D.Sc. (Tech.) Olli-Ville Laukkanen was elected as the new chair of the Young Academy Finland in September. In this interview, he shares his views on the role of the Young Academy Finland in the academic community and society in general, as well as on its future directions.
How do you see the role of the Young Academy Finland in the Finnish academic community and in society in general?
The Young Academy Finland plays a crucial role as an amplifier for the voice of young researchers, both within the academic community and more widely in society. Young researchers bring new and bold perspectives to scientific discussion, which are needed to solve the great challenges of our time. The Young Academy Finland helps young researchers find ways to make their research more impactful and also actively involves them in societal decision-making processes. The Young Academy Finland is also characterized by multi- and interdisciplinary discussions and collaboration. This kind of multidisciplinary approach is desperately needed to better understand and solve complex problems of modern society.
How you became interested in the chairmanship of the Young Academy Finland?
Together with the previous chair of the Young Academy Finland Jenni Raitoharju, I served as the leader of the international activities task group in 2021-2022. This allowed me to participate in international young academies (YA) meetings and to network with YA colleagues from other countries. This was an incredibly inspiring experience for me, strongly influencing my decision to apply for the chairmanship of the Young Academy Finland.
What are the specific challenges you want to tackle during your chairmanship?
I want to increase the visibility of the Young Academy Finland both within the academic community and more widely in society. This year, I have already seen that the Young Academy Finland’s open call for new members has increased its visibility in academia. Statements released by the Young Academy Finland – such as the climate change statement received by the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Maria Ohisalo – have similarly strengthened our role in social discourse. At the beginning of 2023, we will organize events that are open to the public, which I hope will further increase the visibility of the Young Academy Finland. In addition, during my chairmanship, I want to encourage all the members of the Young Academy Finland to actively participate in our joint activities.
The Young Academy Finland is a multidisciplinary community of young researchers. What unites members and what is the advantage of multidisciplinarity?
Our members are united by their passion for scientific research and self-development. Another common factor is the career stage of our members, as they mostly work as postdoctoral researchers or assistant professors. The Young Academy Finland offers an excellent opportunity for academic self-development outside one’s own research work. The multidisciplinary perspective played a crucial role in the preparation of the climate change statement that was handed over to the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Maria Ohisalo; the preparation of this statement began in a multidisciplinary workshop, and Young Academy Finland members from over ten different scientific fields participated in its preparation.
You have been a member since 2019 and a board member since 2021. What has the membership in the Young Academy Finland already given you?
At the Young Academy Finland, I have met absolutely amazing young colleagues from all kinds of scientific fields. I have particularly enjoyed the opportunity to learn about their research areas and to discuss with them about challenges faced by young researchers. As a board member, I have also been able to create new international networks that are not focused on my own research field, but rather on the impact of science and the advancement of the status of young researchers.
How did you end up becoming a researcher?
I have always been interested in natural sciences and technology. At the end of my first study year at Aalto University, I became a research assistant at the Highway Engineering Research Group and immediately became interested in scientific research. Since then, I have continued my research in materials science, focusing particularly on the rheological characterization of materials. Rheology is a branch of material physics that deals with the deformation and flow of materials.
What do you do in your daily work and how do you combine it with the chairmanship of the Young Academy Finland?
I work as a researcher in the Biomass Processing and Bioproducts research area at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. For example, I am involved in several research projects that investigate cellulosic materials. In a broader sense, our research aims to, for example, replace plastics used in packaging with bio-based materials and create new applications for cellulosic materials.
Combining the chairmanship of the Young Academy Finland and the daily work of an early-career researcher is of course challenging in terms of time management. However, the activities of the Young Academy Finland are so different from my research work that it also brings a nice variety to my daily routine. In addition, serving as the chair of the Young Academy Finland provides an excellent opportunity to develop my professional skills.
How would you summarize the year 2022 for the Young Academy Finland?
The year 2022 has been very busy at the Young Academy Finland. In addition to our traditional Academy Clubs, we have been active in the international networks of young academies, produced science videos for our YouTube channel, organized various events for our members, coordinated a record number of virtual research visits to schools through our “Meet a Researcher” service, and so on. In addition, we have worked closely with the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters, and both parties have definitely benefitted from this collaboration. For 2023, we have already planned two events that are open to the public, among many other plans. I believe that the next year will be equally rewarding for me and the whole Young Academy Finland.