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Evaluation report: Finland has done seminal research in ecology and evolutionary biology

11.06.12

The Finnish scientific community has made fundamental contributions to many areas of research in ecology and evolution. Many researchers across the country are internationally recognised for their achievements and this is reflected in a strong record of excellent publications in high-quality journals. There is also a strong record of graduate training. This is the conclusion presented in an evaluation report on the research fields of ecology and evolutionary biology in Finland. The evaluation was carried out by an international panel and commissioned by the Academy of Finland.

The evaluation covers 14 units active in the fields of ecology and evolutionary biology and the years 2006–2010. In the evaluation, the panel looked at research quality, research environment (incl. infrastructure), funding and the training provided to young researchers.

Every unity, the panel says, contains examples of high-quality research and, in some subdisciplines, Finnish scientists are truly outstanding, indeed at the top of their fields worldwide. Overall, the panel applauds Finland for its outstanding achievements in ecology and evolutionary biology. “Ecology and evolutionary biology are arenas of exciting fundamental research. They also provide understanding that is essential for maintaining the wellbeing of both natural and human-modified environments in our rapidly changing world,” the panel writes.

The panel also identifies strategies that should be considered for Finland to maintain and build on its internationally recognised strengths in ecology and evolutionary biology. There seem to be lost opportunities for synergistic research and educational endeavours across units in a number of key areas: peatland ecology; forest ecosystem ecology; theoretical and empirical population genetics; theoretical and quantitative ecology; and freshwater and marine ecology. Increasing collaboration in these fields would help maintain and improve Finland’s strengths.

The panel notes that Finland has an unusually strong tradition in generating long-term datasets and recommends that researchers make good use of them. The datasets are a particularly valuable intellectual resource that should be maintained and further developed. In addition, the network of field stations, museums and botanical gardens is immensely important, and should be sustained. The units must also ensure that there is adequate administrative support available to researchers, both during preparation of EU and other international proposals and after the funding has been granted.

The panel also comments on the upcoming reform of the Finnish graduate school system. In general, graduate education in Finland appears to be good, but there are some challenges that should be faced. The current move towards university-based graduate schools has many merits, but there is a danger that some unique advantages currently present in the national schools will be diminished or lost. Greater reliability in the funding of doctoral candidates would be desirable. Postdoctoral fellows are an increasingly evident dimension of research institutions, and formal mechanisms for fostering this aspect of developing and sustaining this tool of human talent should be developed.

The international evaluation panel was chaired by Professor Robert D. Holt and its members were Professors Ray Callaway, Mari Källersjö, David A. MacLean, Anne Magurran, Allen J. Moore, Brian Moss, Bernt-Erik Sæther, Nina Wedell and Kathy Willis.

The evaluation report is part of the Academy of Finland publication series and is available as a PDF download at www.aka.fi/eng > About us > Academy publications > Publication series.

More information:
Science Adviser Kyösti Lempa, tel. +358 9 7748 8248, firstname.lastname(at)aka.fi

Communications Manager Riitta Tirronen
tel. +358 9 7748 8369, +358 40 828 1724
firstname.lastname(at)aka.fi 

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