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For Professor Antti Räisänen, sociability is about caring for others

Professor Antti Räisänen has completed his long academic career, beginning his retirement on 1 October 2018. Colleagues that know him well describe him as a hard-working, courageous and sociable person who carries responsibility well. What does he himself think of this description?
Aalto University / Professori Antti Räisänen / photo: Dmitri Chicherin

Hard-working

If one can do a lot of work, one can get a lot done. I’ve always taken good care of my physical health, which has helped to keep my energy levels up. I have run over 100 marathons. I haven’t travelled just to participate in running events, but I’ve made use of my work trips and run a marathon if there was the opportunity for this in the place I was visiting. Determination is needed both for doing academic work and running marathons. In both of them, you sometimes get tired, but are able to keep going when you know that you’ll eventually get to the finishing line. Running is also a relaxing state for the brain and helps to move forward the unresolved things that are circling in the mind. I can still remember, 45 years later, the exact place where I was running when I got the idea for how to finish off my master’s thesis. At that moment I didn’t have pen and paper with me, so I kept repeating the sentences in my mind until I got home. Since then, I’ve always taken something with me for jotting down ideas when I go for a run.

A leader who takes responsibility

I lead by example. I don’t want to be bossing people around over tiny matters, but rather to lead through example and common sense. I am also meticulous. In my opinion, matters must be presented logically in publications, doctoral dissertations and master’s theses, footnotes must be listed correctly and writing style must be clear and good. If the presentation is not tiptop, it can give the impression that the content is not good quality either. I have noticed that students’ Finnish language skills have worsened, partly because of master’s theses being written in English. I have marked many master’s theses with a red pen. Only once the spelling has been corrected have I been able to focus on the content. It is good for students to get used to being meticulous because badly written text is not fit for sending to scientific journals either.

Courageous

I feel that I am both courageous and not courageous. When I was young, everything scared me and made me nervous. My master’s thesis seminar made me so nervous that I didn’t sleep at all the night before. Then I realised that nothing will come of my life if I’m not willing to dare. I noticed that self-confidence increases if one prepares carefully for making presentations and engaging in discussions and negotiations. I remember a particular situation which boosted my self-confidence. Finland had joined the European Space Agency in 1987 and we had made our first proposal for a large project. We were one of the two best teams, and the meetings were really nerve-wracking, especially as I was asked about antennas – something that I was no expert on. Nevertheless, we were able to convince the jury and get the funding. 

Sociable

For me, sociability is about caring. If I know that someone in the community is having a hard time, I try to help out even with difficult matters. I want things to be talked about as they really are. Especially when in a leadership role, there are many things which need to be dealt with and cannot simply be left to be handled by others. I have always wanted to help people entering the work community, because I myself have always received help around the world when I've been in a new work community. It’s difficult to adapt if you end up being alone and outside the community. I had already learnt about caring for strangers in my childhood home, because we would have neighbourhood families with problems living with us temporarily. My childhood experiences and my own travels, especially my time in the US, have been important in forming my desire to help and care for others.

As is always asked from people who are retiring: how do you think you life will change now?

My everyday life will change in that I will now have more time for forestry. Something planned for the autumn is the thinning of the seeding stand in my forest property in Northern Savo. Science will not be totally left behind though, as I’ll be continuing in the department on an emeritus professor contract. I will be providing the orientation for the new professor, Zachary Taylor, and I’m supervising two doctoral candidates who will be defending their dissertations next year. I also face the task of emptying my workroom. I also have, from my previous moves, folders full of letters that I would like to go through. For my farewell lecture, I went through the letters of Professor Tiuri, the previous professor, because I wanted to know when he had first mentioned the idea of starting research of extremely high frequency. The year was 1966, but it then took another 6 or 7 years before the research actually began.

What advice would you give to a researcher who is at the start of their career?

In both academic work and entrepreneurship, the same truth holds: you must be ready to do more than just what gets paid for. You must take risks and be willing to work hard. And believe in what you are doing.

Antti Räisänen

  • received his PhD from Helsinki University of Technology in 1980;
  • appointed as Professor of Radio Engineering in 1989;
  • Vice President of the Helsinki University of Technology 1997–2000;
  • Head of the Radio Laboratory of TKK (1987–2007) and Head of the Department of Radio Science and Engineering of Aalto University (2008–2016);
  • actively developed teaching, and doctoral education in particular, as the Head of first the TKK Dissertations Committee and then the School of Electrical Engineering’s Doctoral Programme;
  • an exceptionally distinguished researcher who has received numerous international awards and titles;
  • received the TKK medal of the Foundation for Aalto University Science and Technology for his contributions towards the development of technology teaching and research.
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