Anna-Liisa Laine, evolution researcher and professor of plant ecology, shines equally bright in research, teaching and social action.

Elected Docent of the Year by the University of Helsinki Docent Association, Anna-Liisa Laine has many balls in the air.

Her research, which focuses on the ribwort plantain and its fungal diseases, is making great strides, as evidenced by the articles published in Science and Nature Communications. The research is currently expanding from determining the disease dynamics of the fungal disease to different viruses.

In addition, Anna-Liisa Laine transferred from working as a university lecturer and academy research fellow to the position of professor in plant ecology at the Department of Biosciences this April.

Her list of recognitions from the past few years is impressive. In 2012, Anna-Liisa Laine received a Starting Grant from the European Research Council worth 1.5 million euros. That same year, she also received the Academy of Finland Award.

Women at the forefront of science

Despite these accomplishments, her most prominent recognition outside the scientific community was the For Women in Science fellowship offered by L'Oréal and UNESCO. That grant opened the doors to a form of support still unknown to many researchers: mentoring. Laine’s mentee is a young brain researcher working at Aalto University.

“Mentoring is very different from supervising a dissertation, for example. It’s led by the mentee. Thanks to our compatible personalities, we’ve had a good, easy mentoring relationship. For example, Julia has asked me to explain the thought processes that are related to scientific work,” Laine explains.

Six-year-old future professors

In addition to research, teaching and supervision, the docent of the year also finds time to serve science to children in bite-size portions. Laine initiated the Science Goes Kindergarten event, which has during the past two years introduced dozens of five- and six-year-olds from the Helsinki region to scientific work – from pipetting to measuring caterpillars.

In addition to Laine’s research group, the event has been organised by members of other groups in the Metapopulation Research Centre.

One of the goals of the children’s science workshops is to show that science is for both girls and boys. This way the organisers hope to get more women to the highest echelons of the scientific community. At the moment, many women cut promising scientific careers short because they have no role models.

Anna-Liisa Laine's research group

Metapopulation Research Centre