Vice Rector Björkroth: cutting-edge research demands risk-taking and career ladders

Johanna Björkroth, re-elected to serve as Vice Rector in charge of research and post-graduate education, would like to improve the prerequisites for research.

 Johanna Bjorkroth

The University of Helsinki is an internationally renowned leading university in research collaboration and cooperation. Researchers in the top five percent of their respective fields are based at all university campuses. Alongside traditional areas of success, attention must also be paid to emerging sectors.

“The faculties and research teams should be given latitude to take risks when choosing which projects to fund and young researchers to back,” Björkroth states. Emerging sectors to which she draws attention include nanotechnology and bioinformatics as well as several interdisciplinary areas of application.

Besides the LERU universities, another prime point of reference for the University of Helsinki is the University of California, Berkeley, a multidisciplinary university whose concept is of particular interest to the Vice Rector because of its close cooperation with industry. The two face the same challenges: bureaucracy and strengthening the prerequisites for research.

Post-graduate studies must be reformed

The weight of administrative bureaucracy and basic education has led to research in Finland centralising to elite institutions that allow a keener focus on research and the instruction of post-graduate students. This trend is less than auspicious in terms of education. Undergraduate students must come into contact with research and researchers if an interest in research is to be maintained.

The Vice Rector believes the university is turning out too many PhDs: “The operations of research teams are skewed. In science, for example, a few senior researchers at the head of teams are in charge of entire groups of post-graduate students. The healthy intermediate steps on the researcher career ladder are missing.”

The principles of post-graduate education need to be re-examined from a career development point of view. The university has insufficient control over the choice of dissertation subject and its employment potential outside the university.

The Vice Rector has strong views when it comes to Finnish university policy.

“In Finland, university policy is governed not only by scientific concerns but regional policy considerations as well, among others. Maintaining fifteen universities in a country the size of Finland is simply incomprehensible. A good point of reference would be Ireland, where there are fewer than ten universities.”

Professor of Food Hygiene Johanna Björkroth heads a research team at the Centre of Excellence in Microbial Food Safety Research, focusing on the characteristics of lactic acid bacteria causing food spoilage.

Teksti: Susanna Rautio
Kuva: Ari Aalto

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