Meet the InnoLabbers: Tommi Lehtonen


Image: “In this photo I’m in Brussels at a seminar on EU research funding. Applying for funding is part of my job, and I’m happy to participate in the preparation of funding applications.” (PERSON meeting, Brussels)

This series introduces the members of University of Vaasa’s InnoLab research platform. Today we’re meeting Tommi Lehtonen.

What are you?

I’m a doppelgänger, double-goer, a person with two roles: A) Director of Responsibility and Ethics. B) An Interim Director of InnoLab.

What exactly does a Director of Responsibility and Ethics do?

My job is to promote and coordinate activities related to sustainable development and social responsibility, both in research and education at the University of Vaasa. I myself also do research on issues related to sustainable development and social responsibility and enjoy writing articles on these topics with other researchers. Further, I represent the University in various national and international bodies in which institutes of higher education together concentrate on sustainability and responsibility issues and climate change mitigation. During the last year or so, I have been a researcher in an InnoLab project, Making Sense of Climate Change that publishes its final report on 25 November 2020.

Sounds like a lot of work. Why bother?

This is what I am paid for. 😉 Besides, the topics I am dealing with are super interesting and globally important. Who would turn their back on sustainability and social responsibility?

Not you, I guess! How did you end up where you are now?

I’ve worked at the University of Vaasa for fifteen years already, first as the university lecturer in philosophy and then as the professor of applied philosophy. I have had a typical academic career, with many temporary employment contracts. I’ve also worked at the University of Helsinki, the University of Joensuu, and as a visiting fellow at the University of Calcutta and Jadavpur University in Kolkata, West Bengal.

Imagine your phone rings. It’s the call you’ve been hoping for – what is it about?

A learned and well-informed colleague of mine informs me that climate change has been cancelled and all the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by the UN have been achieved.

Just kidding, it’s actually a journalist. They’re finally doing a story on that one topic you’ve always wanted to give an interview on! What do you say?

I’m interviewed about my first impression of seeing with my own eyes Mark Rothko’s painting “Green on Blue” in the University of Arizona Museum of Art. I tell that I’m at a loss for words, which obviously is literally a lie. In truth, I have seen Rothko’s painting “Green on Blue” only in pictures, but I would like to see it in reality.

An eclectic choice! Is there something else you’d like to experience or learn, while we’re at it?

I’d like to learn to write a novel.

That does sound like you. Do you think I should give it a go, too?

Positively! Academic writing and fiction writing are two different literary genres, like two different sports. However, by writing (whatever it is that you want to write about), you can always develop your literary skills, reflection and argumentation. Similarly, any sport (I’m not so sure of electronic sport) helps you improve your health.

Makes sense to me! Is there anything else you’d like to recommend?

You should visit Tampere, my home city, and its market hall and the other two traditional marketplaces, Laukontori and Tammelan tori. There you can taste mustamakkara (i.e. a blood sausage) with lingonberry jam. Unfortunately, there is no vegan equivalent to mustamakkara. Luckily, you can also focus on jam instead of sausage.

Any last advice for being both an effective researcher and a happy office worker?

Eat more vegetables, less mustamakkara.

From the perspective of Tommi’s colleagues: Which qualities make you appreciate Tommi as a colleague?

“Tommi is versatile, reachable and very easy-going, this means that he keeps low barriers around him. His energetic vibe towards the working community is really inspiring.”

“He is always calm, positive and helpful to everyone around him.”

“Tommi seems to always be positive and patient. He has a great skill of making topics really interesting and explaining complicated matters in an understandable way. Those qualities will come in handy in his new positions as well, I’m sure.”

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