Oops: What times, what customs!
“I lived in the United States with my family for more than four years at the start of the 1990s. Then we wanted to return to Europe to get closer to our home, Finland. I was employed by Genencor, a Finnish-American biotech company that produces industrial enzymes. The firm had a research centre in the Dutch city of Delft, where I started as a researcher. It was interesting and challenging work, and I was enthusiastic about it. We planned to live in the Netherlands for at least five years.
Less than a year later, these plans were quashed. Genencor decided to shut down its research facility in Europe and relocate everything to the US. It was too expensive to maintain a second centre on the other side of the world. The situation looked promising when we moved to Holland, but, in business, everything can change overnight.
Our family was offered the opportunity to move to California, but we didn’t want that. International moves are hard, as we’d already found out. It was also necessary to consider what was best from the perspective of our kids’ schooling. We decided to return to Finland, and I started looking for work.
I’m a biotechnology expert, and the sector was trending up. Among other things, bio-cities were being established in Finland. I figured I’d land a research job in industry, but reality presented a bleak picture. There were very few industrial jobs, and even when I managed to land an interview, I was sometimes told that I’m too old. It was 1997 and I was under 40 at the time. It was astonishing, I didn’t feel the least bit old. But it was still OK to say that in a job interview during the previous millennium!
A friend urged me to apply for a returning researcher’s grant from the Academy of Finland. It would enable me to do research at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, who were unable to hire me directly because of a lack of vacancies.
I drafted a funding application and the Academy liked it a lot. Unfortunately, that year’s funds had already been spent – in May. They told me to apply again next year.
But I was in too much of a hurry to wait. Also, I’d already started working at VTT, as the Academy funding had looked like a pretty sure thing. It was my good fortune to meet with Research Professor Liisa Viikari. She got busy and managed, with very little notice, to arrange a year’s funding for my research.
That’s how my, at first unpaid, career at VTT got started. I continued working there for 21 happy years. Beginnings like mine are not entirely exceptional in the field of research, I suppose, but I wouldn’t wish a similar situation on anyone.”
Text: Paula Haikarainen. Photo: Kalle Kataila.
This article was originally published in the Aalto University Magazine issue 24 (issuu.com), April 2019. The Oops! column recounts an event that didn't go according to plan.