During the three-day meeting, the Scientific Council connected well with the members of the University of Helsinki rectorate, but also reserved time to meet other HiLIFE community members including the HiLIFE management team, Tenure Track professors, and postdoctoral researchers.
One of the main tasks of the Council was to give its recommendation on HiLIFE Fellows selection based on the applications shortlisted and evaluated by external panel. Additionally, the Scientific Council had a few discussions sessions with Life Science Faculties’ representatives and selected key members of the University of Helsinki leadership to gain a deeper understanding as to how HiLIFE and life sciences in general have developed in the past years, as well as to hear what the current thoughts and plans for the future are.
The findings and recommendations from these sessions have been reflected in a standard report which the Council compiles after each annual meeting.
The 2022 report highlighted a need for building greater understanding as to what HiLIFE is and offered suggestions for increased cross-disciplinary collaboration in life sciences within the University of Helsinki
In its report, the Council recognized that 2020–2022 have been challenging years as a result of the worldwide COVID pandemic. This also affected how the Council reviewed HiLIFE. The report focused on key issues for HiLIFE and UH leadership to consider in order to enhance HiLIFE's and UH's impact - locally, nationally, regionally and internationally.
The report states that HiLIFE and UH deserve credit for the constitution and implementation of LifeCo, a cooperation group for UH life sciences. In its first five years, HiLIFE has also significantly enhanced its research infrastructure including core laboratories. “These are well run, efficient and state of art”, says the report. The HiLIFE Fellows program also gained recognition, as well as how HiLIFE steers through limitations in both budget and space.
The Scientific Council noted that there is a significant opportunity to enhance the understanding of what HiLIFE as an entity is. Is it an umbrella organization overlying all of life sciences across UH? Is its standard one of scholarly excellence? How can this aspiration be embraced across all of UH?
The report states that one potential opportunity to increase both the international status and cross-Faculty synergies of UH would be to consider development of a "Life Sciences" graduate program. The Council also noted that there is an opportunity to enhance and expand teaching across HiLIFE.
Alan L. Schwartz, Chair of HiLIFE’s Scientific Council said: “An initial 5-year external review (fall 2020) of HiLIFE provided a series of recommendations to the University of Helsinki. This was an excellent foundation for this year’s Scientific Council meeting. We are impressed with the progress which HiLIFE and the University of Helsinki have made since the 5y external review."
"Two examples are: (1) the creation of LifeCo and its initial priorities and (2) our evaluation of the infrastructure and cores of HiLIFE, since HiLIFE’s success and the University’s success will be dependent upon these two issues among many. Finally, the Scientific Council is impressed with the newly appointed UH leadership (Rector, Vice-Rectors, Faculty Deans, and HiLIFE’s new Director Jari Koistinaho). We look forward to providing our input to HiLIFE, its leadership and UH in the years ahead” Schwartz continued.
HiLIFE management and the Scientific Council are looking forward to further discussions in 2023
Having a group of the world’s top life scientists providing their expert views on a variety of topics and basic operations is a vital asset for HiLIFE and UH. While the Scientific Council highlighted several times how far HiLIFE has developed during the years after its establishment in 2017, it is important that the recommendations provided by the Council are taken in with open mind and active touch.
HiLIFE Director Jari Koistinaho reflected on the support that the Scientific Council provides for the management as follows: “The Scientific Council has already (during the first 2022-2026 term meeting) taken a proactive step to gaining insight how HiLIFE and life sciences can be made as the top asset of the University of Helsinki by cross-disciplinary collaboration but also by utilizing functioning ways of operating that are used in other prestigious universities worldwide. This topic will certainly keep emerging in the Council’s meetings in the next few years, as this kind of development work takes time and requires all the parties’ commitment and involvement.”
“The Scientific Council also showed interest towards softer topics, such as retaining talented scientists and ensuring that we remain as internationally desired institute to work in and collaborate with. HiLIFE has put a great amount of effort into these matters since its establishment, but especially after COVID, we need to ensure that our community is thriving professionally, while of course, paying attention to wellbeing”, Koistinaho said.
The upcoming year 2023 is expected to be eventful, as the HiLIFE Scientific Council is planning to visit Helsinki again during May-June. Discussions will continue on the topics touched upon in the 2022 meeting, such as life science area development at the University of Helsinki, followed by any newly identified items of significance.