Fibre and Particle Engineering Unit

From campus lockdown to creative working methods

From campus lockdown to creative working methods: how to transfer from lab work to other means to do the research, teach and to continue each one’s own PhD study?

In the Fibre and Particle Engineering research unit, we do interdisciplinary research working with materials made of wood and cellulose as well as industrial inorganic side streams. The work includes a lot of lab experiments and many of these experimental works are also very time consuming and time-sensitive. But now, due to the corona situation, most of the testing facilities are closed and the experiments can’t be performed up to unknown dates.

We also give lectures to degree programs of particle engineering and bioproduct technology. Usually, teachers and students prefer continuous two-way dialogue which helps them to learn. These classes usually attract approximately 30 students per lecture, whereas now we have up to 40-50 people on-line via Teams tool. The lecturer might be a bit puzzled whether the students will internalize the content properly as nearly all communication is mainly one-way. But the increasing attendance is anyways a positive sign and the active learners will, in any case, find their way to the source of information! This approach might be even easier for the younger generation!

Approximately 30% of our employees are also from abroad. From that point of view, it may feel a bit uncomfortable when the country borders are closed and you don’t really have the support network or close family here locally. Talking about digitalization challenges!

 

So what are our feelings now and what has changed?

At least parents with smaller kids are overwhelmed with the workload when working remotely. Suddenly you need to multi-task as a cook, mom or dad, teacher, cleaner, researcher, PhD thesis worker, entertainer, organizer and what else. All people don’t necessarily have an isolated working space at home, nor the peace and quiet to isolate yourself. Even the dog follows you from room to room constantly. This situation really requires flexibility from both the employer’s and employee’s side. Also, the relationships, or lack of them, change or at least demand a bit more perseverance. Being close 24/7 may cause some unpredicted challenges for all parties.

All this makes us really appreciate the well working society that we normally have here in Finland. People have schools, jobs, hobbies and daily routines which give them structure and security in all situations and everyday life.

 

Some immediate pro’s and con’s that we face:

Cons:

  • Some exchange programs have been canceled
  • Experiments for PhD thesis can’t be done
  • Lab works will be postponed
  • Delays in foreign residence permits, new PhDs can’t join the projects

Pros:

  • Different skills could be gained
  • More time for writing, enhancing articles and reading more literature
  • Focus on office work such as the revision of PhD thesis, manuscript writing, and data analysis
  • Enjoying the blue sky – a home office bonus

All in all, the situation builds up creativity more than anything else. This community is now challenged with surprising situations and demanding work issues. But when put in perspective, this really isn’t that much different from the norm – now we just need to tackle a bit different challenges on a bigger scale. And we love challenges! Eventually, we all tend to find the best practices, tools, and communication methods, and to find out the silver lining on a dark cloud. As one doctoral thesis worker said: “Eliminating the uncertainties is impossible but decreasing the sequences of them is success”.

Thanks for the comments to our research team members: Kaitao Zhang, Tuula Selkälä, Ahmad Alzaza, Hoang Nguyen, Katja Ohenoja, Jenni Kiventerä, Elisa Koivuranta, Tuomas Stoor and Mirja Illikainen.

 

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Written by Heini Tuorila

 

Last updated: 27.3.2020