In future, students will be increasingly involved in research at an earlier stage in their studies.

Ramona Lepik is almost finished with her studies in Finnish language and culture, as she just submitted her Master’s thesis on forms of address in Finnish and Estonian for examination. In her thesis, she studied the attitudes of cruise line employees at check-in counters towards address practices through a questionnaire and interviews.

The questionnaire used by Lepik contained descriptions of various situations and photos of fictitious customers. She asked the employees what they would say in the given situations.

“The results indicate that Finns address their interlocutors less formally than Estonians. This leads Estonian check-in employees to use the less formal forms of address far too often when they are speaking Finnish,” says Lepik.

Full member of the research group

Lepik completed her Master's thesis as part of the research project entitled How to address? Variation and change in address practices, which involves students as full members of the group. She had the opportunity to present her study to the research group on several occasions and received valuable feedback from senior scholars.

“As a student, it was interesting to observe up close how research is conducted. The research group also opened my eyes to the manifold perspectives from which a single linguistic phenomenon can be studied.”

The University of Helsinki will increasingly invest in such learning. The Strategic Plan of the University of Helsinki for 2017–2020 states that students will be engaged in research already when completing their Bachelor’s and Master’s level studies.

Real life situations are studied

Besides Master’s level students such as Lepik, also Bachelor’s level students in the discipline of Finnish are involved in research. Students have, for example, typed old letters in the Development of Standard Finnish course as part of a research project led by Taru Nordlund and Terttu Nevalainen.  

In the How to address? project, students have observed everyday language use and collected new material with the help of cardboard cut-outs of celebrities.

“The observations made by students provide good ideas for research and can serve as preparatory studies or testing platforms for new research methods. If a phenomenon keeps reoccurring in the material collected by students, it suggests that the phenomenon might be of interest for research,” believes University Lecturer Hanna Lappalainen.

Students, who are an important resource and source of assistance for the discipline, are rewarded by credits for their participation in research. Students, for their part, are pleased with the fact that the courses have dealt with genuine research topics.

“I have encouraged some students to finish their Master’s thesis quickly so that I can refer to their work in my scientific articles. This has served as an extra incentive for their graduation.”

Career skills from research

Even if only a fraction of the students end up as researchers, the experience gained from research work is certainly not useless.

“Participation in research projects entails learning to manage projects independently, which is a skill in high demand on the current labour market. While participating in research, students enhance their career skills,” continues Lappalainen.

Lepik shares this view:

“At the moment, all opportunities are open for me. Language and forms of address are part of everyday life, which means that I can make use of my knowledge in any field of work.”