Meet the InnoLabbers: Marianne Mäntyoja


Image: “After graduating, I took on a mission to explore and really get to know the Vaasa region. There is surprisingly much to see and do. The UNESCO World Heritage site Kvarken Archipelago (behind me) is one of my favorites.”

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

What are you?

A free spirit. Vaasa has been my home for almost 4 years now which is surprising but not really. I had a good feeling about Vaasa and my instinct was right, as usual.

So, what is your title anyway? Moreover, what do you even do?

I am project assistant in the Media Pluralism Monitor project at InnoLab. I have been researching the Finnish media landscape. I have had to look at the topic from different aspects and have been digging into current events and interesting developments. Specifically, we have been identifying potential risks for the Finnish media. I am still fairly new to InnoLab, but it has been all very interesting so far.

Sounds like a lot to take in. Is it worth it?

I love universities, the feeling of constantly creating new and moving forward. I wasn’t too familiar with the topic before I started this job, but it has opened up a whole new world for me that is much more diverse than what I thought at first. If one of your goals is to learn something new every day, I can’t think of a better place to work. I also enjoy the flexible working environment: I don’t mind at times working longer hours when we have more to do and then later taking it a bit slower.

Glad to hear you’re settling in! What brought you to InnoLab in the first place?

Four years ago I needed a change and took an opportunity to work with rescued big cats in South Africa. We were sitting outside on a coffee break when I got the email that I was accepted for the master’s program in organizational communication at the University of Vaasa. The thought that my background in business and master’s degree in communication might be a good fit had been on my mind for several years. After some hard work, the timing was eventually right. After I graduated, I felt I wasn’t done yet and wanted to learn more about doing research. I mentioned how I would like to be in some way involved in the interesting research that is done here in Vaasa. With a friendly hint from some nice people, which I’m thankful for, I decided to apply for the job.

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

It would be a quick call from someone to ask me to meet up so we could brainstorm about our big research project in which I could really dig deep and focus on for the next few years. One reason being that I don’t like phones and still haven’t gotten used to remote work.

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?

In my master’s thesis I looked at the Finnish stock market from a communication perspective. I love these so-called “tough” fields where you need understanding on, for example, regulatory issues. Then again, I need side projects to balance things out. I would talk about the many problems involved in wildlife tourism or how the foundation I will set up is helping to solve human-wildlife conflict. Over the past few years, I’ve been happy to get to work on topics that I am also involved with on my free time. In the near future, I will focus mainly on the research side, evolving professionally, and solving more local problems. So, let’s call that a long-term plan.

Noble causes! But you need to think about yourself, too. What would you like to learn more about?

I would like to learn more about photography. That is something that makes me lose track of time and forget all work stress. Especially at the local shelter, when I take pictures of homeless cats that live in the moment and don’t worry about the state of the world.

That does sound captivating! Is that something I, too, should give a go?

Why not, even if you might feel like you are more into technical stuff. In photography you can combine both technical understanding and creativity. When you walk around with a camera you look at the world a bit differently and notice small details to which you wouldn’t normally pay any attention. You can combine photography with almost any other hobby you have: sports, travelling, volunteer work etc.

Sounds good! Can you recommend me anything else?

I would recommend anyone working in the private sector to come take a look at what the world looks like from the academic perspective and vice versa – even for a short while. If something is not working for you, go and try something different. We humans tend to get easily stuck in our ways.

Somewhat related to that, when I walk or ride my bike to work, or anywhere, I put on YouTube and slip the phone into my pocket. I listen to interviews of people who have, for example, a completely different way of life than I do. One particular psychology podcast is one of my favorites. I’m curious to hear stories from outside my own bubble.

What keeps me interested is to be around people with diverse backgrounds who, maybe, look at things from a perspective that is different from what I’m accustomed to. After working so much from home, it’s been great to work at InnoLab and meet, in person, so many smart people from around the world.

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

I try to put things in perspective and not complain about small things. Sometimes it is difficult, as we Finns are often too hard on ourselves. I try to work hard and not cause too much stress for my colleagues, but things rarely go exactly as planned. Often that’s still good enough, as long as you can say you’ve tried and learned something.

From the perspective of Marianne’s coworkers: What makes you appreciate Marianne as a colleague?

“Marianne is straightforward, professional and highly dependable – even in stressful situations.”

“She is always willing to help, she works independently, and overall she does a good job!”

“Marianne is both approachable and suitably independent. You can count on her to do a careful and well-organized job!”

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