A giant leap from academia to government

How would a biologist who has worked at academia and research throughout her whole career adapt to working in environmental governance? This sounds like a rather giant leap, but is it really so? Our post doc Kaisa was offered an opportunity to work at the North Karelian ELY Centre (Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment) for six months, beginning from August, and she happily accepted the challenge.

But what exactly are the ELY Centres, and what do they do?? The official website says that the ELY Centres are responsible for the regional implementation and development tasks of the central government. Finland has a total of 15 ELY Centres, which are tasked with promoting regional competitiveness, well-being and sustainable development and curbing climate change. Their three areas of responsibility are 1) Business and industry, labour force, competence and cultural activities, 2) Transport and infrastructure and 3) Environment and natural resources. The Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment (ELY Centres) promote regional development by managing the central government’s implementation and development tasks in the areas coming under them. Together with the six Regional State Administrative Agencies (Aluehallintovirasto, AVI, in Finnish) they function as the country’s regional state administrative authorities.

Kaisa has been positioned to the Environment and natural resources area (3) of responsibility, at the unit of nature and land use. Her core responsibility there is to write a new the plan of use and maintenance of Lake Pyhäjärvi, in Karelia Finland. The work requires collecting large amounts of information from many sources, co-operation with other authorities and local interest groups, and of course, planning and writing.

Well, Kaisa, what was the first impression after having started at the new job??

  • This is so easy to answer. The first impression was clear: I do not know anything about anything, and I will never be able to learn these things. Everything is new and completely different from what I have done before, EVEN though my PhD thesis had a clear connection with the environmental governance, and purpose to help the authorities in environmental monitoring and decision-making.
  • University education does not really give abilities for working for the government. In other words, did I spend all these years at the university for nothing??? Is research important for governmental decision-making after all? Why wasn’t I told that GIS is such an important tool for environmental workers?? Or that I should also know something about environmental law, which never really was any of my priorities at the university. Why oh WHY?
  • I am a researcher, what the hell am I doing here in this governmental office??? I used to have academic freedom, and now I am engaged to employee time tracking, and supposed to follow the “virastotyöaika”.
  • And my favorite office mates Krista and Kukka are far away now that I would need them most! I miss our coffee breaks, too.

Now after one month of working there, she has maybe changed her mind a little bit. Let’s hear it:

  • After all, I might know something. At least I know a lot of people who know about something when I do not. I have managed to create a large network of professionals around me during these years, and I know where to find information, when needed. I also know very well about what is going on in research on my field at the moment. I can write reports, I can find and separate the vital information among all the information of the world, which is huge. I get along with different people, and I can prioritize.
  • Even GIS can be learnt quite easily, and everything else, too. It just takes time, and goes slowly, step by step. Co-workers have been great, understanding and helpful. Every day I learn new things and the work itself goes more smoothly.
  • I could easily realize since the beginning, that biologists do work on a wide range of jobs, and research is only one of them. This work is a lot about planning, writing, managing many things and projects simultaneously. Isn’t this exactly what I have learnt at the university all these years? Time tracking is not so bad after all. Somehow all this pushes me to use the working hours more effectively.
  • Office mates here are great, too. And I have to admit that I come to work happily every morning – no matter how busy and intensive life has become recently. During our daily talks about work and beyond I have learnt so much.
  • Lunches are better here than at the university campus, and coffee is not so bad either.

Text and photos: Kaisa Figueiredo

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