Jan Hermes at the carpentry shop of Oulu School of Architecture

Former shipbuilding engineer Jan Hermes looks at how social change happens in daily activities

While Jan Hermes is currently working as an Assistant Professor in Management and International Business in the Oulu Business School, this was not his first career choice. Having originally trained as a shipbuilding engineer and working as such in Germany and in Finland, the day came when he realized he wanted to get back to studying. He knew he wanted to study something in business and so he applied to an International Business program.

“Oulu was the only place to accept candidates without any prior knowledge in business, so I bet everything on one card and applied here”, Hermes says with a laugh.

The smell of metal

My path to Oulu involved a little bit of zigzagging, which I suppose is pretty common. Initially I wanted to return to the shipbuilding industry after completing my studies, but this was during the peak of the financial crisis and no-one was looking to hire people. The Business School asked me if I wanted to continue my PhD in Oulu and I accepted. I also met my wife here, so that weighed in on the decision as well. I still remember the shipbuilding days fondly and when I walk around the metal shop on the Linnanmaa campus, the smell of metal really takes me back to that time.

Studying social change in post-conflict countries

I study how social change comes about and how certain actors try to influence social change. Some try to advance it and some push against it. I try to look at how this happens on a micro level, in daily activities. I have also been developing a project in the context of justice reform where I look at post-conflict countries, like Tunisia and Algeria where they had a strongman dictator. After dictatorship and injustices, everyone seeks justice, but the justice sector is still the one that was put in place by the dictator. So there’s a need for instant justice but no way to get it. It’s like trying to fix a plane engine in flight.

A dynamic work environment pushes to improve

We are developing an edge in our field of study here in Oulu and a little community has formed with researchers and doctoral students who take similar approaches. The University has also taken bold steps and is really embracing change. I feel like I am part of a very dynamic work environment and we always keep pushing to improve. Even though we are up in the north, we are operating in a truly international landscape. We are competing not only with Finnish universities but with institutions worldwide. I also enjoy the trust and freedom that I am given when going after my research interests. This is different from the work culture in Germany.

"Here there is a lot of trust upfront and it’s really creative, a little bit entrepreneurial."

Yes, Finnish is ridiculously hard, but worth the effort

What one thing would I tell anyone who is coming to Oulu from abroad? Learn Finnish. It’s very hard and still is for me at times, even though I’ve been here over a decade. It’s well-worth the effort. You can get around Oulu easily with English, but if you want to engage with people and the culture on a deeper level, Finnish is essential. It opens doors. That’s my number one recommendation. Other than that, well, the weather conditions here are a little bit special. If you’re here, there’s nothing you can do about it as such, but if you have a well-functioning social environment, friends and acquaintances, that really helps you get through the long and harsh winters. It’s the same for everyone! And when the season turns, it really is wonderful.

Last updated: 7.8.2019