Miia Ijäs-Idrobo has been an active academic for many years. She is currently working as a senior adviser in the Union, tasked with improving the promotion of interests and advocacy work as well as international co-operation.
1. Who are you and what is your task with FUURT?
I am a senior adviser for the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers. My tasks include, for example, the promotion of interests concerning science and higher education policy and support for advocacy work, special matters concerning early career researchers, grant researchers and international members as well as international co-operation. I also provide counselling and co-ordinate union surveys and other research activities.
2. Why the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers?
I was an active member of FUURT for many years as a university researcher. While working as a historian in Tampere, I was actively involved in Union activities, particularly with issues concerning early career researchers. On the European level, I was also involved in the activities of Eurodoc (the European Council of Doctoral Candidates and Junior Researchers), for example, as a member of the board. At the same time, I participated in just about all local association activities.
I became more and more interested in advocacy work and the promotion of interests. When an interesting job opening became available in the Union in 2018, I sent in my application and made the leap from university and research work to union work.
3. What do your workdays actually consist of and what topical issues are currently on your table?
My normal workdays involve keeping track of topical issues in the field of science and higher education policy in Finland and internationally. This includes a lot of commenting as well as preparing Union statements and planning activities. In addition to internal Union activities, co-operation with Akava forms a broader environment and work community where issues are discussed and prepared together. I also answer questions from members on a daily basis.
I am involved in several Union development projects and service renewals. Lately, we have, for example, created a new three-language bot assistant for the website and rewritten the Union guidelines for grant researchers.
During the spring, the hot topic is the analysis and utilisation of the results of the Union’s latest early career researcher survey as part of the advocacy work. On the international level, there are projects to improve the attractiveness and professionality of research careers, which, for us, is particularly interesting and important to track.
4. What does your work mean for you and of which aspects of your work are you especially proud?
In terms of my work, the guiding principle – if you can call it that – is the idea that when we improve the working conditions of academics, we also influence the results of scientific discovery – science, research, education and knowledge. That is, improvements in working conditions translate into improvements in the quality of science and knowledge.
Thanks to my previous work, I am familiar with the daily aspects of research work and higher education, and I know a large number of our members and association activists in different universities, which is a great asset for my work. This means that I am closely connected with the field.
It is always a great moment of joy when some issue we have promoted and highlighted receives wider attention or becomes concrete in the form of implementable measures at work or in politics. These moments include, for example, when a university adopts the title of doctoral researcher, when there are improvements in the working conditions of grant researchers, when issues promoted by us find their way into the government programme or when new measures are implemented for the purpose of improving the employment and integration of foreign researchers.
5. What is your secret weapon for keeping your work and time off separate?
Many people may already know this, but I spend most of my free time at the stables. I have a horse, Tuuvi, with whom I train and compete on the national level in dressage. I have had Tuuvi since she was a foal, and she is now 12 years old. My horse always gets my thoughts off work. I hope that we have at least as many years together ahead of us as we have behind us. My family also includes my spouse Carlos (who is a postdoc researcher in art history, so we discuss science and research at home as well) and our newest member, 7-year-old ragdoll cat Irma, whom we found last summer. Irma has officially been named the head of well-being at our home office, and she’s been a great help in reminding me to take my eyes off the laptop screen and take a little scratching break.
Photo: Carlos Idrobo
The Five questions article series takes a peek at the everyday operation of the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers through Union personnel and member association activists.