Determination Characterizes the Finnish Research Climate


Professor David Goodlett from Department of Medicinal Chemistry, University of Washington, Seattle, tells us about his research in the University of Turku and experiences about working with Finnish colleagues.

​We started the four year Finland Distinguished Professor (FiDiPro) Programme project in January 2012. Having known Professor Riitta Lahesmaa from the University of Turku already for the past ten years I was quite happy to have a formal mechanism to interact with her research group. Thanks to this long running collaboration and the FiDiPro Programme, I am currently serving on the third Ph.D. student’s committee in Finland. During these ten years I have gotten to know the Finnish culture and people well.

Our FiDiPro analytical team consists of four people. Together we are generating and analyzing data for two different biomedical problems: type 1 diabetes (T1DB) and ovarian cancer (OC). However, there is a much broader group of people who provide resources and support to this small team. Altogether three biomedical research laboratories work together on this including those of Profs Riitta Lahesmaa, Olli Simell and Olli Carpen as well as the very well-equipped Turku Proteomics Center directed by Dr Garry Corthals where we will generate the data.

Perseverance the Finn’s biggest asset

Working in the Finnish research environment has been very interesting and impressive. Having lost so much as a result of the loss of the so-called Continuation War during WWII, post-war the Finns showed their determination for success by putting all that behind them and moving forward rapidly with the business of rebuilding their nation. In this single act the Finns really showed the world how positive, collective acts of nation and people can conquer adversity. This perseverance likely derives from the collective experiences of harsh Winters that has molded the Finnish character to overcome difficulties.

I feel like this attitude to succeed in spite of obstacles carries over to in their research climate. For example, typically in science an initial hypothesis may lead down dead ends in the laboratory. While this happens everywhere in science, the Finns seem to be particularly good at backing up and getting back on the right track again. Determination to stay on goal seems to be one of their main assets.

By contrast in the US often people will abandon an idea too soon before really trying to make it work. There is more of a lottery mentality there where one often thinks to just try something even though it may seem at first illogical. This process often leads to serendipitous discoveries, but may also fail to achieve the original goal. So, it seems to me that the Finns are more likely to hang in there even when the experiments aren’t going their way, which can be frustrating but can also lead to solidly backed discoveries.


Original text by Kati Laakso from the FiDiPro

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Created 10.12.2012 | Updated 14.09.2018