Mari K. Niemi Chosen as Academic of the Year
​– I'm used to critique as a part of my work as a researcher. Usually, the discussions concentrate on the problems of research. Maybe that's why this distinction, which has been awarded by my peers, feels so significant, Mari K. Niemi describes her feelings on being chosen as the Academic of the Year, which is awarded by the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers.

​Mari K. Niemi sees the distinction as recognition for the active way in which she participates in civic discussion, a practice that she learned in the Centre for Parliamentary Studies.  Under the leadership of Ville Pernaa, Niemi as well as other researchers were responsible for answering the media's questions, and the same activity continues under Markku Jokisipilä's leadership.

– Participating in civic discussion as a researcher is one of the most underappreciated aspects of working as a researcher. I feel that this distinction is a distinction for all of us who do this sort of work, says Niemi.

According to the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers, which awards the distinction, Mari K. Niemi represents a new type of researcher who is not afraid to participate in current political discussions. Niemi is an active blogger and Twitter user, where she has over 3000 followers.

– I'm curious and I'm an avid follower of politics. I frequently travel alone, and I like sharing my thoughts on party conferences, for example.

Niemi's followers know that they will receive her comments on party conferences among others, even on those that are not directly related to any of her ongoing research.

– I'm a fan of elections, and for me, politics aren't just a job, but also a hobby. Since the universities can't pay for my trips to party conferences, I travel on my own expense. I write columns and articles, among others, and the income that they generate finance my work as a researcher, notes Niemi.

In addition to her teaching work, Niemi also acts as a lecturer and expert, and has for example been an invited speaker at the Czech parliament and the Hungarian Journalist Club.

Looking at Finland from Scotland

Currently, Niemi is a visiting scholar at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. She left for Scotland to finalise her dissertation Kaksi tietä huipulle. Media ja puoluejohtajuus Suomessa naisten noususta populismin aaltoon. (Pathways to the Top. Media and Party Leadership in Finland from Women’s Breakthrough to the wave of Populism.), which she completed last year.

The fascinating political situation in Great Britain as well as the possibility for developing as a researcher still keep Niemi in Scotland. This has helped her to advance as a writer of international referee research publications, among others.

– I feel that, as a researcher, I'm learning and developing tremendously. This isn't just about learning to write in English, but also about learning to understand the nuances of the English-language research culture, notes Niemi.

British politics also provide their own extra area of interest: the path of Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the Labour party, as well as the EU referendum. However, Niemi still maintains strong ties to Finland, and she feels that Scotland also offers some completely new vantage points for issues related to Finnish politics.

– Finland is still my main research subjects,  but now from an internationally comparative point-of-view. And we live in such interesting times! I've been able to follow things very closely, and for example last Friday I participated in Pressiklubi and had a chance to talk with Sebastian Tynkkynen on the situation of the Finns Party, says Niemi.

Gaining Respect for Grant Researchers

Niemi notes that she has been lucky that her chosen subjects have generated such interest: the rise of women to leadership positions in politics, the rise of populist parties, and the publicity of experts.

– These topics are of interest not only to the general public, but to the foundations that provide the grants that have such a profound role in enabling the work of researchers, says Niemi.

Niemi is also concerned about the possibility for researchers to conduct their work. This is why she was happy to see that the other nominees for Academic of the Year also included researchers who have not been permanently employed by any university and have to search for their own funding. Niemi has worked as a fixed-term researcher for about ten years, and her current funding lasts until spring, after which the future still remains open.

– I hope that I'll be able to continue this work, says Niemi.


>> Mari K. Niemi's homepage:


Text: Erja Hyytiäinen
Translation: Sam Parwar
Photo: Veikko Somerpuro

Published date 10/19/2015 3:45 PM ,  Modified date 10/19/2015 3:57 PM

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