'Our unit is very young and dynamic. There are 15 of us in total. Our culture is vibrant, supportive, and embracing. It’s oriented towards professional growth and development.'
Valentina Arrietta: Feedback is always a gift
How did you end up as a researcher at Aalto and the International Business Unit?
I’m originally from a small town in Russia and I came to Finland to study. I did my bachelor’s studies of international business in Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, and I came to Aalto to do a master’s degree. At the time, I was more interested in data analysis, information management, and logistics, and I chose Information and Service Management programme.
When I was about to graduate, I found a part-time position as a research assistant in the International Business Unit. Back then, I didn’t seriously consider doing a PhD, but it kind of looked interesting when I learned more about the people’s experiences.
In research, you can learn new things, travel, and communicate with people. I was afraid that if I worked in a company for years, it would become just a boring routine. I found it fascinating to think that as I got older, I could still be active in research and continue to explore and learn new things.
Now I’m a doctoral student in the International Business Unit at the Department of Management Studies. The topic of my dissertation is on self-managing organisations, and I look at how autonomy and control are implemented, the experiences people have and how they interact with each other.
As researchers, we have a lot of freedom to do whatever we want. But at the same time, the pressure is enormous. I must graduate and publish – preferably in top journals. I’ve started to think that it doesn’t actually feel that free. I can easily relate to the experiences of people who work in self-managing companies and have a high degree of autonomy in their work. In the end of the day, I have full responsibility for my research, and nobody cares about it as much as I do myself.
Can you share a story about your work?
During the Covid lockdown I still came to the office quite often. There were also some other PhD students from our unit, and we had lunch together. We could talk freely about things because no one was listening. It was amazing what kind of conversations we had. We talked about everything, e.g., the perception of femininity and masculinity in the society and how it’s changing to the role of sex in society and how it affects us. We discussed all the topics that came to mind, and it was very energizing and inspiring. I’ll always remember this.
Sometimes I feel like I’m struggling alone with rejection and expectations of publication.
Can you describe the culture in the International Business Unit?
We have an open environment that is friendly and caring. I know that if I need feedback or help, I can ask anyone. There is a 95% chance that someone will help me in some way. I appreciate my colleagues a lot.
Can you tell me more about yourself – what is it like to walk in Valentina Arrietta’s shoes?
I really appreciate the opportunity to study at one of the best universities in Finland. I basically get paid to learn and do what I like.
On the other hand, I sometimes feel insecure and doubt myself. There are expectations, rejections, and critics. Maybe all this is a bit harder for someone like me than for someone who is more confident.
But I’ve learned not to take rejection personally. In the interviews with the company representatives, someone told me that feedback is always a gift, whether it’s good or bad. It helps you improve. I try to remember that.
What would you like to happen at Aalto when someone makes a mistake or fails?
I feel we are discussing a lot about people who succeed. It would be also nice to hear stories of mistakes, failures, or struggles so we can understand what we could do better. Otherwise, it can feel that I’m the only one who’s not excellent.
As for my research, there is no solid literature on the background of self-managing organizations. I had tried different perspectives and theoretical frameworks. I already have seven different versions of one article. I thought I would share this story and the whole process in my dissertation.
Sometimes I feel like I’m struggling alone with rejection and expectations of publication. But if I talk to someone else, I find that they too have their own struggles. It’s important to talk to people and realise that at the end of the day, I’m not walking alone in these shoes.
It’s important to talk to people and realise that at the end of the day, I’m not walking alone in these shoes.
What would you like to improve in society, in academic culture, and at Aalto?
I’m an introvert and during Covid, I got used to the Zoom meetings. Sometimes I find it difficult to attend all social events even though I would want to. But I feel it is expected of me. Our society in general is not very good at accommodating introverts.
In academic culture, researchers are judged by where they publish their articles. I think research should focus more on creating and responsibly sharing knowledge, and thereby better understanding the world and helping the society develop further.
At Aalto, we strive for excellence and publications seem to be the most important thing. It doesn’t really match my values. But I also feel that my insights aren’t very valued until I publish in top journals.
What inspires you about meeting people?
The most inspiring part is learning new experiences and perspectives. Sometimes meeting one person can change my world and my view on something. Those moments are precious, and they help me become a better person.
What do you do in your free time?
Lately I’ve been fly dancing i.e., doing aerial silks exercises. It’s close to air yoga, but more active. There is a big event every year, Aerial Arts Showcase, and I performed there last year. It was a bit funny, since first I had to ask them to put the aerial hammock a bit higher – you’ll be hanging there with your head down, and I was able to touch the floor a little bit. Then they hung it a bit too high, and I couldn’t get into the hammock. I had to go back once more and then it was finally ok.
Do you have any plans since you are in your final stages of your PhD already?
I’m trying to stay in academia, but we’ll see what happens. I really like the research process, i.e., interviews, data collection, data analysis, and writing, and I also enjoy teaching. But I have a bit of a problem with articles. Therefore, it might be challenging. And if it doesn’t work out, I have also been thinking of other alternatives. I love animals, and maybe I could open a shelter or day care for animals.
Interview and text: Tiina Aulanko-Jokirinne
Read more stories:
'When I started the job, I was told that they were looking for a ‘mood manager’ whose job was to create a good, positive atmosphere with the attitude that anything is possible. I'm not always in a good mood, though, despite what other people say.'
'If I look at my own career, the skills I learned in the Student Union’s Representative Council and as a chairman and artistic misleader at Retuperän WBK are the skills I need as a department head: how to get along with people, how to lead a group, and how to motivate people. A role model is important.'
Walk in my shoes
If you would like to share your story for the Walk in My Shoes series, please contact Tiina Aulanko-Jokirinne. Walk in my shoes is part of the Aalto Cultural Development project led by Carita Pihlman.