Taking her palce at the Swedish Royal Court


A Dublin-born academic is to receive a Swedish professorship in environmental science, reports Dick Ahlstrom

An Irish social scientist specialising on the environment has become a "King's professor" to the Royal Court of Sweden. It is the first time a woman has received the award since its inception in 1996.

Dr Susan Baker, a reader in the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University will take up her one-year post at Umeå University after receiving a King Carl XVI Gustaf's Professor in Environmental Science award. "I've had relations with Umeå going back over years," states Baker. "Umeå University nominated me and I am to be hosted there from next September."

The professorships were created to celebrate the King's 50th birthday. A foundation was created and now funds this environmental academic post. Until last year when the first social scientist was appointed, all previous holders had been natural scientists.

"It is the first time a woman has ever held it and I am really pleased about that," Baker adds. "I am going to go around and shake these people up, as Oscar Wilde put it, stir up apathy, getting them to think about the social science side of the environment."

Recipients of the professorship must demonstrate a track record in advancing research in environmental science. Candidates for the post cannot promote themselves but must be nominated by senior staff in a Swedish university, in Baker's case the vice chancellor of Umeå.

"Umeå is a centre for environmental research and they are trying to develop the environmental research field up there," she says. "They wanted to see that appointment come north to them."

Baker has a wide range of experience in social science as it relates to the environment. Her main research interest is in EU environmental policy, in particular "looking at how to promote sustainable development in high consumption societies", she explains.

"What my job will be is to base myself in Umeå for the year, link in with research going on there but also to link in with the wider social science area, trying to get a common research agenda with social and natural scientists." Research themes will include climate change, citizenship and the economy.

The appointment is timely, she believes, because Sweden only recently launched a national programme on climate change. It will encompass climatic change in all its manifestations including scientific studies of what will happen but also the social policy and political impacts.

Most researchers have already accepted that climate change is on the way if not already happening, she says. "It is the politics of climate change that is the issue. We have no grasp of the kinds of things that need to be done about it."

Baker is no stranger to moving as part of her academic career. Born in Loughlinstown, Co Dublin, she moved as a child to Cork, grew up there and did her BA in philosophy and economics at UCC.

She got an MA and then worked in the US and Galway before winning a Government scholarship to Florence where she did a PhD in political science. She lectured in UU Jordanstown in Belfast for six years before taking a post at Erasmus University in Rotterdam and then later Cardiff.

Last year she held a Jean Monnet Fellowship at the Robert Schuman Centre based at the European University Institute in Florence. She expects to maintain her connections with Cardiff University while she completes her one-year posting at Umeå.

At the end of her professorship in May 2004 she will have to give a lecture at the Royal Court in Stockholm, with King Carl XVI Gustaf in attendance. Also on hand will be members of the Royal Swedish Academies of science, agriculture and engineering.

During her stay in Sweden she will learn about climate change first hand. Umeå experiences extreme cold and metres of snow during winter, a shocking change from the comparatively balmy Cardiff or Cork.