Work outside the lab – field work in lakes

It was time for a field trip, once again. In my project, I have been sampling lake waters, sediments and benthic organisms for several times. I’ll go to the field either during late winter (April) or in autumn (October). Surprisingly enough, it is easier to work in winter, when you have a solid ground – meaning half a meter of ice. In winter, you just saw a hole and start working. It is much easier to get to the lake with a snowmobile than with a large boat trailer.

No rain, barely any wind... is this even possible? Perfect autumn weather in Lake Parkkimanjärvi.
No rain, barely any wind… is this even possible? Perfect autumn weather in Lake Parkkimanjärvi.

For a researcher working mostly in office or lab, it is always fun to go outside. In lab, it often takes months and months to get any results. In field, it’s easier to feel you have accomplished something. It is also a good reminder that our lab conditions are far away from ”real life” in nature. Each time in field, we face surprises: the weather is impossible, benthic organisms have disappeared, fisher’s nets are exactly in the planned sampling point or the equipment break in the middle of nothing. A perfect opportunity to develop your problem-solving skills!

The lakes are mostly located 200-300 km from our university, meaning that you have to prepare everything carefully. If you leave something behind, too bad! This time we got everything we needed. Our goal was to collect chironomids (larvae stage of a non-biting midge) from lake bottoms. We are happy to have a technician with creative mind: He has built us a pump to collect the bottom sediment.  The sediment is taken to a boat (120 l at the time) and sieved in buckets on board. This is repeated as long as we have enough chironomids – most often meaning 1200-1500 l of sediment going through our hands. The work is hard and muddy, the daylight hours are short.

Left: the little red one is our catch, right: Researchers are warm and happy with their seven layers of clothing.
Left: the little red one is our catch, right: Researchers are warm and happy with their seven layers of clothing.

Happily enough, the weather was great. No rain, no ice cover. In picture below, you see the nice surprise we had one autumn: We arrived to the lakes and they were frozen. It is not an easy task to break even a thin ice layer for several hundred meters.

Surprise, it is winter! Good luck with getting the boat to the lake.
Surprise, it is winter! Good luck with getting the boat to the lake.

First three lakes were rather easy. We had a larger boat and there were lots of chironomids to be collected. For the last two lakes, the situation was getting trickier: the lakes were small and shallow, so we needed to change to a smaller boat. Firstly, the roads to the lakes were almost non-existent. And secondly, it was almost impossible to get the boat to our final lake. Yup, the picture below is from a lake. We wore wading boots, because we sunk to our knees in the mud. And since the water was really low, we had to push the boat for more than hundred meters. It is also much more difficult to work in such a small boat.

Left side: hard work with shallow waters and muddy bottom, right side: a Finnish road and our equipment.
Left side: hard work with shallow waters and muddy bottom, right side: a Finnish road and our equipment.

Thank you Kari, Jenny and Nina for your hard work! Without you, I would still be standing next to our first lake, probably crying.

Text by Kristiina Väänänen, photos by Kristiina Väänänen, Jenny Makkonen and Jarkko Akkanen.

Mentoring – towards great success

Last spring, my labor union (LAL, the Finnish Union of Experts in Science) was looking for people to participate in their mentoring program. Since I am going to finish my PhD in the near future, this seemed like an opportunity I shouldn’t pass. I made the application, took the Skype interview and was finally selected. Yay! ( BTW, how weird it is to see yourself in a webcam, my hands were flying around constantly)

The next step was to find a suitable mentor and contact him/her. This was really challenging: what kind of mentor am I looking for? Suitable degree? Interesting experience? Career in academia, or maybe in private sector? Age? Working experience in years? Does the sex matter? Where do I find the perfect person?

I ended up with few good options, chose the one I thought would suit me best and send an email. Quite soon, I got a positive answer and we talked on the phone. Final solution, I have a mentor! My mentor, Anneli Tuomainen is working as Senior Advisor in business development and innovation environments in Kuopio Innovation. She has a combination of education in natural science (PhD, docent) and work experience in research institutes and companies (R&D&I).

We met few times to get to know each other before the official program kick-off. I was relieved: when it comes to expertise, she is hard as rock. Otherwise, she is really approachable and easy to talk to. I believe we are going to have many fruitful discussion during the upcoming year.

Meeting my mentor in the beautiful city of Kuopio.
Meeting my mentor in the beautiful city of Kuopio.

This week, we had the first meeting with all the participants in the program, approximately 16 actors with their mentors. We had many group discussions and we used a lot of time to clarify our goals and motivations. How would you describe work life using the pictures below? One person in our group had a great thought: There are two roads for you to choose from… but you may also end up in the middle of the field.

Hard work in the first group meeting.
Hard work in the first group meeting.

The day was long, but rewarding. Besides the actual program, it takes time to travel between Joensuu and Helsinki. Everything was organized extremely well. You could see the trainers were not doing this for the first time. The mentoring program is organized in co-operation between several unions.

Now I’ll continue figuring out my strengths, skills and weaknesses. Next meeting, we’ll give an elevator pitch. What a challenging, but important task!

Building a mind map of my skills.
Building a mind map of my skills.

Text and pictures by Kristiina Väänänen