“Feedback from outside one’s field is valuable” – HiLIFE Fellows see great prospects in the programme

In the HiLIFE Fellows programme kickoff event, the newly elected Fellows met one another and came up with ideas for maximizing the benefits of the programme.

In December 2022, 71 Fellows from all University life science units were chosen to the three-year HiLIFE Fellows programme. The overarching goal of the programme is to promote high-quality life science research conducted at the University of Helsinki.

The programme aims to support the Fellows’ research and career, to facilitate new openings and funding, and to promote the impact of life science research. Another central goal is to build an inclusive and collaborative environment that bridges the University’s campuses and all its life science units.

In February 2023, it was time to bring the new Fellows together to gather ideas on how to maximize the benefits of being a member of this unique community.

“This programme is for the Fellows, so we wish to ensure that the activities are meaningful for them. Therefore, we engage the Fellows themselves in developing and also expect them to contribute to organizing the programme activities”, notes HiLIFE Director Jari Koistinaho.

Freedom and breeding ground

Most of the newly elected HiLIFE Fellows are already accomplished in their careers, and about a third are in early career stages. The Faculty of Medicine is the home base for most new HiLIFE Fellows, after which the most common affiliations are biosciences, environmental sciences, and HiLIFE. However, scientists representing other fields, such as natural sciences, also have a key role in life science research.

One of them is Ilpo Vattulainen, professor of biological physics at the Faculty of Science. As a newly appointed HiLIFE Fellow, he especially appreciates the nature of HiLIFE Fellows funding.

“Today, funding provided by HiLIFE is one of the few that does not strictly define how researchers should use the funds. This gives us a lot of freedom to acquire research infrastructure and rapidly launch high-risk, intuition-driven Blue Sky research, which I consider very important. I hope this funding model can continue”, says Vattulainen.

“As a HiLIFE Fellow, it is also possible to find big projects with a common goal with other researchers. I for example bring expertise in computational science to life science research. Our group is able to simulate any living matter, such as viruses, proteins, membranes, or DNA, using computer simulations. We also constantly develop new methods and algorithms, enabling research that is otherwise not possible, making the impossible possible!" he continues.

Jari Koistinaho notes that the three-year Fellows funding is just one way the programme aims to support the Fellows. 

“We have recognized the importance of Fellows funding. However, for this term, we wanted to increase the number of Fellows, even though the budget of the programme did not allow for everyone to be funded. This was based on the feedback received from previous Fellows and on the recommendations of the HiLIFE evaluation panel in 2020, as well as the HiLIFE Scientific Council.”

“Importantly, the Fellows program includes significant resources to support activities involving all Fellows. We also expect the program to strongly benefit all life science researchers of the university”, Koistinaho continues.

New partnerships anticipated 

Coralie Di Scala, an Academy Research Fellow at the Neuroscience Center and a newly appointed HiLIFE Fellow, aims to utilize the programme to broaden her understanding across various life science disciplines.

“The importance of multidisciplinarity cannot be overstated, as no one can be an expert in every field. We need each other! I believe the programme may lead to new research concepts, partnerships, and collaborations”, Di Scala says.

“The HiLIFE Fellows are renowned experts in their respective fields, and I anticipate receiving valuable feedback on my own work. My background is in biochemistry, from where I have transitioned to neuroscience. My research group investigates lipid-protein interactions in nervous system diseases, such as epilepsy. Through the HiLIFE Fellows program, our research methods could potentially be expanded to encompass lipid-protein interactions in other life science areas as well.”