The results of a survey conducted by the Academy of Finland on changing trends in researcher mobility show that digital mobility is already seen as an important form of mobility. The survey respondents considered international mobility relevant for a career in research. The equality of the mobility requirement emerged as a key concern among the respondents. For the Academy, the survey provides valuable information on various possibilities for achieving mobility targets.
Researcher mobility was changing even before the Covid-19 pandemic, thanks to the increasing digitalisation of work and the development of workplace environments, among others. As physically moving from one research environment to another has been particularly challenging during the pandemic, the pandemic was a good opportunity to examine the role of the mobility requirement in the Academy Research Fellow and Postdoctoral Researcher funding schemes. At the same time, now was a good time to consider the importance of mobility changes in the development of the Academy’s funding opportunities.
At the end of 2020, within a project examining mobility from the perspective of Academy-funded research posts, we carried out a survey to chart trends in researcher mobility. The survey was a collaboration with the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers.
The results of the survey will help us to develop our funding schemes so that they serve the scientific community and society in the best possible way and respond to changes in research work and the operating environment.
Digital mobility already an important form of mobility
The questions of the mobility survey concerned factors affecting mobility, consequences of international mobility and different forms of mobility. For each of these three themes, the importance of different factors now and in the future was assessed on a Likert scale. Respondents could specify each answer with an open-ended response.
We asked what forms of mobility researchers already engage in and how digital mobility could be verified and measured in the Academy’s funding calls and in the review of applications. We also asked applicants to tell us how the Academy should develop the funding opportunities to better reflect the current situation.
We received 100–200 detailed answers to each question, offering an in-depth perspective on mobility and the careers of researchers. In analysing the results, we combined often recurring themes in different answers in order to identify both common concerns and opportunities related to different forms of mobility. Here, we will highlight a few of the themes we have identified.
Respondent’s views on future importance of different forms of mobility.
The respondents already saw digital mobility as an important form of mobility. They believed its significance will increase over the next five years, and they saw this as a relatively positive development.
International mobility considered important – concerns about equality of mobility requirement
The key concern expressed in the open responses was the equality of the mobility requirement. Personal reasons, such as care responsibilities, were seen to have an impact on the chances of physically moving to another research environment.
On the other hand, the responses highlighted new ways of cooperating which do not require a physical presence in a particular physical environment. Like digital mobility, the importance of sustainable development was seen to be growing, and this growth was viewed as a positive development.
Research cooperation was considered essential for the attainment of mobility objectives, whether it takes place remotely or physically in another research environment.
The respondents also considered international mobility relevant for the research career, such as in terms of international collaboration and increasing independence. The responses gave a versatile description of the different forms of mobility, that is, of research cooperation. These included:
- research reports
- co-funding or applying for co-funding
- sharing of data
- organising scientific events
- co-guidance of international students
- joint patents
- code development.
Survey results reflected in September 2021 call
In the call texts for the September 2021 call, we will use co-publications and/or data sharing as examples, as well as the application for co-financing with researchers other than researchers in the applicant’s own research environment. If the Covid-19 pandemic has prevented an applicant from fulfilling the mobility requirement for the September 2021 call and it is not due to an interruption or a cancellation of the mobility period, the applicant may use these examples to describe what they have done after PhD completion to fulfil the requirement on changing research environments.
In the forthcoming September call, we will also for the first time accept other forms of mobility than physical mobility in fulfilling the mobility requirement. The most important thing is to achieve the mobility objectives through a change of research environments. Read more about the exceptions concerning mobility in our previous blog post on mobility: Researcher mobility in 2021.
While mobility remains a condition of eligibility for applications for Postdoctoral Researcher or Academy Research Fellow funding in September 2021, the Academy will also take into account the difficulties caused by the Covid-19 pandemic for mobility.
With the help of the survey responses, we have identified possibilities of implementing mobility objectives even in cases where physically moving from one research environment to another would not have been possible because of the pandemic. The survey also supported our idea of setting up a dedicated team to advise on mobility issues.
The advisory team will ensure that all applicants are treated equally with uniform guidelines on the mobility requirement. The team also means that applicants will receive uniform advice across research council boundaries.
So once again, we would like to thank all those who responded. In all questions about the mobility requirement, please email us at mobility(at)aka.fi.
The authors, Science Adviser Vilma Lehtinen, Coordinator Miia Farstad and Senior Science Adviser Sanna Marjavaara, participated in carrying out the survey within the researcher mobility project.