When I first arrived at Kilpisjärvi Biological Station (69°03'N; 20°50'E) for the Winter Ecology field course, my first thought was that I had to find a way to come back there some day. I loved the peace and quiet and the plentiful nature and was fascinated by how plants cope with half a year of winter and 24h daylight in the summer. I was very lucky to receive a 4-year scholarship from the Doctoral Programme in Plant Science (DPPS) for a PhD project in plant ecology despite (or maybe because of?) my background in molecular biology. The transition from laboratory techniques to fieldwork was easy because of my enthusiasm for the project and thanks to the skilled and patient supervisors.
The real excitement began when I started my project. I left Helsinki behind and moved to Lapland for the summer.
I didn’t just visit Kilpisjärvi – it was to be my summer home for three years in a row.
I chose this adventure because it wasn’t enough for me to stay for a short time, but I met many researchers and students there who came for shorter summer projects. The permanent members of staff gave me a sense of familiarity each time and they were really encouraging when I tried to speak a few words of Finnish. In such a small place it is easy to make connections with people – even the post office staff knew me by the end of each summer!
The research in Kilpisjärvi was really exciting and challenging and at the same time it was made easy by all the local knowledge and support from the staff at the Biological Station. I decided to study the development of plants with regards to the timing of spring snowmelt on a mountain. In practice, this meant going hiking several times a week and looking at plants. It was very challenging to work in the harsh weather conditions including rain showers, snow, storms and sub-zero temperatures, and to do fieldwork throughout the entire summer. On the other hand it was so rewarding, because I was out in the beautiful nature with snow, mountains, reindeer and other wildlife around me and learnt a lot of independence and responsibility. I could imagine much worse jobs!
Friederike Gehrmann, PhD-student in Plant Biology