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

Work wellbeing – scary day with fitness test

There came a day when we heard about the free of charge “Fitness test truck” that was coming to town. This Matka Hyvään Kuntoon kiertue  –was especially directed towards work wellbeing. Since I am the work wellbeing representative in our department, I started advertising. And it was a success, I heard of many people going to take the test.

A fitness test truck - such a great idea.
A fitness test truck – such a great idea.

The test pattern included body composition test (InBody 720), compressing force test and an aerobic test (with Polar monitors). I have taken the body composition test before – and was rather disappointed with my results. Therefore I was rather excited and scared when signing up for the test. The others from our group were strongly against the idea, I was the only one going to take the test.

I prepared for the test with scientific accuracy (and probably a bit beyond that). Took the test in the morning, didn’t eat or drink before it – not even my morning coffee – and wore light clothes. I even reduced the carb and salt intake few days beforehand (this might be the excessive part).

And the test: more muscles and less body fat than the previous time. A relatively bad result from compressing force test (I blame my short fingers, it’s difficult to grasp with them!). But, apparently I managed to inspire the others. More people from our group went there together the next day. We even managed to persuade our trainee to go as well. As a results, some of us had too little fat and some of us a bit too much. There were a lots of muscles and great aerobic fitness to be found. We also managed to found a possible case of edema.

Our long-distance runner is becoming skinny enough to hide behind a tree.
Our long-distance runner is becoming skinny enough to hide behind a tree. Maybe she should eat all our lunches.

And as scientists, it took us a whole lot of time to interpret the results. We weren’t happy for just BMI or body fat percentage. We wanted to know everything about ECF, TBF, ECW and TBW (the parameters for intracellular and extracellular water). We questioned the waist-hip ratio results that didn’t seem accurate. And after a small research we found that waist-hip ratio was actually not a measurement, but “a scientific estimation”.

Have you seen a face of a totally average person before? Here I am!
How to become such an average person? Lots of dance, a bit of gym, great amount of chocolate and daily portions of oat meal.
Encouraging our trainee Risto to have more breaks between the work.
Encouraging our trainee Risto to have more breaks between the work.











All of us ended up being more motivated when it comes to sports and diet. Better lunch choices, at least for a while. We also enjoyed the comparison between the results. How does a low fat percentage affect to other results? How does the body composition affect to the daily energy consumption (physical activity excluded)? It actually had quite big difference. It was also nice to see that if a person had more muscles, the calculated ideal weight was higher. Good bye to old-fashioned BMIs! I would say that this was an easy test, giving a lot of information to think about.

See you in the spinning class!
See you in the spinning class!

Text by Kristiina Väänänen, pictures by Kristiina Väänänen and Kukka Pakarinen

Introduction of our research group leader



Name: Jarkko Akkanen

Education: MSc in Biology, PhD in Ecotoxicology

How did you end up studying biology?

I actually started studying chemistry, but took biology as minor. Then I found environmental chemistry and aquatic toxicology from the Department of Biology and realized that this is it. Eventually I graduated from the Department of Biology.

When and why did you decide to become a researcher?

I didn’t. As a teenager I decided not to go to university, well few years later I found myself in the university. Then I decided that I will leave as soon as I get my Master’s, but during my Master thesis work I noticed that this is not too bad actually. I’m still on that path not knowing what I will become when I grow up.

Who is the person that has influenced your career the most?

Well, initially that must be Professor Jussi Kukkonen who (probably in a moment of weakness) thought that I would be suitable for PhD-studies and decided take me to one of his projects.

Why University of Eastern Finland?

Our research area in Aquatic Research in Changing World provides excellent possibilities for cooperation on the research focus that we have right now.

Why ecotoxicology?

Hard to say, that was something that was totally unknown to me before entering the university, but as said already right away I thought that this is interesting and after that I targeted all studies to ecotoxicology.

What are your working with at the moment?

Well, administration…, facility rearrangements, teaching, and a little bit of research

What do you think is the best part of your work?

If I mention only one thing, it is when you can teach something that is based on our own research. Then you can really deliver something, which goes beyond the written knowledge, to the students and really help them to learn how to solve problems.

What part of your work could you live without?

…quite common answer among scientist: administration….

What do you think is the most important thing you have learned in your work?

How very little I know and understand…

What kind of personalities you need to become a successful researcher?

A real ambition for research.

Can you give us an example of your work day:

07:00 – 09:00 First check e-mails (not enough energy to answer any). After a furious battle I manage to wake up our youngest one, dress and feed him and eventually get him to school.

09:00 – 10:00 At the office, a cup of tea. Evaluation of student papers. A couple of calls about facility rearrangements and department matters in between.

10:00 – 12:30 Meeting of the teaching development group.

12:30 – 13:00 Call back to those that tried to reach you during the meeting and lunch at the same time

13:00 – 14:00 Trying to figure out some questions connected to a research project

14:00 – 15:00 A meeting with a pedagogics study group over coffee

15:00 – 15:45 A call on departmental matters

15:45 – 17:00 Writing a travel grant to participate a scientific meeting

17:00 – 18:30 Have to go home to feed the kids

18:30 – 20:00 Some emails and still trying to write the travel grant (with several interruptions)

P.S. I really managed to submit the travel grant application.

Tervetuloa! Welcome!

Tervetuloa uuteen Itä-Suomen yliopiston akvaattisen ekotoksikologian tutkimusryhmän blogiin. Käsittelemme blogissa tutkimuksen ja tutkijan elämän ajankohtaisia asioita sekä tutkimusryhmämme kuulumisia. Julkaisemme mielellään tekstejä myös meiltä muihin tehtäviin siirtyneiltä ihmisiltä!

Welcome to read the new blog from the Aquatic Ecotoxicology research group at UEF. In here, we shall share the latest news and activities related to our work. We also warmly welcome posts from  people that have previously worked in our group, to see what kind of jobs you can do as an ecotoxicologist.