Nordic research cooperation impresses and surprises in the USA
NordForsk set up a small stand mainly focused on the new Joint Nordic Initiative on Arctic Research Responsible Development of the Arctic and the concluding Top-level Research Initiative (TRI) to give interested visitors specific examples from a programme in the starting phase and a programme that has already yielded research results. On hand to share their experiences in carrying out research in the Nordic region were Lize-Marie van der Watt, a member of the Arctic initiative’s programme committee, and Professor Michael Goodsite, Director of NORD-STAR, a Nordic Centre of Excellence under the TRI initiative. Besides being researchers with insight into administrative and political processes, both have experienced moving to the Nordic region as an outsider to participate in Nordic research cooperation. Dr van der Watt is from South Africa and Professor Goodsite hails from Arizona, USA.
Common pot is quite uncommon
At San Jose McEnery Convention Centre in San Jose, California, visitors were curious and full of questions when hearing the NordForsk representatives explain how Nordic research cooperation works.
“Two things kept happening when I talked with people,” recounts Dr van der Watt. “Firstly, they were very impressed that NordForsk is able to make the common-pot principle work. The Nordic countries all pool their funds with no guarantee that their own researchers will bring home funding, as projects are awarded grants based solely on one criterion: quality. Researchers welcome this approach, but it can be difficult to manage from a political standpoint. Secondly, visitors were impressed that researchers themselves participate in shaping the research programmes.”
“Quite a few people were interested in how it is to be a woman researcher,” she continues. “Those I discussed this with had the impression that women scientists work under better conditions in the Nordic countries compared to other parts of the world. As a South African, I have to agree. First of all, there are certainly generous terms for maternity leave in the Nordic region, but perhaps just as important is the culture here, the little everyday things. Management and colleagues don’t expect me to have to work harder to advance my career just because I’m a woman. That alone has surprised people.”
Great interest in Nordic research careers
Michael Goodsite found there was ample interest among visitors at the stand and at the various sessions:
“When I spoke with people who were interested in coming to the Nordic countries to do research, some would ask about the opportunities available for shorter stays such as Ph.D. fellowships or longer-term positions at a research institution. The Nordic countries don’t operate with the same tenure track practised by universities in other countries to hold on to researchers. Here in the Nordic region it is done more informally by ensuring that researchers are skilled enough to be able to compete for a permanent position, which they can apply for when it is made available. This system is more flexible for the institution and less stable for the individual researcher, which is a dilemma we must be aware of when we are looking to attract the best researchers, regardless of where in the world they come from.”
Professor Goodsite feels strongly about recruiting international talent:
“It’s important to bring new minds into the region, because diversity and fresh ideas are essential to maintaining research quality and further developing research institutions. I spoke with some scientists who had applied for Nordic positions only to find the positions had been filled internally. This worries me, although I don’t see that happening where I work (the Department of Technology and Innovation at the University of Southern Denmark). But I find it overwhelmingly positive that so many of the early-career researchers I met were aware of how good the career development opportunities are in the Nordic countries.”
Text: Linn Hoff Jensen
Photo: Anne Riiser