Today, we had a seminar to celebrate Professor Claes Nilholm who has recently retired from a long and successful career. Eight colleagues of ours, researchers and professors from Claes’s long career, made speeches to honour Claes and between 25 and 30 attendees joined us online on zoom and around 40-50 attended the seminar in the room. Claes has been my colleague since 2018 when I started working at Uppsala Univesity, but prior to that he was my supervisor during my Ph.D. studies (2010-2015). Aside the fact that his impact on the research field and the education of teachers and special needs staff can hardly be overestimated, and I can only say that his impact on my own life, how I view my role as a researcher, supervisor and teacher is immense. The following text is my introductory speech to today’s seminar.
Hello everybody, and thank you all for being here.
This is an event that I know many have been looking forward to, I certainly know that I have been.
Now, Claes was my supervisor along with professor Kerstin Göransson, who is sitting right here and who will speak a little later in our program, and I often say that it was a rare fortune for me to have had this couple as supervisors. The incredible drive, productiveness, curiosity and willingness to share their thoughts, reflections and knowledge has been an inspiration not only in my research but also in my teaching and supervision.
To clarify what I mean by this, I could just mention how quick, constructive and forward thinking Claes has been in both his research and his supervising of both Ph.D. students and new researchers. I don’t think I’ve ever received feedback on a text from him that didn’t begin with a couple of positive comments before listing what he felt could be better. This even when my texts really didn’t have much to their defense, but I see him practicing this still today with the Ph.D. students that we’ve been supervising together.
And as regards research, he is always looking for and coming up with new ideas, and as those who have seen his lectures – and will see today – it is with a clear pathos to constructively contribute to a better education for children and pupils, and for better and improved research in the field.
Always with the primary aim of “contributing knowledge”.
Now, Claes happens to massively underestimate his contribution to the special education and inclusive education. A few years back, we were having a discussion about the increasingly precariat situation for researchers, where the measurement of quality is primarily measured in peer reviewed articles in international and high status journals. Claes has since then run a ground breaking project and methodological development – something Ingrid Olsson will tell us more about later – focusing on the issue of impact and citations rather than the number of points on publication lists – hence aiming at capturing qualities previously invisible to us.
However, what the research reviews of the most cited scientific articles miss is the influence a researcher may have on thinking within a research field and on the educational practice that is based upon what students receive during their teacher education and studies in special education. I’d dare anyone to find a bachelor, master-level or doctoral-thesis that pertains to special education or inclusion that does not have Nilholm listed in in the list of references. Now, you might find a thesis or two, but clearly those theses should not have been passed due to poor grounding in the research field. The same goes for syllabi, governmental reports, and government agencies advisory texts.
If that isn’t influence, then I don’t know what is.
Now, I’m sure not many of you know this as he is very secretive about it – but Claes has a blog that he tends to as a gardener would a delicate bonsai-tree. A year ago, it had around 200 posts and I hesitate to imagine how many posts have been added to it since Claes has retired and has more time to think and write. This bilingual blog has been written with the ambition to communicate and delineate research and reasoning about education, schooling, special education and inclusion to the public – practitioners, students and other researchers.
As someone who feels that researchers’ communications with the public is something of importance and feels that academics have a certain obligation to contribute to societal discussions about their fields, Claes’ blog, which I regularly visit to refresh upon different topics and sharpen my arguments, is an admirable expression of his ambition to communicate outside the often relatively closed confines of the academy and to conduct the “third mission” in a meaningful manner.
As you can see, we have a specific theme for this conference, Building Communities. Inclusion and a sense of belonging and I have been asked to talk a little bit about it.
The first thing a researcher does is to start digging in the theoretical literature and to find and problematize definitions and to discuss research on the phenomenon. And of course I started out by doing this. However, rather than spending time on retelling research results and reading quotes from Claes’ articles, I’d like to address community as something that is not only to be researched or theorized but also – as Claes’ articles express – practiced.
As Gunilla and I discussed not long ago, when she came to Uppsala there were only a handful of people working within what was then a relatively small research group. One professor, Claes, and Gunilla, at the time a becoming associate professor, and a few other staff members.
Today, the PS groups has a steady e-mail list of around 25 individual researchers, several Ph.D. students, several associate professors, several senior lecturers, we staff courses in the teacher education programs, have a quite popular special-teacher program in several versions and aside internal members, we have several affiliated members from other universities, international members and practitioners.
Having been a member in several research groups in several universities, I know that creating and developing a constructive and dynamic research community is anything but simple. It is now, up to us – Claes’ colleagues to continue developing the community he started here, and to not only maintain its position but further it.
Now, as I mentioned, we have affiliated members in the group from abroad. We’ve had international collaborations and international visitors and during Covid – or the pandie as I prefer to call it – Claes also started an international seminar, inviting renowned researchers and colleagues to present their ideas, reasoning and research in seminars open not only to the research group but to the public. That is an additional community that we need to tend to and develop.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge the community of colleagues and friends that has gathered here today. Claes has worked at several universities during his long career, and it is a pleasure to see that so many have been able to attend today’s seminar, both here at the university and online. “Show me your friends, and I’ll tell you who you are” as the old saying goes – and judging from the community that has gathered here today, I believe that we will be able to not only say new things about Claes but perhaps also something new about ourselves.