“In principle, the Academy of Finland’s Postdoctoral Researcher grants are the best kind of funding that researchers can receive at this stage of their careers in Finland”. This is the opinion of two young postdoctoral researchers, biologists Veera Norros and Heikki Takala, who participated in a meeting held in October between the Academy’s Research Council for Biosciences and Environment and the Postdoctoral Researchers it funds.
In the event, the participants discussed research and funding with the Research Council. The topics included research and teaching, and the funding opportunities provided by the Academy of Finland. Work community and mobility were also popular topics. The Postdoctoral Researchers considered the dialogue at the event between researchers and the funding agency to be a good thing.
“This funding is a significant merit for a researcher,” Norros says. At the Finnish Environment Institute, she studies species-specific traits of the phytoplankton found in the Baltic Sea and their modelling. “In the best case scenario, this is an entry into the pipeline of funding from the Academy,” says Takala, who studies optogenetic tools based on the functioning of phytochromes at the University of Helsinki. Optogenetics is a new field of research that involves the use of light to control the functioning of living cells. Phytochromes are a special group of proteins, sensitive to light in the red and far-red region of the visible spectrum, that are important for the development of plants, for example.
The researchers highlight statements given by an international panel as a positive aspect in the application process for Academy of Finland funding. These also serve as excellent practice for future application rounds. The researchers only wish there would be more money available.
“To a certain extent, the issues of existential uncertainty are part of a research career in the same manner as in the arts. It’s quite likely that I’ll continue along this career path if possible, but I also have personal backup plans,” Norros says.
“People have been thinking from an early age that I will become a researcher, and so I did. Personally, I’ve never taken it for granted. This work is quite uncertain. One year before finishing a project at the latest, you need to start planning the next one,” Takala explains. “As a postdoctoral researcher, it’s a very good thing that you can take your time and focus on studying one issue for three years, and at least during the first two you don’t yet need to consider your next project.”
Research keeps doctors on the move
Compared to the work on the doctoral thesis, Norros and Takala consider it a positive thing that researchers are encouraged to expand their fields of research and to step out of their comfort zones. Both researchers regard the Academy’s mobility requirement as something positive for science, no matter whether the mobility takes place in Finland or abroad.
In Finland, Takala has worked in Helsinki and Jyväskylä, and in Gothenburg, Sweden. “Mobility enhances networking, but reconciling personal life and a research career is what matters,” Takala says.
“Specific issues can be handled using remote connections, but physical mobility is a comprehensive experience. It gives you so much more than you could’ve imagined in advance. I have a child and I understand well why some people with families are critical about the mobility requirement, but, in my opinion, the current requirements are reasonable,” Norros says.
She has worked in Helsinki and in Michigan, USA. “It’s fair that mobility has now become an official requirement instead of an unofficial practice. Therefore, all applicants are able to take it into account and include it in their applications.”
Going forwards with collaboration
Norros and Takala think that researchers doing basic research must consider the impact of their research, but it feels unreasonable that they need to plan the entire chain of research from beginning to end. To help pass the information forwards, some intermediaries would be needed between researchers, decision-makers and end-users.
Both researchers believe that they will find work in the future as well. Their own research projects are currently advancing as planned. It is important that researchers find a good work community around them.
“I wish that I could collaborate even more than I’m doing now. On the other hand, independent research is part of this phase of the research career. In the future, I’d also like to work with a research group of my own,” Norros says. “For me, it’s important to have a good group of people around me with whom to engage in scientific research. If you do everything on your own, that just won’t work,” says Takala.