Image: “This picture was taken by Emilie Garberg, director of The Finnish Institute in London, during our last board meeting in Helsinki. Collaborating with various stakeholders gives me great joy, as it widens the horizon.”
This series introduces the members of University of Vaasa’s InnoLab research platform. Today we’re meeting Mari K. Niemi.
What are you?
In my dreams I’m a trampoline, helping our researchers to reach new heights. That’s of course a fantasy. They are very capable, so mostly I just try and ensure they have everything they need.
From the scholarly point of view, I’m a PhD and a docent in contemporary history, specializing in political communication. In addition, I have a degree in creative field (fashion) and have worked in business as a product manager.
Your title at InnoLab is director, but what exactly do you do?
Leadership is about providing service and setting common goals, so I communicate, connect, ideate and encourage. Securing resources is pivotal. Networking is an important part of my job – some weeks I spend more time with our stakeholders creating new projects than in our own office. But, in order to be effective, I must have a solid understanding on our researchers’ expertise. That’s one of the reasons I sit together with the team. It’s also way more fun that way.
Sounds like a lot of work. Why bother?
True, sitting down is indeed hard work to a human body. I do recommend taking breaks.
I guess I am a typical researcher in a sense that I have a high work drive and a curious mind. I enjoy learning, finding solutions and working with others. InnoLab brings together expertise from academia, business and industry, public and third sector, so the atmosphere is very vibrant.
Our work has a clearly identified meaning in terms of advancing science and benefiting society. Projects I am currently involved in scrutinize climate change attitudes, create solutions for tackling talent shortage, develop green care, explore futures of journalism disrupted by new technologies, and produce new business opportunities from space-based data. I do not need to seek for motivation for getting up in the morning.
Imagine your phone rings. It’s the call you’ve been hoping for – what is it about?
Oh, it would be a journalist asking for contact details of one of our international academics! From our earlier work (Niemi & Pitkänen 2017) we know that female scholars are underrepresented as experts in the media compared to men also here in Finland. However, gaining access is even more difficult for those scholars that are not native Finns (Perälä & Niemi 2018). This is a loss to both the academics and the society.
While waiting for the phone to ring, we have established alternative ways to get close to stakeholders, such as the Wasa Future Festival (in collaboration with the Wasa Innovation Center) and Exhibition on Energy during the Vaasa Energy Week.
Here’s to hoping! Since that wasn’t the case, what for did the media last contact you?
We released the first results of our Making sense of climate change‑project a few weeks ago. In relation to that, I gave interviews on what are the drivers for the leadership of Finland’s largest companies to take climate action, and how we could increase their commitment even more. The project’s funders include three government ministries, among others, so there is direct demand for the information we provide.
Good job. Too bad you can’t be the resident expert on every topic. What would you like to learn more about?
While working in InnoLab I have gained deeper understanding of disruptive technologies and their effects on the future of work in the public sector, business models and the way we might communicate, innovate and collaborate in the future. While digging deeper in these topics, I wish to create novel ways to improve interdisciplinary academic work and stakeholder collaboration.
Okay. Now recommend me something – anything!
Call me old-fashioned, but I still order and read some magazines. The New Yorker is my favorite. Their selection of finely written stories continues to astonish me, and their cover art is remarkable. That paper is an adventure you can take while being at home. I guess it all boils down to feeling connected with the wider world. This has become even more important to me after moving back to Finland after my years in Glasgow and Valencia (2013-2017).
Any last advice for being both an effective researcher and a happy office worker?
Do communicate. Communicating one’s work to wider communities, also outside of academia, is highly beneficial. It brings you friends, resources and power. I’m serious, do it!
When it comes to working in the office, you can gain friends through open and friendly communication. Add some humor, and I’m smitten!
From the perspective of Mari’s colleagues: If Mari was a city, which city would she be?
“I think she would be Istanbul. Istanbul is very diverse, multicultural and lively. Mari is also very diverse, multi-talented and always ready for adventures.”
“Mari would be New York – international, the buzz is always ongoing and the fame is real ;)”
“If Mari was a city, she would be Helsinki, which is the capital and finest town in Finland. It
reflects her stylish clothes, sense for fashion, and confidence.”