Can we afford to lose skillful scientists?

In academia, we must have all heard about the research visits that did not go so well. One of my former colleagues said that he spend most of his year in a highly ranked North-American university alone in a cleaning cupboard that was transformed into an office. He felt desperately homesick but since he was able to write an article with the famous professor from the hosting institute, the visit was “successful”. Though the science politics in Nordic countries emphasize the importance of academic mobility, many academics find it hard to move for longer time to live in a foreign country.

In their study on Finnish physicists, Kristiina Rolin and Jenni Vainio (2011) show how mobility seems to be easier for men than women. However, when I talked about this issue with Nordic and Baltic young academics in their joint workshop in March, also men said that this demand is difficult, and if you (plan to) have children the best time for mobility is when your partner is on parental leave. In Nordic countries both parents work, and though the working life seems to be becoming more flexible in many sectors, it is still hard for partners of academic researchers to move their work to another country for several months or years. A situation is of course even more complicated if the parents have separated. Some of the interviewed women from biotechnology, whose children were born during their research visit, said that they could manage only because their own parents were able to travel and help with the childcare. Mobility is thus also an economic question.

One of the main reasons why our interviewees have left academia is, according to themselves, the lack of international mobility. Since in life sciences, medicine and technology the (only) way to continue academic researcher career is by establishing one’s own research group, and funding for this requires longer-term mobility experience, the interviewees felt that they do not have a future in academia. One of them said that “after you’ve turned 40 there is nothing but blackness ahead,” and she was sad that universities have chosen to give up the expertise of talented scientists who could work as independent senior researchers. Despite the lack of longer-term mobility, all of our interviewees had strong and vast international networks, they participated in conferences, they had written joint publications and research plans.

The international collaboration can be scientifically fruitful but in the time of digitalization, climate catastrophe, versatile family situations and everyone making their careers, the Nordic science politics must change and acknowledge all kinds of collaboration, both international and national as equally significant. In small countries like Finland, we cannot afford to lose any motivated and skillful scientists.

Tiina Suopajärvi

Reference
Rolin, K. & Vainio, J. (2011). Gender in Academia in Finland: Tensions between Policies and Gendering Processes in Physics Departments. Science & Technology Studies, 24(1), 26–46.

Wearable technologies

Wearables
Wearables at Workplace (www.womenofwearables.com)

Women of Wearables tells us that ‘Wearables at Work Next Big Thing’. Much is made of the potential safety dimensions (e.g. panic buttons for staff working by themselves) of such wearables, whilst the control dimension, a version of clocking-in and clocking-out, for example, or ‘mood readers’ that tell whether or not an employee is bored or irritated or looking attentive etc. is downplayed. And whilst the size of the potential market is a source of much rejoicing on these web pages, little attention is paid to the resource implications of such devices, from their material costs, in every sense of that phrase, to their energy drainage to the problem regarding waste disposal that is already much discussed regarding smartphones. Ken Loach’s new film Sorry We Missed You looks at the impact of such technologies on workers, in this instance a woman care worker for the elderly and a male delivery driver, whom are compelled to ‘feed’ a smartphone and a ‘proof of delivery device’ (called a gun by the driver) respectively, to fulfil their work requirements. But neither are automata, and their work conditions are disastrous, not just for them, but for their family lives, and for their clients. Especially in the context of care. Brave new world? I don’t think so.

Gabriele Griffin

“You got my mind and body – you are not going to get my soul”

huiputuksen-moraalijarjestysThese words by Jill Blackmore (2017) open a new Finnish-language volume Huiputuksen moraalijärjestys (The moral order of top performativity) that came out this week. The editors Karin Filander, Maija Korhonen and Päivi Siivonen emphasize that this phrase captures the Zeitgeist of the current working life which glorifies top individuals, top teams and top results. Since the top can be reached only by few, the rest become categorized as failures, useless and unfit. The book criticizes the excessive demands directed to individuals and explores the affective implications of the working conditions under which nothing is enough.

The editors consider the current entrepreneurial university as a Mecca for the constantly increasing pressures and demands of working life. The rhetoric of world-class, excellence and cutting-edge has become overpowering and pervasive in academia. This has alluring and seducing features – who wouldn’t want to be excellent and successful. At the same time, it enforces adaptation to externally imposed success criteria and creates a normative ideal that is extremely difficult for anybody to attain.

The harsh university reality has become obvious also in our interviews with Finnish female academics in bio and health technology. The excessive demands have been one of the key reasons why some of our interviewees have left academia. Although they love research work, they are not willing to give their whole life to it.

Moving out is one option to try to escape the massive requirements in academia but then again, the question arises whether it is any better elsewhere. The book chapters tell about gloomy stories of unemployment, burn-out and mental health problems, among other things, outside the research and innovation field too. Therefore, it would be crucial to develop working life in general into a more human and sustainable direction.

Oili-Helena Ylijoki

References

Blackmore, Jill 2017. Gender work and entrepreneurial universities: from a gift to a gig economy. Presentation at a research seminar, 31.8.2017, Tampere University.

Filander, Karin, Korhonen, Maija & Siivonen, Päivi (eds.) 2019. Huiputuksen moraalijärjestys. Tampere: Vastapaino.

New project on work environment, well-being and gender

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In the spring a gender mainstreaming and work environment project (WONDER) was internally funded by Uppsala University. The project is called WONDER (WOrk eNvironment aND wEllbeing) and is an organisational development project, closely connected to the work done in Nordwit on women’s careers in technology intense areas. In the project we will work with health promotion and work environment improvement measures for everyone and with particular focus on the group of doctoral students and young researchers at the unit from a gender perspective.

The project is running at the department of information technology, and the division of Vi2. The project team consists of Åsa Cajander from Nordwit and her colleagues Robin Strand (head of division), Ginevra Castellano (the Equal Opportunities Officer at the Department) and PhD. Giulia Perugia.

In October 2019 the project organised a retreat at Krusenbergs Herrgård with the help of an occupational health expert. We discussed and learned about work environment issues in academia during two days. An unusual amount of people signed up for the retreat where the expert Anders Herrman from Previa held seminars and discussions with us. Some of the things that were discussed was work load, work culture and strategies to cope with work overload. There will also be a follow up seminar from Previa and Anders Herrman in November. The team got some homework to do before this follow-up session.

The project  will also organise additional seminars at the department about gender mainstreaming and the work environment. One seminar will be on work environment and the use of mail by Magdalena Stadin in  December, another will be of gender in academia by Annelie Häyrén from the Centre for Gender Studies in March 2020. We will also organize more seminars later on in the spring 2020.

In the project we will evaluate and assess + improve our work environment from a gender perspective. In this work we focus on gender budgeting. In this work we will first look into allocation of office space from a gender perspective,  and Åsa Cajander has started looking into this through reading research papers, and talking to people at the division about hierarchies and office space allocation. Based on this I will do an evaluation of the office spaces at the division, and present this in a short report and at a seminar.

In the spring 2020 this work will be followed by an evaluation of time allocation and resources from a gender perspective.

Many people suffer from stress and we need to improve well-being in academia – especially for women who are more likely to suffer from stress. The WONDER project is an attempt to move things one step in the right direction!

Åsa Cajander

 

Great ways of working

ImageWe have just had our annual Nordwit Centre meeting which also involves our Scientific Advisory Board members Prof Yvonne Benschop (Radebout), Prof Julia Nentwich (St Gallen) and Prof Thorgerdur Einarsdottir (Reykjavik). We had asked these first-rate people to give a 20-minute talk of their work in progress – and we had such lively and interesting discussions following on from this that we spent significantly more time than we had intended on this. They talked eloquently and wittily about ‘Gender practices in recruitment and selection of early career researchers’ (Benschop), ‘Leaders of equality: Male managers struggling with hegemonic masculinity’ (Nentwich), and ‘Gendering the money: GARCIA & ACT’ (Einarsdottir). Distinguishing between gendered practices and the gendering of practices, Yvonne showed how easy it is to introduce gender bias through how male and female candidates are treated differently in the post-interview discussions of the interview committee where, even when 6 selection committees had expressed preferences for appointing a woman, still 5 out of 6 appointed a man. Julia discussed how difficult men who profess to champion equality find it to deal with hegemonic masculinities, their own and others’. And Thorgerdur analysed how one might do gender budgeting in different and revealing ways. We all loved the talks and discussions formats, and are going to continue this – even if gender equality seems worryingly elusive. Still: steady drip hollows the stone!

Gabriele Griffin

What are the gender implications of Triple Helix innovation model?

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In the beginning of this month, I participated in a Triple Helix workshop called “Soft Sciences Boosting SMEs’ business” at Tampere University. Triple Helix refers to a model where innovation becomes generated through the collaboration between research institutes, public sector and industry. In the workshop, the distinguished Triple Helix scholar Professor Henry Etzkowitz from Standford University explained how the model had started in USA with strong emphases on technology. He continued that recently there has been more and more interest in a collaboration where scholars from human and social sciences as well as artists would work together with other two helixes. Though the need for a new kind of cooperation is noticed the money is still often channeled to the STEM fields.

The workshop continued with a panel discussion where Etzkowitz was joined by Johanna Kujala from Tampere University, Seppo Haataja from the city of Tampere, and Jesse Wessman from local intermediary organization Demola. They highlighted the advantages of Finnish society and culture for multi-sectorial cooperation, namely high trust and low barriers between institutions and organizational actors. They saw Tampere, which is a middle-sized Finnish city with 250 000 inhabitants, as big enough place for R&I collaboration and simultaneously small enough place to be agile in competition.

From Nordwit’s perspective this is an interesting Nordic aspect that we consider in our studies especially since some of our interviewees in Tampere from R&I argue that in local circles the same R&I people meet over and over again. In the workshop, the panel moderator Markku Sotarauta stated that the high-trust in Nordic countries can lead to deadlocks both in thinking and in practices. In Nordwit, we continue this discussion by asking what kinds of gender impacts our local Triple Helix contexts and histories create, and how do they affect women’s career trajectories. As Malin and Monica Lindberg and Johann Packendorff (2014, 95) write “Triple Helix innovation systems tend to emphasise and sustain traditional masculine notions of entrepreneurship and innovation―not least since publicly supported Triple Helix initiatives also tend to be situated within the male-dominated settings of networks and industries.”

Tiina Suopajärvi

 

 

Reference

 

Lindberg, Malin, Lindberg, Monica & Packendorff, Johann 2014: Quadruple Helix as a Way to Bridge the Gender Gap in Entrepreneurship: The Case of an Innovation System Project in the Baltic Sea Region. Journal of Knowledge Economy 5: 94–113.

 

 

‘We have been harmonized’: Cultural specificities in research and innovation

One of my recent reads has been Kai Strittmatter’s We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China’s Surveillance State (Exeter: Old Street Publishing, 2019). It provides an illuminaring account of how China as a state uses new technologies and social media to ‘harmonize’ its citizens by clamping down on their online activities, including long lists of words are forbidden to be used in social media, for example, etc. We Have Been Harmonized reminds us of the uses and abuses to which online media can be put. In western countries such as Sweden we do not escape such surveillance, but our relatively high-trust environments lead us to assume that little or no harm will come our way from the commercialized (and state) surveillance we already submit to, and which we see evidenced in the ads directed at us when we go online. The point: more critical digitality is necessary to enable all of us to take a more critical stance towards our online lives and to, for example,the acceptance of cookies that we are now always asked to agree to, and which we frequently do, without having read what we are actually agreeing to.

Gabriele Griffin