Theoretical physicist Svanberg received backlash for wearing a dress on her LinkedIn profileAriana Ghatan with permission for Varsity

Name: Eleonora Svanberg

Age: 24

College: St John’s

Nationality: Swedish

Hometown: Linköping, Sweden

Education and Academic career:

Bachelor’s degree in Physics, University of Stockholm

Master’s degree in Applied Mathematics, University of Cambridge

Incoming DPhil in Mathematics, University of Oxford

TikTok followers: 132.3k

Instagram followers: 19.3k

Why did you become a content creator?

When I was teaching during my first gap year, I was trying to get more students interested in technology, and they started telling me I should go on TikTok. At first I was like: “No offence, but I don’t want to dance!” but I started making a few talking about what I am passionate about. My first video that went viral was about women who code, then when I got TikTok verified I realised it was more than just a hobby.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

An actor or an astronaut. Maybe at the same time!

What do you want to be now?

It’s funny thinking about what I want to be when I “grow up”, because I’m reaching that point now! I want to be a theoretical physicist – to keep learning mathematics and physics and keep inspiring people along the way. The astronaut dream lives on though, and I would still go for the next round of astronaut applications!

“For me, inspirations have to be relatable”

Who inspires you?

This might be a bit controversial, but with figures like Marie Curie, she’s obviously very cool, but I can’t compare myself to a Nobel prize winner! For me, inspirations have to be relatable, and I have had three women in my life who have really inspired me. They are Giulia, my high school thesis supervisor, Emma, my first teacher at Stockholm University, and Can, my research internship supervisor at Cambridge.

Is being a relatable inspiration something you aim for?

Yeah, it’s something I truly believe. So for me on social media, being human and transparent means not missing out the parts where I am crying about not solving an equation. And I think it’s especially important with women, as studies have shown that being inspired is more of an identity question. If we go beyond conventions to show a wider image of someone who is interested in mathematics, then it becomes easier to identify with them.

So what does identifying as a “maths person” look like to you?

I would love for a maths person to simply be someone who is interested in maths. If you’re interested in mathematics, you don’t have to prove yourself, you shouldn’t have to change whoever you are, and it shouldn’t affect your other interests. For women especially, you shouldn’t feel like you have to hide your femininity. It sounds so obvious, but there is a photo of me wearing a dress on my LinkedIn, and I have had people question me and tell me it is inappropriate, comparing me to what their image of what a woman in STEM is meant to look like.

Men are predicted to outnumber women in physics until the year 2158. What are three things that can be done to change this?

1) Young girls need to be exposed to science, technology and mathematics in the real world, so they can solve issues in our society, and integrate with all sorts of other subjects.

2) Connect young students to working professionals, to give them relatable inspiration.

3) Talk about mathematics more and talk about feeling stupid, with the aim of building self-esteem and mathematical confidence.

You’re currently writing a book – what’s it about?

It is about mathematical confidence, aimed at young girls. It is me reaching out to people with maths anxiety and me talking to myself in my hardest moments. I find it very fun and therapeutic to write in that sense, and it will be published next year

Proudest moment in your academic career?

Publishing my paper was a huge moment and of course, getting into Cambridge and then into Oxford, but I think my proudest moment that I have ever felt was directly after my Oxford interview. I had no idea how it went at the time, but I was just so proud of myself for actually doing it because I was so nervous!

What’s the best advice you have ever received?

“Supervisor before project”. It doesn’t matter how interesting your project is, if you don’t have a supporting supervisor who will make you feel good in hard times, then you’re just going to feel bad about the whole thing. I think this is especially for underrepresented groups in the field – you need someone who is going to actively lift you up.

How do you recover from burnout?

I’ve been to therapy and worked on resting without feeling guilty or that I should be studying. My advice would be to have your own schedule and stick to it, so for me this is taking Sundays off to prevent burning out. Cambridge is so intense, everyone needs to be kinder to themselves!

“You shouldn’t feel like you have to hide your femininity”

Biggest culture shock after coming to Cambridge?

How different the Scandinavian work–life balance is. In Sweden it is considered rude to send emails on weekends, but here it is almost expected! In the UK there definitely seems to be more of an attitude where “you are what you study” or “you are what you work”. I was also disappointed in the trains! Other than that, there are lots of things that are similar, like our humour.

Favourite place you have ever visited?

Nothing is as beautiful as the north of Sweden!

What do you miss about home when at uni?

Salty liquorice! I also miss snow, of course I miss my family, and I miss my cats so much!

Favourite study spot in Cambridge?

St John’s library – I need my specific spot in the corner!

What’s your ideal night in Cambridge?

I’m huge on staying in, so watching TV shows or gaming. Other than that, I really like going to the college bar and playing pool in the MCR.

If you had to go to another college, which would it be and why?

Newnham – the researchers I had spoken to before coming here were all somehow connected to Newnham, and it just gives good vibes all around!

College formal with three people (dead or alive) – who are you choosing?


Mountain View

What is ‘good’ technology? A conversation with research analysts at the Centre for the Future of Intelligence

1) Emmy Neother – she was a mathematician and incredible for theoretical physics. I want to be her, basically! I would want to take her to a formal because she was denied full participation in academic life when she was at university.

2) Emma Watson, simply because I love her.

3) Sally Ride, an astronaut and the first American woman in space.

If that TikToker asked you what song you’re listening to on King’s Parade, what answer do you have prepared?

Keep Moving – Jungle.

Irrational fear?

Elevators! Anything under six floors I will always take the stairs and force everyone around me to take the stairs with me.

Finally, do you have a message for freshers, at the beginning of the academic journey?

Firstly, congrats! You are going to have an amazing time. Remember to be kind to yourself, and surround yourself with people that make you feel good.