A look behind a new COVID-19 project with Joacim Rocklöv

Joacim Rocklöv is hiring a new postdoctoral fellow and joining the Integrated Science Lab (Icelab) as an affiliate professor, cementing casual discussions and previous collaborations and moving a new project from the idea phase to action. Gabrielle Beans interviewed him, read their conversation below.

How does an idea sparked in a casual discussion move to a funded project?

Joacim and his collaborators ask the question – how can we suppress covid-19 in Sweden over the long term, without impeding the economy too much? It is clear that we don’t know how to achieve this balance yet, as we live through this giant pandemic experiment with epidemiologists, virologists, politicians and citizens all trying different ways of fighting the spread of the virus, based on knowledge that is constantly being updated and changed. We need a better way of dealing with this and future pandemics, and finding firm footing with modelling strategies for suppressing this virus will help us on that path.

How did the idea for the research project come about?

  JR: The idea came from the increasing awareness and indications that superspreading is very important in the spread of COVID-19, and the suspicion that the policy measures didn’t, and has yet not, well taken this into account. With the superspreading patterns, measures that wouldn’t be very effective to control other infectious diseases like influenza, could be really effective and necessary when controlling COVID-19.

What happened to help you move from your idea to a funded project?

JR: I have been discussing engagement with Icelab for many years. 5 years or so ago one of my doctoral students searched for method support and found help and we started collaborating with Icelab through Åke Brännström. That is still a strong collaboration with several external grants. My group at the medical faculty is working on similar methods as Icelab, but due to the very applied nature of our research, we are “weaker” in the method components and sometimes need backup.

What are you most excited about in the new project?

JR: The highly interdisciplinary research environment in the project group and the Icelab environment is really exciting. The combination of really strong state of the art methods with the right questions and mindset for public health research problems can really lead to top research outputs of international and wider interest.

What tips do you have for researchers who want to collaborate outside of their own discipline?

JR: Start talking to people from different disciplines. Don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions, or not knowing everything….. That’s why you should collaborate, because someone else knows some things better than you…and it’s more fun. The learning curve is constantly steep.

This postdoctoral fellowship is funded by a Kempe Foundation award to Icelab to foster new multidisciplinary projects. Three projects were funded in 2020, with the potential to fund three more in 2021 and 2022. The team collaborating on this project are: a soon-to-be-appointed postdoctoral fellow, Joacim Rocklöv (Professor at Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Icelab affiliate, UmU), Åke Brännström (Professor at Department of Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics, Icelab member), Martin Rosvall (Professor at Department of Physics, Icelab member), Henrik Sjödin (Senior research engineer at Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine), Kenneth Bodin (CEO of Algoryx Simulation), Anders Johansson (Associate professor at Department of Clinical Microbiology and at Molecular Infection Medicine Sweden (MIMS)), and Annelies Wilder-Smith (Visiting professor at Department of Epidemiology and Global Health).