Päivi Tikka: Varied experience led to leadership role at Division of Strategic Research

20 Feb 2020

I took up the post of Director of the Division of Strategic Research at the beginning of the year. The first few weeks have been busy, fun, eye-opening and also a little exhausting – but in a positive way of course. I have been impressed by the expertise, commitment and sense of common purpose shown by staff. Everyone puts their heart and soul into their work, drawing on their own personalities. This place exudes a spirit of positivity and a sense of wanting to get things done!

I applied to become Director of Strategic Research because the application and adaptation of research data to help solve the challenges and complex problems we are seeing in society today are themes that are important and inspiring to me. I was also interested in being able to get an insider’s view of how Finland’s largest research funding organisation operates. I myself have benefited from funding from the Academy of Finland in the past, and in my previous jobs I have collaborated with the Academy, for instance, by participating in the management of jointly financed programmes and the implementation of a mentoring pilot programme for researchers.

My background is in ecology and environmental science. My doctoral thesis at the University of Jyväskylä was on the subject of traditional biotopes, which are considered endangered biotopes, and the survival of plant species typical of these biotopes in alternative habitats. After my PhD I moved to the University of Helsinki, where I broadened my horizons and moved into nature conservation policy: how measures promoting voluntary nature conservation function and the ways in which national forest protection and felling solutions impact cross-border forest management. I was offered the opportunity to work for a year as the research coordinator at the Helsinki University Environmental Research and Teaching unit HENVI (the predecessor to the current Sustainability Institute HELSUS), and this made me realise that I enjoyed working as a research facilitator and being responsible for the planning of large-scale projects. Having made this discovery, I then had the chance to become head of research at the Maj and Tor Nessling Foundation, which is one of this country’s largest private environmental research funders. During my time at the Nessling Foundation, I, together with colleagues with an interest in environmental research and research communication, set up the Environmental Science Forum, which has evolved into a recognised forum for communicating research data and an advocate for public dialogue.

I also have extensive experience of grant funding, having served as a board member, and later deputy managing director, of the grant providers’ association, Association of Finnish Foundations. Before taking up the post of Director of Strategic Research, I was the Secretary General of the Council of Finnish Academies . The Council represents private academies of science which invite as their members merit researchers, and which support science and research-based decision-making through events, grants and publishing activities. A key part of my work at the Council involved working in partnership with international science organisations, foremost among them the International Science Council ISC and European Academies’ Science Advisory Council EASAC. All these organisations have their own focus but they are united in their ambition to promote the use of science as a means of serving mankind and the world.

Against this background, the Division of Strategic Research seems like the ideal job for me. According to the strategic research funding instrument rationale, the aim is to provide funding for problem-specific, long-term, multidisciplinary research that seeks to find solutions to social problems. I also greatly value the open and inclusive way in which the themes of programmes proposed for funding are prepared.

The Strategic Research Council presents themes to the Government following a thorough and multifaceted consultation and preparation process involving researchers as well as government officials and other experts. The purpose of this process is to ensure that the themes chosen are relevant to society and of new scientific value, and consequently will act as genuine drivers of public debate and decision-making.

I believe that I will be able to further strengthen interaction between strategic research and the rest of society thanks to my extensive networks and positions of responsibility. As a member of the Finnish National Commission for Unesco, I am aware of global educational, scientific and cultural aspirations and impact opportunities. I am also a member of the board of Tutkas, the Society of Scientists and Parliament Members, and am willing to use this position to develop the dialogue between strategic research and Parliament. I eagerly look forward to all opportunities to promote the use of research data for the common good.

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