Lotta Kaila is Academic of the Year 2023

‘Researchers must boldly participate in social discourse and interpret their research results as part of the broader context’, states Lotta Kaila, Academic of the Year.

The title Academic of the Year was awarded to Lotta Kaila, who defended her doctoral thesis in Agriculture and Forestry in November. Through her motivated and active science communications, she has brought attention to the work of doctoral researchers and the societal dimension of research work.

‘With her research, Lotta Kaila has produced new information to support decision-making and thrown a spotlight on the work of doctoral researchers. Kaila has drawn on competencies and networks already acquired through working life to communicate her research and, at the same time, succeeded in relaying the ups and downs of research work in a humane and skilful way. Kaila’s work shows that it’s possible for researchers to participate in social dialogue even during research without compromising the peer review process’, explains Tero Karjalainen, President of FUURT.

In November, Lotta Kaila defended her doctoral thesis at the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry of the University of Helsinki. Her thesis concerned how pesticides affect pollinators in Finland. Kaila became interested in the subject while working for the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency (Tukes); upon witnessing the mass deaths of pollinators, she realised that data on the environmental residue of pesticides and their effects on the lives of pollinators had not been sufficiently studied. Thanks to her long career with a public authority, Kaila’s research process has facilitated the formation of a bridge between scientific research and political decision-making. Her background shows how the drive for research can come from all types of sources and that it is possible to carry out doctoral research at different stages of one’s career.

‘It was truly inspiring to be able to produce precisely the information that the authorities were lacking. From practical experience, I know that there is a desperate need for research on the environmental impacts of pesticides. Due to the extent and critical nature of the information gap, I endeavour, when doing research, to maintain a constant dialogue with both the authorities and other researchers in order to maximise the use and further refinement of my research results and findings’, says Kaila.

Open communication makes science understandable and visible

At the same time, Kaila has communicated on her research work through both traditional and modern communication channels, thereby bringing her doctoral research to the attention of a greater audience.

‘Kaila has, in an exemplary and altruistic manner, made the work of a researcher and the doctoral research process accessible and understandable for others. At a time when the need and funding for scientific research is being criticised loudly, it is respectable that an early career researcher is ready to share her work openly and expose it to examination by an extensive audience’, Karjalainen states.

In addition to the fact that Kaila’s written instructions for following the dissertation defence attracted a lot of attention in social media as an exemplary means of making science coherent, she has also shared openly about her research in traditional media. The YLE documentary film concerning Kaila’s research work, named Kuningattaren kuolema (Death of a queen, 2022), offered a diverse and humane view of the joys and sorrows of research work.

It is important to Kaila to ensure that science communication and scientific research are understandable to a greater audience because her research topic is a critical one for the future of the human race. A biodiversity crisis is already underway and, in order to counter it, researchers must provide their expertise and research to support societal decision-making.

‘Researchers are experts on their own subject beyond the boundaries of their own research. I think we need to boldly participate in social discourse and interpret our research results as part of the broader context. If we wish to preserve biodiversity, we must not limit the sharing of our results to simply the scientific community’, Kaila explains.

Link to press photos

Photos: Milla Talassalo

The title of Academic of the Year comes with a 5,000 euro award granted by the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers each year to a socially active and commendable academic. This year, we received 18 excellent nominations for Academic of the Year. We thank everyone for their nominations! We held a drawing for a Lippu.fi gift voucher among all those who nominated a candidate, and the winner has been notified personally. The decision on the Academic of the Year was made by the Board of FUURT at its meeting on 24 November 2023.