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.
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.