Annual report concerning fall 2020 and year 2021

The Wenner-Gren Foundations (WGF) seek to promote international cooperation in the area of scientific research. To this end, WGF provide housing for visiting researchers at the Wenner-Gren Center in Stockholm, and awards grants both to Swedish researchers who wish to travel abroad, and to visiting scientists who would like to come to Sweden. Further, WGF organize international symposia, usually located at the Wenner-Gren Center, and provides grants to external international symposia in Sweden. Travel grants are provided for young researchers to participate in conferences, workshops and symposia. Finally, WGF organize Wenner-Gren Distinguished Lectures and provides financial support for foreign guest lecturers to be invited to Swedish universities and colleges. The Foundations’ administrative office is located at the Wenner-Gren Center in Stockholm.

Visiting scholars’ residences are located in Helicon, a semi-circular, three-story building in the Wenner-Gren Center centrally located in Stockholm. In total, 156 apartments are available for visiting scientists for a maximum period of two years, and rents are subsidized via specific housing grants. During 2021, resident researchers came from 40 different nations, with India, China, Spain, Germany, and France best represented, in that order.

WGF offer a comprehensive program for international scientific exchange of researchers. After completion of their doctorate, especially promising young Swedish scientists may obtain postdoctoral fellowships for study abroad and repatriation to Sweden (Wenner-Gren Fellows). Senior Swedish researchers can apply for sabbatical grants for visits abroad. For visiting foreign scientists, young researchers from abroad may work at Swedish universities supported by postdoctoral fellowships, while senior researchers from abroad may apply for guest researcher grants.

During the fall 2020 and year 2021, a total of 207 scholarships were granted within the international scientific exchange program. The grants were distributed as follows: Wenner-Gren Fellows (23), sabbatical fellowships (15), foreign postdoctoral fellowships (155), and senior visiting scientists (12). Approximately a fourth of these scientists, primarily senior scientists, had to postpone their visits to 2022 due to the covid pandemic. It may be added that WGF examine the distribution of fellowships by gender when the material is sufficient and there were in general no disfavor of female applicants. The Scientific Committee continuously follows the gender balance among granted applications.

During 2021, the Wenner-Gren Fellowship program involved 28 scientists, of whom 20 were conducting their postdoctoral education abroad, 3 were scholars in Sweden and 5 led their own research group in Sweden. The WG Fellowship program is designed to give fellows the opportunity for a three-year visit abroad and to facilitate their establishment as an independent researcher on their return to Sweden. To this end, each returning Fellow receives a grant to cover a two-year position in Sweden and a freely disposable one-time research grant of SEK 400,000, may recruit a postdoctoral researcher from abroad, and can apply for a planning grant of up to SEK 30,000 to establish collaborations with foreign research groups. Feedback from this repatriation program has been very positive.

Each year, all WG Fellows are usually invited to a meeting at the Wenner-Gren Center. During 2021 we instead arranged two digital meeting on April 29 and September 23 this year, where most of the Fellows and some board members participated. A few active Fellows recounted their experiences abroad, their current research activities and their future plans, whereas one or two earlier Fellows gave their long-term aspects and hands-on advice for establishing a research group. These digital meetings have been appreciated and we plan during 2022 to arrange a digital meeting in the spring and hopefully a physical meeting in the fall. All active Fellows reported that they despite the covid pandemic had managed to pursue their research projects with some modifications.

Senior Swedish researchers (sabbatical fellows) primarily choose to visit universities in Europe, in Asia and in the US. A third of the fellows had to postpone or shorten their visits due to the covid pandemic.
Foreign postdoctoral fellows sought to visit universities across the country, with about half of the awarded scholarships to the Stockholm/Uppsala region. Scholars have been allowed to postpone their visits due to the covid pandemic. No less than 30 countries were represented among the grantees, and several fellows came from India, the US, Spain, Germany, China, and Great Britain, in that order. Well-educated young researchers from abroad are a very important addition to Swedish research, and possibilities to apply for this type of scholarship within Sweden is limited. The foreign postdoctoral fellowships have proven to be one of the Foundations’ most popular programs.

The usually very highly qualified senior visiting researchers receive grants to cover their increased living costs in Sweden, and typically they retain their salary from their home institution. As before, most of the senior fellows came from the Europe, US, Asia, Australia and South America, and several Swedish universities were represented among the host institutions. Some guest scientists have been allowed to postpone or shorten their visits due to the covid pandemic.

WGF awarded grants for the organization of external symposia, usually with a distinctive theme and with a clear international character. During fall 2020 and year 2021, 19 applications were granted, but some were postponed or held digitally due to the covid pandemic. The planned three Wenner-Gren symposia were all postponed to 2022 due to the covid pandemic.

Guest lectures supported by WGF are of two types: Wenner-Gren Distinguished Lectures and regular guest lectures at universities and university colleges. Only one application for guest lecture was filed and granted during 2021. No Wenner-Gren Distinguished Lecturer was invited this year.

WGF award travel grants to study trips abroad for younger postdoctoral researchers working in Sweden. Requirements include the researcher´s active participation in a conference, symposium or workshop; that is, to give a lecture, participate with a poster or be chairperson. Applications during fall 2020 and year 2021 decreased by 80% due to the covid pandemic and only 40 travel grants were awarded.

WGF allocate funds (Special grants) for the dissemination of knowledge about research and research training, which in the long term may be expected to promote the Foundations’ objectives. During 2021, grants have been awarded to Researcher’s Night in Stockholm, the Federation of Young Scientists’ exhibition 2019, the Sonja Kovalevsky Days, and a project about media reports and faith in connection with the covid pandemic.

Stockholm, January 31, 2022
Britt-Marie Sjöberg
CEO, The Wenner-Gren Foundations