Category Archives: My Research Journey

PhD Salary in the Faculty of Medicine at Uppsala University

One of the best things about being a PhD student in Sweden is the salary. PhD students in the USA often only have to work 20 hours per week (with an assistantship) or maybe technically, 0 hours per week (with a fellowship). Still others do not have to work, but do have to pay to attend their PhD program. Yuck!

When students do work, it’s not uncommon to get between $12,000-$18,000 per year (or per school year), while some fancy people may get as high as $30,000. For example, my buddy got $17,000 plus another $10,000 fellowship.

But those numbers pale in comparison to Sweden! Click here to see the pdf of the Uppsala University pay scale for PhD students in Medicine.

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Currently, a starting PhD student will have to work 40 hours per week, but that also includes their course work, conference time, etc, and their work (i.e. research). In compensation for that, they receive 25,000 SEK per month ($2936 per month or $35,232 per year–and that’s at the current crappy conversion rate [1:8.52]).

When students are 50% completed with their PhD they earn 27,900 SEK per month ($3276 per month) and when they’re 80% completed (all but dissertation normally), then they receive 29,700 SEK per month ($3488 per month or $41,856 per year!).  Plus all of the government benefits and pension money.

Of course, if you are not just a researcher, but also a physician, then your salary increases to a whopping 35,700 SEK per month ($50,304 per year)!

Not too shabby to be a PhD student in Sweden!


Dissertation (Avhandling) Cover Photo

I’m often asked by fellow PhD students–what should I have on the cover of my dissertation (avhandling) book?

To me, the answer was very clear–I wanted the overall message, the theme, of my dissertation to be front and center on the cover.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then I should shorten my dissertation 😉


I had a childhood friend, Kirb Brimstone (also found on Facebook here), do the artwork. I advised him what I wanted and he drew it.

Here’s the significance of my cover art:

Since my dissertation is about how fathers are not provided with an equal chance to parent, both through the Swedish family policies and through the institutions, like the child health field, I had this represented on the cover.

There’s an illustration of Sweden in the background, with a father, presumably from Uppsala University, holding his daughter’s hand as he walks towards a nurse and a preschool teacher.

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The nurse and preschool teacher are both women, signifying the gender difference men/fathers face at the outset of garnering parenting advice from these individuals.

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However, he is stopped at a fence, with a lock, signifying the gatekeeping that is happening as those who have knowledge about young children’s health hold the keys (and therefore the power) to inform or not inform others about young children’s health.

In this case, fathers feel like the gate is closed, and that they have several barriers to break down before they can be fully accepted into the child health world.

Even my own institution highlights the lack of the importance of fathers, as it is aptly named “Women’s and Children’s Health“.

Mainly people in Sweden and around the world believe that Sweden is a very gender equal country. And to its credit, it most certainly is, especially relative to other countries. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a vast amount of work still needed before achieving gender equality. While many people work with the struggle for equal rights for women, few pose the argument on ways men/fathers are discriminated against, not the least of which is through the Swedish child health field.

With that in mind, the sign on the gatekeeping fence has a sign saying “Nullius in Verba” which is Latin for “take nobody’s word for it”. In other words, just because people believe Sweden is a gender equal country, and that men/fathers hold all of the power–do not take societies word for it.

Seek out the truth… reading my dissertation.

You can find a copy of my dissertation by clicking here.

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One last thing–I gave a tip of my hat to the father-figures in my life: my father (JSW), my two grandfathers (KFE & CRW), and my best childhood friends dad (SP) by having their initials “carved” into the fence on the right-hand side. This was also intended as a symbolic gesture, suggesting that these fathers had reached the gate, but were stopped and couldn’t be as involved in all aspects of childrearing as they might have liked due to the various levels of gatekeeping that they encountered.

A Swedish Spikning–Nailing my Dissertation

After sitting and writing your dissertation (avhandling) for months, the day comes when it’s is printed.


It looks so real! A book, with my name as the author is coming into being. Are all of my citations correct? Are my results right? I didn’t mess up any of the decimal places, did I?


After a thorough checking of your printed dissertation is completed, you send it in for processing and you get a real book!

Once your dissertation is complete, you have a spikning. A spikning is when you nail your avhandling (dissertation) to the wall.


Everyone used to nail it to a door/wall at the main university building, but today, it’s more common to only nail it within your own office space or to not even literally nail it, but rather just celebrate the accomplishment.


Either way, I did feel a bit like Martin Luther, although I think my findings were a bit less controversial.

And of course, it’s always nice to hear toasts, make toasts.


And celebrate the accomplishment with cake.


Now just a few short weeks until the actual defense.


Team Building in Gothenburg

Our research team, Social Pediatrics, headed out to Gothenburg (Göteborg) to attend the International Society for Social Pediatrics and Child Health (ISSOP) 2014 Conference.

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While making our way from Uppsala to Gothenburg, our boss, Anna Sarkadi, handed us an envelop. Inside contained instructions on what we were to do once we arrived in Gothenburg:

1) Form one of two groups and create a name

2) Rent a bike

3) Bike to the Opera House (6 km, each way) and show/describe our research posters to random passer-by people

4) Interview parents and children on their thoughts about the use of timeout

5) Find a gift for group members who aren’t with us at the conference. It has to be free, meaningful, and connected to Gothenburg

6) Prepare an 8 minute powerpoint presentation in less than 10 minutes to present to the group

The winning will receive a free dinner and be allowed to bring with them one external researcher (plus free wine if that researcher is not from Sweden).

AKA–talk to people about parenting research, present findings, and network.

Below are some pictures showing the amazingness of team building.

Notes from interviewing parents and children on timeout usage
Maria started to chat with people on the train about their thoughts on timeout usage. Children didn’t want it to be used, since they thought it was mean, while parents thought it was important sometimes.


Biking to the Opera House
6 km to the Opera House, but a beautiful view!
Promoting Maria’s bedtime peeing research to random tourists at the Opera House in Gothenburg
Natalie, Maria, and myself celebrating that we had promoted our research on the streets of Gothenburg


Anton couldn’t be with us since he had just had a baby, so we thought a new home was in order

What better way to bring your research literally to the streets!

Click here to read about the ISSOP conference, click here to read about Uppsala’s Social Pediatrics Research Group talks, click here to read about my (Michael B. Wells’) presentation, and click here to read about some highlights in Gothenburg.


Two-day Course on Multilevel Modeling

While earning my master’s degree in Human Development and Family Science at Ohio State University, I learned about hierarchical linear modeling (HLM). It sounded so cool. But I never had a chance to learn how to do it….until now.

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Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 11.24.47 AMÖrebro University hosted Professor Joop Hox (Utrecht University) on June 9-11, 2014. Dr Hox taught the 2.5 day course on multilevel modeling from a statistician’s perspective.

It was a bit difficult for myself, as well as others (I had to ask around if I was the only one) to understand everything that was being taught, mainly because we were taught more about the formulas and why we should use them rather than focusing more attention to real-life examples and how we could organize our data and run actual model, for instance.

Hox Presentation

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 1.02.12 PMThankfully, he wrote a book entitled Multilevel Analysis: Techniques and Applications (Second edition) that’s quite helpful at explaining how to do the analyses and he has a website ( with papers and programs so people can learn and practice more.

Ph.D. Half-time Seminar: Parenting Support for Fathers in Sweden: The Role of Child Health Centers and Parent Support Programs for Young Children

On March 30th, 2014 I completed my half-time (halvtid) seminar at Uppsala University in Sweden. The title of my half-time was called Parenting Support for Fathers in Sweden: The Role of Child Health Centers and Parent Support Programs for Young Children.

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The half-time is important: It stresses that you’re half-way completed with your Ph.D. Since you should have four publications to earn your Ph.D. in Medicine at Uppsala University, two articles should be completed (or mostly completed) before hosting your half-time.

I, Michael Wells, am in Social Pediatrics (Dr Anna Sarkadi) which is part of the Department of Women’s and Children’s Health in the Faculty of Medicine at Uppsala University.

My half-time committee including Dr. Sven Bremberg, Dr. Pia Enebrink, and Dr. Birgitta Essen.

My half-time consisted of three studies:

  • Wells, M.B., Engman, J., & Sarkadi, A. Gender equality in Swedish child health centres: An analysis of their physical environments and parental behaviours. Accepted for publication in Semiotica: Journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies.
  • Wells, M.B., Varga, G., Kerstis, B., & Sarkadi, A. (2013). Swedish child health nurses’ views of early father involvement: A qualitative study. Acta Paediatrica, 102(7), 755-761.
  • Salari, R., Wells, M.B., & Sarkadi, A. Child behaviour problems, parenting behaviours and parental adjustment in mothers and fathers in Sweden. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health. (Revise and Resubmit).

Along with that, you should have taken two compulsory courses:

  • Introduction to Doctoral Studies (1.5 credits)
  • Introduction to Scientific Research (9.0 credits).

These are the only two mandatory courses a student has to take if they are in the Faculty (Department) of Medicine.

Thankfully I not only had taken those two courses, but I had also sat through several other lectures, including a week long lesson in York, England called Foundations of Economic Evaluation in Health Care (through the York Expert Workshops found here).

Only one other requirement is needed (and to be fair, it’s only needed before graduating): the Ph.D. student should also attend conferences, presenting at least two posters and one oral presentation. Thankfully I had completed this requirement, and therefore don’t need to worry about that before graduating (although I will still go to many more, as I love presenting my research and spreading the word about gender equality in Sweden).

Months before your half-time, your supervisor should select three committee members. This is because people are quite busy and trying to book them last minute can be quite tedious and even cause delays. These three committee members may or may not be at your Ph.D. defense, but they will provide valuable insight into your research by challenging your research, as well as providing guidance as you move forward with your final studies and framing the four manuscripts into a logical story (e.g. the red thread).

To see the official list (in Swedish) of the guidelines for half-time, click here (these may be specific to Women’s and Children’s Health, but provide good overall advice as well).

A Basic Breakdown of the Guidelines:

Three weeks before your half-time, you should email your kappa (aka jacka–as a jacka is jacket, while a kappa [your actual Ph.D. defense book] refers to a long overcoat; hence jacka is used as a funny term to describe being half-way completed) to your three committee members. Your jacka/kappa contains two things:

  1. The Jacka: This is a manuscript telling the story of your research, including your published studies, and a discussion and future research section. When writing the jacka/kappa, the Introduction should frame your studies into the larger picture of where your studies fit. Your studies, especially the Methods and Results sections are then added into the jacka, but severely trimmed down: so that they don’t exactly repeat what the articles say, but still can stand on their own, possessing all of the really important information from your studies. The Discussion section should be next, followed by a Future Research section, which typically highlights your other papers that will comprise your Ph.D. defense. These are added in so that the half-time committee can understand how all of the studies tie together, as well as provide advice on the additional papers. A basic abstract is warranted on each manuscript in the Future Research section.
  2. Attach the full-length studies your half-time is based on (whether actually published or in manuscript form). This is done so that the half-time committee may read more specifically what you have done. All three committee members may or may not fully read your actual articles, which is why the jacka is so important.

About a week before the half-time defense, your half-time is made public (i.e. university emails are sent out reminding everyone of your seminar and when and where it’s located). People may or may not show up.

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 12.29.04 AMPreparing for your half-time is extremely important; after all, you’re representing your supervisors, your research team, and of course yourself. Plus, making good impressions on your committee may help lead to further job prospects. Dr Raziye Salari helped me tremendously in preparing for my half-time, especially in understanding my statistics on a deeper level (specific statistics questions may or may not be asked, but confidence levels sure rise if a greater level of understanding is achieved [aka learn as much as you can]). But to see a list of the Top 10 most frequently asked questions, click here. Knowing the answers to these questions will greatly help when preparing for your half-time or a Ph.D. defense!

The total half-time defense lasts for about three hours. The day of the half-time consists of several things:

  1. Make sure lunch and fika (snacks) are ordered as appropriate
  2. Give a 20 (to 30) minute presentation to the general public and your 3 committee members
  3. Defend your thesis and participate in a constructive research dialogue with your 3 committee members in front of the general public for about an hour and 45 minutes
  4. Committee members meet privately with your supervisor and co-supervisors to discuss your progress
  5. Committee members meet privately to decide if you’ve passed your half-time
  6. Your supervisor is notified by the committee members, who then informs you of the decision
  7. Pay raise is given 🙂

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Attached here are my powerpoint slides, as well as my half-time jacka (even with the various editing errors that I realized after I had sent it out).

Parenting Support for Fathers in Sweden Half Time Jacka

Parenting Support for Fathers in Sweden Half-time Jacka Pdf



After the committee deliberation, I found out that I had passed my half-time!


A Longitudinal Study on Fathers’ Parenting and Child Cognitive Development and Academic Achievement Across the Transition to School: NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development

The spring of 2008 was a pivotal time for me. It was the first time I would fly to Sweden and it was the time I graduated from Ohio State University‘s master’s program in Human Development and Family Science (of which now, apparently, you can only get a PhD in).

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Under the tutelage of Dr Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, then a young burgeoning Assistant Professor, I took on my master’s thesis using data from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (NICHD SECCYD). I spent the whole fall of 2007 writing the introduction and methods sections and the spring writing the results and discussion section.

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I got to do exactly what I wanted–looking at father-child play in preschool and if those interactions (measured through sensitivity and stimulation) could predict later cognitive and academic achievement in first grade, above and beyond what the mother contributes. Below is the abstract. Click here to read my full Master’s Thesis.


This study examined associations between biological, co-resident father-child play at 54 months and child cognitive development and academic achievement at first grade for 699 father-child dyads who took part in the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care. Fathers interacted with their child at 54 months in play oriented tasks and fathers’ sensitive and stimulating parenting were measured. Then, in first grade, children’s cognitive abilities and academic achievement were measured using the Woodcock-Johnson Psycho-educational Battery—Revised. Analyses using Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) revealed that fathers’ parenting during the play session at 54 months significantly predicted children’s cognitive development and there was a trend for predicting academic achievement at first grade. These results held true even after controlling for mothers’ parenting and parental education (which was used as a measure of SES). There were no moderating effects of child gender.

Right before the summer started in 2008, my advisor and I thought we should try to publish these findings. So I started trimming down the thesis to an acceptable level for publication.

I felt like this guy!
I felt like this guy!

As I did so, my advisor came upon an unfortunate (for me) publication. Unbeknownst to us, the NICHD team was also working on a similar paper, only they went further, looking at child outcomes in third grade.

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Dr. Jay Belsky, who I met in London in the summer of 2008, to tell him about how they had beaten me to publication

Belsky J, Booth la Force C, Bradley R, Brownell CA, Burchinal M, Campbell SB, et al. Mothers’ and fathers’ support for child autonomy and early school achievement. Developmental Psychology. 2008;44(4):895-907.


Data were analyzed from 641 children and their families in the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development to test the hypotheses that in the early school years, mothers’ and fathers’ sensitive support for autonomy in observed parent– child interactions would each make unique predictions to children’s reading and math achievement at Grade 3 (controlling for demographic variables), children’s reading and math abilities at 54 months, and children’s level of effortful control at 54 months and that these associations would be mediated by the level of and changes over time in children’s observed self-reliance in the classroom from Grades 1 through 3. The authors found that mothers’ and fathers’ support for autonomy were significantly and uniquely associated with children’s Grade 3 reading and math achievement with the above controls, but only for boys. For boys, the effect of mothers’ support for child autonomy was mediated by higher self-reliance at Grade 1 and of fathers’ support for child autonomy by greater increases in self-reliance from Grades 1 through 3.

Apparently the NICHD team had been working on a very similar project with the national data and had beaten me to publication, rendering my analysis obsolete since it didn’t really add anything new–I also looked at cognition, but since cognition and academic achievement are correlated, my advisor and I deemed it not different enough to add anything new to the literature.

So I learned a lesson: when using national data, you have to be the first to publish, and therefore time is of the essence.

Having said that, I’m really glad I was able to use the NICHD SECCYD! I was able to learn how to get my hands on national data, how to run complex statistical analyses, and was able to focus on the issues that were important to me, namely control for maternal data–something that would have been much harder to do if I had worked with a smaller dataset.