Throughout my school years, Finnish was my favourite subject. I have always been an avid reader and writer, and so studying Finnish literature felt like a no-brainer. When I applied to the university, I didn’t particularly think about career prospects; I just wanted to do the thing I found to be important and felt I was good at. Of course, I could have given it some more thought and been more practical.
Studying Finnish language, literature and folkloristics was very rewarding. I did not feel like attending classes at the time, so most of my study was independent, i.e. as essays, exams and different assignments. Nowadays I’d appreciate lectures more and would take a more active role in seminars.
My studies — particularly the Finnish literature studies — taught me how to process large amounts of information, read a variety of genres analytically and write fluently. The studies were also broadly educational.
While working on my Finnish bachelor’s essay in the field of onomatology, I discovered my calling — I wanted to become a researcher. My work on Finnish proper names drew me completely in and gave me my first flow experience in research. Later the seminar hosted by Pirjo Lyytikäinen, a literature professor, turned out to be significant. When my master’s thesis on the works of the author Aino Kallas had got to the preliminary examination stage, Pirjo proposed that I would also write a doctoral dissertation on the same subject. At the time, practical considerations were not uppermost in my thinking — so, I took up her suggestion and I became a researcher.
The work of a literature scholar is certainly closest to the skill set that is acquired during university studies. In practice, the work is somewhat uncertain and can even be exhausting; the competition for research funding gets tougher every year, and because of the cuts in university funding, positions are offered to fewer people. Furthermore, the expertise of researchers is not always appreciated. On the bright side, the work is rewarding, challenging and entails a certain freedom — something that I can appreciate all the more as a working parent.
On my journey as a researcher, it’s been one step at a time. While writing my doctoral dissertation, I got the opportunity to publish a selection of letters by Aino Kallas and the critic Anna-Maria Tallgren. Having written my dissertation, I got to write a biography of Aino Kallas, which was published in 2017 and translated into Estonian in 2018. Currently, I’m doing post doc research on the literary relationship between Finland and Estonia. On the side, I’ve acted as the chairman of the Aino Kallas Seura (the Aino Kallas society) and done some teaching. Before becoming a full-time researcher, I worked as a Finnish language student adviser for a while. I probably got the job because of my working experience during my studies; for example, I did my internship at the Faculty of Arts.
For someone wondering where to apply, both your career prospects and your skills and interests are worth considering. If you’re dreaming of a career in research, you should keep the realities of the field — the increasing competition for funding and the uncertainty over the future — in mind. In the arts, special skills are often an advantage, and the importance of diverse language skills cannot be stressed enough. You should take advantage of the opportunities offered to students: the student exchange and the internship. For many students, these opportunities have created unforeseen prospects.
At the same time, be brave and hold onto your dreams! Keep in mind that when you choose the arts, you’re making a statement as well: you choose to support education, scholarly endeavors and equality.
Silja Vuorikuru (born 1977) studied Finnish literature at the University of Helsinki. She also completed basic and subject studies both in folkloristics and in Finnish language. She finished her doctoral dissertation in 2012 and currently works as a post doc researcher at the research department of the Finnish Literature Society (SKS).