previous sabbaticals were effectively transplants between my biology department and another
biology department in a different part of the world. The time free from teaching and administration
on these breaks was of course wonderful for research but the collaborators I visited were still deeply
immersed in these roles which always meant less time than anticipated for effective collaboration.
The advanced institute experience is very different; you are a member of a cohort of fellows, all simi-
larly relieved from these duties. This not only provides long uninterrupted tracts of time for discussion
and sharing ideas but also an opportunity to socialise with their families. The environment is highly
stimulating, with outstanding scholars from a particularly broad range of disciplines.  I would probably
never encounter specialists in such a diverse range of fields within the silo-like structure of the modern
university. The daily lunches and the weekly seminars provide a first-hand opportunity to see how the
research process works in other fields.

One trade-off associated with the diversity at SCAS is that there may be few people within your own
area of specialisation to collaborate with. In my case, two factors offset this. First, I was fortunate to
have written a joint proposal with two Canadian colleagues with whom I am working on a specific project.
Second, the Collegium’s close proximity to Uppsala University and its world class Evolutionary Biology
Centre (EBC) mean that there are literally dozens of researchers within my discipline only a short walk
away. I was lucky to secure a second office at EBC which pretty much provided the best of both worlds.
A highlight of my visit was organising a SCAS sponsored workshop to which we were able to attract world
leaders in theoretical biology, genomics, and evolutionary ecology for a series of seminars and meetings. 

Being away from my research group back in Australia did bring with it challenges owing to time zone
differences but these are no different to what one would encounter on a regular sabbatical. A single
occupancy, as opposed to shared, office at SCAS makes video conferencing straightforward. As much
of my research work is computational, one concern was whether connectivity with High Performance
Computing facilities back home would be sufficient. This proved unfounded as SCAS was extremely
flexible with various requests to make this work smoothly.  My advice to colleagues, especially those in
traditional teaching and research roles, would be to seriously consider an IAS for your next sabbatical. I
really hope that SCAS continues to support joint proposals from small groups of natural scientists who
are trying to tackle specific problems. It’s an opportunity difficult to replicate within the regular structure
of academia.”

Steve Chenoweth is Professor of Evolutionary Quantitative Genetics at the University of Queensland,
St Lucia. He was a Fellow in residence at SCAS in the autumn term of 2018.

Read more about Steve Chenoweth >>