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Here he is - EMV´s new Head of Department


"My vision is to foster research that could be rewarded with the Nobel prize", says Tomas. Photo: Agata Garpenlind.

Tomas Deierborg, 46, father of three and Professor, is EMV´s new Head of Department as of January 1st. Congratulations Tomas! A sports question: how does it feel?

– Aha, you have already realized that I´m a competitive person. In sports. But when it comes to research and teaching I think competition can be counterproductive.

I think the pressure and the competitive environment experienced by academic researchers today to some extent is negative when it comes to getting solid reproducible data and staying a healthy, balanced and creative researcher. What is scientific success? High profile papers, many papers, big grants, many citations, revealing new biological mechanisms, clinical applicability…? Take your friends and try to compete in music: Which is the best song…? Futile.  We need to be humble here when it comes to how we judge and support research and researchers. We must keep in mind that there are excellent researchers who are working both hard and well, but whose research isn´t easily published.

But to answer your question, I am very happy and honored for the trust to have gotten  the possibility to lead our  department. So many interesting people to work with, great scientists, teachers and other personnel. I have my own ideas on how the department can meet the future, but I´m particularily keen on getting input and suggestions from all EMV members on what could be improved and what EMV can do for them.

So, how will you celebrate?

– I have celebrated a bit with my wife and children when I got to know about the decision.

What signifies a great prefekt, in your opinion?

– Justness and fairness. Good listening skills, daring to change and a will to improve the department. Being involved and caring for both small and big questions.

Why were you elected as our new prefekt, i.e, what singled you out, do you think?

– I think it was mostly based on me being an honest and fair person helping out in various situations. Trust is very important in research and also interaction with other researchers. I was the toastmaster at the first EMV party back in 2006, a really fun party, but I guess that merit has been forgotten. Saying that, I believe that our work should be both inspiring and fun.

Why did you decide to take on this challenge?

– I considered the nomination thoroughly since I have a great respect for the assignment. It was not an easy decision for me to accept the nomination. As a prefekt one needs to focus on the best interest for all of EMV, which will be my focus for the three coming years, and not only my own lab and other duties at the faculty. My vision is to foster all research, including the research with the possibility to be rewarded the Nobel prize, and for EMV to be the best and most inspiring work place for everyone.

Indeed, it is a challenge, which also makes the job inspiring. You meet colleagues at different levels in their careers and see and discuss various things that can be improved. Then, when you get the possibility to be in a position to make a change, I see it as a duty to accept the challenge.

What experience do you have of leadership?

– I was CEO for a MedTech company 2010-2012 (now registered on the Nasdaq Stockholm stock exchange), which was a great learning period. I started my own lab, “Experimental Neuroinflammation Lab” 2013. Related to leadership I was awarded the 2019 Minerva Leadership Award 2019. Presently, I am the study coordinator for the PhD courses at our faculty and member of FUN (Postgraduate Education Board) deciding the format and regulating the PhD education. I´m course leader of the course research supervision, a course you need to take to supervise PhD students. I´m also active in our strong research environment MultiPark (research on neurodegenerative diseases) as study coordinator and Head of the innovation group.

How would you describe your leadership style?

– To be a lab head at Lund University working with talented PhD students and postdocs is very easy. You mostly don´t need to be a controlling boss. It´s enough being an inspiring leader and provide opportunities and ideas. I believe the role as a supervisor is to be responsive for every person´s/student’s talents, interests and abilities and to make sure that that person can develop in the best way. I´m implementing multidisciplinary research in my lab, which I consider both adds value to research projects and is fun.

Upsides and downsides of this position?

– The upsides are getting to know interesting people at the department, recruiting new scientists and getting know their work. The downsides are that it will probably take some time from research and spare time.

What drives you crazy in a team work situation?

– Selfish and greedy persons that are more interested in taking than giving, i.e., unethical behavior. Academic research is a tough environment, but you should always treat colleagues and individuals as you want to be treated yourself.

How will the department benefit from your past experience and interests? Which are these experiences an interests?

– As mentioned, I´ve had the opportunity to work at several levels at the faculty and I´ve met several leaders and experts and I´ve also worked with other faculties, which has taught me plenty. To develop and improve an organization you need to know it from several levels. On top of being in various leading positions at the faculty, I have also worked a lot as lecturer and PBL tutor in Med school as well as in the biomedicine education. I believe it´s useful for a prefekt to have these experiences.

What work related issues are you personally very committed to?

– Trying to help out in various ways and providing opportunities. Solving difficult situations that may occur between colleagues.

Tell us, in a layman manner, about your research.

– We are researching inflammation in the brain and specifically the microglial cells in the brain and want to understand their role in brain diseases, e.g. neurodegenerative diseases. We are also studying how physical exercise can affect the brain and brain diseases.

Why did you become a researcher? 

– I´m a curious person and have always asked “why” questions and tried to understand various things. I´ve always been interested in the human body, physiology and biology.

What do you like most about the job as a researcher?

– The overarching aim to understand and make a difference and to meet up and discuss interesting things with interesting people.

How much research will you do now, in your new position?

– I have a good independent team so I´m sure they will continue to conduct good research even if I will not be present as much as before.

How would you describe yourself?

– An active and caring individual who wants to have fun.

What do you do on evenings and weekends? Favorite pasttime?

– Spending time with family and friends, training, being outdoors, hunting as well as relaxing watching TV at home. We bought a cottage in the forest in Sölvesborg in Blekinge, where I´m from, and I have built a sauna cabin, which I´m very much looking forward to using this winter.

What are you most proud of?

– My family, I hope to give my children good values in life, and my lab.

Morning or night person?

– Night person.

Favorite food?

– Right now, I would say home made pizza in my mini wood-fired pizza oven. It´s very different from home-made pizza in a conventional oven.

Secret talent?

– Perhaps more a lack of typical talents… Getting back to your first “sports question”, and since we are studying effect of physical exercise on the brain, and also knowing Olga the deputy head has similar talents; I´m strong in arm wrestling (unbeaten so far). And perhaps “plankan”, (the plank), for at least for half an hour.

Dang! Well that´s certainly a crazy skill. Good luck with your new feat here at EMV, Tomas!

Tomas Deierborg, Professor and new Head of Department

Lives: In house in Hofterup 20 km north east of Lund

Family: Wife and three kids (10-15 years old)

Education: M.Sc. in Molecular Biology and upper secondary teacher in science and biology

Professional background: PhD 2004 in stroke research (experimental brain research), Associate Professor 2010, Senior Lecturer 2018

Time in Lund and EMV: Came to Lund as a student 1994. Been part of EMV since it was started

Essence of your research: Understanding inflammatory processes in the brain related to neurodegenerative diseases

Title: Professor in Physiology (since June 2020)

By Agata Garpenlind

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