Proven track record of success for Uppsala’s Global Swede recipient

12 June 2014

Jie Cao, student at Uppsala University, receives the Global Swede Award from the Minister For Trade Ewa Björling.

Despite having spent less than two years in Sweden, 25-year-old Jie Cao from China has already proven to be an extraordinary student with a talent for innovation and entrepreneurship. His latest achievement is to be selected Uppsala University’s winner of the 2014 Global Swede Award.

For the fourth consecutive year, the Global Swede Award was presented earlier this spring to international students from higher education institutions in Sweden by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Swedish Institute. The aim of the Global Swede concept is to encourage student participation in the Global Swede alumni network and engagement as ambassadors for Sweden after completing their studies.

For this year’s recipient at Uppsala University, Jie Cao, the award is yet another in a series of impressive accomplishments. Majoring in the field of chemistry for renewable energy, he has already received an Anders Wall scholarship, represented Uppsala University as a student ambassador in China, and improved production processes during his degree project at Sandvik Coromant.

Congratulations on the Global Swede Award! How does it feel?
- It feels fantastic, especially after I saw the candidates from the other universities. They are extraordinary top students from different specialisations, so I’m very happy to be selected as Uppsala University’s recipient of the Global Swede Award.

The chosen students are described as "good ambassadors for the higher education institution and for Sweden”, who “should have shown distinctive innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship in his or her academic field”. What do you think made you stand out?
- I think it was a combination of different factors. The good academic results played a part, but the purpose of this award is more directed towards innovation and entrepreneurship. What probably had a big impact was my degree project last semester at Sandvik Coromant’s production center in Gimo. It was about optimizing and developing a new method of coating steel nets for cutting tools with a process called chemical vapor deposition.

- The old coating process took 30 hours. After the work I did with my supervisor, the process now takes 12 hours. It means we have saved 18 hours, which they can use to reduce energy. This has already replaced the old process at Sandvik.

In 2008, Jie Cao received a gold medal
at the Chinese Chemistry Olympiad for high school students. He continued to Beijing University to study the Bachelor of Science Programme in Material Chemistry. After graduation, he got an Anders Wall scholarship to Uppsala University, where he started the Master Programme in Chemistry for Renewable Energy in fall 2012.

Why did you select chemistry for renewable energy?
-I think it’s a specialisation for the future. Since nearly 50 percent of the energy in Sweden comes from renewable sources, I thought this subject would be very interesting to study.  It includes solar cells, bio fuels, nano technology, material chemistry, photochemistry, catalysis, and much more. 

When it comes to this field of chemistry, what are the biggest challenges?
- It’s not only about finding renewable energy sources but also optimizing production processes and reducing energy consumption. I think several factors are vital to progress: it may be the lab equipment, the technical details, the production itself… the parameters can be very subtle.

In your opinion, what makes a good chemist?
- High motivation and curiosity. My own strengths? I think I’m very good at the subject itself and very creative. I know how to combine diverse conclusions from totally different subjects, and I want to get good results. Helping a company save money would make me very proud. But the biggest personal achievement would be if my work could lead to something really useful.

In the summer of 2013, Jie Cao returned to China as a student ambassador for the Faculty of Science and Technology at Uppsala University. At Beijing University he gave presentations about his master program and the application process.

-The students had all kind of questions. How should I apply? Are the study results very important in order to get a scholarship? Many students were also interested in the one semester exchange program.

What do you like to share with others about Uppsala University?
- The educational quality is very high. It’s challenging, but the content and the material of the courses are highly related to the latest research and development with strong connections to industry.

-There are very good opportunities to do a degree project at a company in Sweden, which is almost impossible in China. When I studied in Peking, I never heard of anybody doing a degree project at a company, because universities want the degree projects to be performed in a faculty lab. But being competent is not about being able to provide the right answer to questions, it‘s knowing how to make industry and research really work together.

- In Sweden, you can do degree projects or research training at a big company or a small, newly started company, while learning how to develop business ideas. So innovative and entrepreneurial competence is quickly put to use.

Graduating in June, Jie Cao has already secured a job. He’s getting ready to move to Karlstad to work at a company specialized in product development in the manufacturing industry. The company has offered him a permanent position as a chemical specialist.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
- My colleagues at Sandvik once told me that even though you have worked for five or ten years, you are still a beginner. So I guess after five years, I will be doing something I’m interested in, but still at a more basic level and probably not in a leading position. In order to be a very good leader, you need a lot of competence. It takes time and I have a lot to learn.  

- Does it sound humble? But I think people need to find the perfect combination between being humble and ambitious. You need to know the fundaments to achieve something.

Do you plan to move back to China in the future?
- It’s difficult to say. China changes very fast and it’s difficult to foresee what will happen in the future. Perhaps I can work as a young professional leader at a company in China, maybe even a Swedish company. Sandvik has a production center in China, SKF and many others as well.

- But there’s always high competition. And when I return to China after fifteen-twenty years, there are other good candidates from different countries competing for positions.

 - However, the Global Swede Award is an opportunity to show Chinese people and companies how innovation is highlighted in Sweden and how the Swedish system works.  And I’m proud and grateful to be part of this process. 


Read more about the Global Swede Award