Research and Teaching – What Could Be Better

The world will not be free of problems anytime soon, so the work of researcher-teachers will be increasingly needed in the future too. As a result of our work, the level of competence rises, new inventions will see the light of day and generations of decision-makers will be prepared to build a sustainable world. The attractiveness of scholarly work lies in the fact that we are constantly involved in shaping everyday life, the future, big and small things. We are at the heart of development; we invent solutions to help everyone, and we train future experts.

The future does not reveal itself in advance, and therefore it is important that we are prepared to offer many solutions instead of just one. This requires freedom: freedom to think, explore, experiment, and choose. The flight of thought and creativity guarantee that all solutions are not made from the same mould, because questions are not related either.

Mantras are created quickly, when words and the theses that hide behind them are seized on uncritically and views that are acceptable and shared by the masses are repeated. To propose another viewpoint is not to pick a fight. To be critical is not to behave badly; instead, it is a way to see through different lenses. Switching between near vision and long sight broadens views. My father used to say that things need to be “cut into cubes” – it applies here, too.

Nowadays, it seems that people are not allowed to make mistakes; instead, everything should go right from the get-go. I wonder whether ancient fire-making succeeded at first try, or did they get their fingers burnt? Was the bicycle handy immediately, or did they feel dizzy pedalling up high? The trial-anderror method has served the humankind for a long time, and it would not be an impossible thought that in the future, too, inventions would be shaped from crazy to genius through experimenting. Let us have a contraption orbiting the earth and create a positioning system through it? Who would have believed and guessed.

The future requires time for experimenting, for bold testing and for openness to also report on failures. Boldness is a part of science, and it needs to be appreciated, because fearful science does not create anything new.

Research knowledge affects everything, perhaps most strongly through experts who have received their education with such knowledge. In teaching, pedagogical solutions are a part of this freedom which guarantees quality and even wider uses for the newest knowledge. Recent times have shown us that we can shapeshift, at a massive speed, to a package which allows students to progress in their studies. Policies changed in a few days; necessity stipulated the pedagogical solutions.

Now my concern is that looking in the rear-view mirror can be seen as reactionary. What if I yearn for mass lectures? What if I feel that they allowed for a good spirit of communality; people shared something that is a part of tradition, students from different fields met, a sense of togetherness grew? Am I old-fashioned?

Well, I do still have an overhead projector, so I plead guilty. But this is about something bigger: us teacher-researchers need to be granted a chance to safely assess everything that happened, what of it is worth keeping and what is worth going back to. Freedom also relates to the idea that we can, after evaluating the situation versatilely, end up in the old, in the new, in a compromise, or something that is yet to be seen – the future will tell.

Researchers and teachers are today’s heroes, forerunners, and pioneers. Our work has far-reaching consequences. Appreciation for our work sometimes shows in a strange way when we must justify our existence repeatedly. We are, nevertheless, present in everyone’s everyday life as cell phones, vaccines, new structures, built landscapes, dental fillings, and elementary school lessons.

Maija S. Peltola

President of the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers

Translation: Elina Siltanen

Acatiimi 5/2021