Geographer Élise Lépy enjoys the multidisciplinary research around environmental change

Researcher Élise Lépy enjoys the multidisciplinary work she is able to do at the University of Oulu. She is a geographer by training, but she is currently working as a researcher at the Faculty of Humanities of the University of Oulu working for research projects in Cultural Anthropology.
Researcher standing in front of a blossoming apple tree.

Multidisciplinary research around environmental change

Lépy studies how environmental change - especially climate change - affects the landscape and local communities in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. Her work takes her to Northern Lapland, and more recently to Northern Canada, to visit active and closed mining sites, for instance, or to see how changing weather conditions and multiple land users affect reindeer grazing and thus the local reindeer husbandry with all its socioeconomic repercussions.

Having worked in Oulu for 8 years and visiting the town first in 2004, she likes to impress visitors from her native France. “If it’s the winter, I take them to Hailuoto on the ferry, breaking the ice, and then drive back on the iceway. I love the looks on their faces,” Lépy says.

Big picture view

"Since 2011, all my projects have been multidisciplinary. Most of my projects concern sustainability, environmental change, climate change and the adaptation of local communities. It quite naturally calls for a multidisciplinary approach. I’ve worked with anthropologists, archaeologists, geographers, people from medicine, social and natural sciences. It’s a wide array of different disciplines and it makes the work quite interesting. You need to have a big picture view, it’s a system. So, we come to understand the same thing from different viewpoints."

"It’s a wide array of different disciplines and it makes the work quite interesting. "

Coming from a competitive system

"I did my PhD at the University of Caen Basse-Normandie and I had been in research exchange in Oulu already in 2004-2005. At the time, doing a PhD in France meant building and proposing your own research project and being very independent. Here the current PhD students get a lot more support both financially and scientifically. The French system was such that extremely few people had grants so most of us had to work on the side. Also, after receiving your PhD, there are very few positions available at French universities and they are very hard to get. When you do, it’s for life. It’s very competitive. In Finland, research is more open to people and to students. I came to work as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oulu in 2011. Working in Finland has allowed me to be much more internationally collaborative. My research group's network is quite international."

Easy to combine the professional with the personal

"We have much more training here now than before, as staff, different courses for teaching and so on. There is really great potential here in Oulu, there are a lot of researchers from different disciplines. It’s great to have these seminars where you get to know what other researchers are doing in the university, even if it’s just general discussion. It’s quite informative if you want to get to know more people. In general, I think working conditions here are quite flexible as long as you do your job. There’s trust between the members of our research group and that gives a nice group dynamic. "

"Also, it’s possible to have a personal life and a professional life here. This is not necessarily the case in other countries, at least not as easily. Having a family is not a taboo in Finland and everything is done for you to raise your kids in the best possible conditions."

Not everybody gets to experience the Finnish winter

"I’ve been here so long that I can’t remember my cultural shock! I was told to write down my initial thoughts and reactions and everything, when coming to a foreign country, and I never did. I had been in Canada in an exchange program, so I knew what it would be like to live in a foreign country. I think the Finnish silence is still difficult for me, it makes me uncomfortable. If I’m having lunch with colleagues and nobody speaks, I have to fill the silence. But I really like the four distinct seasons, and I'm still fascinated by the difference of the amount of daylight between winter and summer. I know perfectly well how it works because I’m a geographer, but it still has an impact on me. I think it’s an experience people should have, live in the winter. People here complain about the darkness, but when you come from abroad, it’s different, it’s exotic. Not everybody gets to have this experience."

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