The best things

I have been back in Helsinki for four days now, after my four-week staff exchange and one week holiday in Copenhagen. Still, when I wake up in the middle of the night I think I’m there, and still it is a bit difficult to wrap my brain around everything that’s happened. And I really should be able to because Erasmus demands reports, and my colleagues some kind of a recap of the whole thing and how we could take advantage of what I’ve learned and gained.

On personal level, the best thing of the exchange was stepping out of my comfort zone so many times that I got used to it. I feel that I’m bit more confident now, and I know better what I like doing.

I met and talked to so many people that it almost made my head spin sometimes. I told them about the good and the bad, heard about the good and the bad. I felt that they were being honest, not trying to impress me, which was good. I think I was the same.

The second best thing was the inspiration and new motivation for work I found. From now on I hope I’m able to concentrate on the things I enjoy doing, like actual journalistic and editorial work. That gives me the strength to put up with also the more boring tasks.

When my colleagues here ask what we can we get out of this exchange it is quite difficult to answer them. I don’t have one golden idea that we now should make reality, but I have more motivation to do my work and I think that is worth much more.

Oh yeah, the jellyfish story (with a video), you can found it on University Post: Up close, eye-to-eye with the jellyfish.

How to close the distance?

I think I’ve reached a culmination point of some kind where reflection on things has become more difficult, and have enjoyed doing some “real work” instead. Last week, I spent two days at University Post, which is the independent English-language online newspaper of University of Copenhagen.

There I met with Michael and Serain, who have quite a lot in their hands in keeping the paper up and running. I could easily relate to that, but what I found particularly inspiring was that despite of everything, Michael seemed to be full of ideas.

I managed to “sell” them the jellyfish story, and for that visited the Marine Biological Section of University of Copenhagen yesterday, where I talked to the head of the research team and MSc student looking into the eyesight of jellyfish. But more about that in University Post later…

As for my stay at the Central Administration Communications unit, I think the most important aspect has been to be able to realize the relations between different levels of communication.

Communication-wise, I think, it is important to stand up for oneself on faculty or department level, but it’s also a good idea to understand the amount of demands and desires the central administration communications unit has to deal with. However, as long as there is that certain amount of physical and mental distance between the units, it is quite easy to step on the toes of central administration. (At least it is for me.)

I think that people working for communication at University of Copenhagen can also relate to the distance. Today, I was asked what could be done about it. I don’t know, but I think it would be nice to be recognized a bit more. Instead of us from the faculties and departments having to go down to the city centre to attend meetings, someone from the central communication could visit us every once in a while. Maybe for half a day or even longer to see what we are doing, how we are doing, and what kind of challenges we are facing. Perhaps giving us some advice, and letting us know what is being done on the central level that we could take advantage of.

Actually, something like this was done between the central administration communications unit and SCIENCE communication at University of Copenhagen, and I think it can be beneficial for both parties. Looking things from another perspective can never hurt.

Up the ladder

My new location.

My new location at the City Centre of Copenhagen.

During the time I’ve worked for the Faculty of Science at University of Helsinki, I’ve always felt quite distant to the Central Administration Communications Unit. And perhaps due to the distance, we’ve taken some liberties to conduct the Faculty level communication the way we’ve wanted, not always according to the recommendations and guidelines of the Central Administration…

After my two weeks at SCIENCE Communication where the day-to-day work was easy to relate to, I must say I felt a bit out of place the first two days at the Central Administration Communications Unit of University of Copenhagen. And don’t get me wrong; the feeling had nothing to do with the staff, who welcomed me warmly!

Today, however, I started to realize the benefits of my visit to this unit. In fact, it’s quite funny (and embarrassing) to think that after two weeks here, I will probably know more of the Central level communication in Copenhagen than I do about it in Helsinki. And not knowing enough has made me feel, from time to time, like a bad ambassador of my home university.

Today, I visited the International Staff Mobility Office, where I’ll be helping out with online materials next week. Debra, who works with International Marketing Communications greeted me with the kind of energy to wake me up to experience what this new week and new placement has to offer, which was a really good thing.

Later in the afternoon, I spoke with the team of designers working with printed and online materials for University of Copenhagen. The conversation was eye-opening. I learned some aspect to what it is like to try and work in such a big organization in a way that pleases everyone. I also told them about our own little escapades, graphic design-wise, at University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Science… (For the reference, the layout of our old website looked something like this so we grew tired of waiting something to happen on University level and made it look like this instead). Looking at the big picture, I’m not entirely sure if it’s a good idea to shake things up like this, but it might speed up the processes happening elsewhere…

As for the work at Central Administration, I’ve actually often wondered what it would be like at University of Helsinki. I would definitely like to be part of a bigger team working on communication. However, I’ve noticed that I’m not the one to (think and) talk about strategies, I want to go out on the field and do things. Whether the first one rules out the other, I don’t know.

Halfway through

I think everyone should participate in a staff exchange every once in a while. It doesn’t have to be as long as mine, it doesn’t have to be abroad, but it is really good to go somewhere and see how things are done in a different working environment.

Halfway through my exchange at University of Copenhagen, I feel I’ve gained more new ideas for my work than during the past year, and seeing how things are done somewhere else has also made me view the way communication is done at University of Helsinki and Faculty of Science quite critically, but at the same time realizing many good aspects to it.

I must say that so much has happened that it is difficult, for now, to form a coherent picture of the past two weeks (good thing I have this blog to help me in that). However, at this point, it seems that many of the goals and challenges communication-wise are very much the same in Helsinki and Copenhagen. With regard to how things are handled, some things are done similarly, others differently, and those are the things that I try and learn from.

In addition to the things that I’ve already discussed in my previous posts, I’ve made a brief list of other ideas from SCIENCE Communication. These ideas did not provoke my thoughts so much that I would’ve written a whole post about them, but I feel that it’s a good idea to have them here for future reference. And I like lists, so here you go.

ekspeditionen

  • A beautifully designed, visual and reportage-like, popularized booklet of e.g. research project, research station (Taita in Kenya, for example), and fieldwork like the one about the research expedition to Greenland, produced by SCIENCE Communication in collaboration with artists.
  • Areas of interest wheel to present different MSc Programmes provided by the Faculty/University
  • An useful app for students, I have no further ideas on what this should be about but perhaps someone, students from the Department of Computer Science for example, would have some ideas.
  • Twitter use during conferences, hash tags, projecting feed on screen at the venue.
  • Video(s) of international students where they in addition to telling what is best about their studies/University of Helsinki/Faculty of Science/Finland in English do that also in their own language and/or in Finnish.

Today, I started at Communications Unit under the Central Administration of University of Copenhagen, and I expect to gain yet more ideas and views but more about that later.

Getting the message through

During the past few days, I’ve discussed a lot about the quality of information and the channels through which it’s been spread. I feel that quite often it is difficult to get the message through, whether it is for the media, prospective students or those already studying and working in the university.

Svend, a journalist working for SCIENCE Communication, shared some aspects to his work. In his opinion, getting the message out to the public through the media requires quite a lot of popularization, but that has to be done without exaggeration. Also, according to him, the processes of science aren’t something people, in general, are very interested about, but instead it is the results, or the possible results that are still a thing of the future.

Svend doesn’t believe that media isn’t interested in science but the problem with not getting science into headlines has more to do with science not being brought to people working for the media with the kind of a tagline or curiosity that would raise immediate interest.

In addition to this, I’ve come across press releases that are about really interesting topics and researches, but after the title and introduction, the content of the release resembles the abstract of an academic paper. These kinds of releases might get through in magazines specializing in science but to get the wider attention of the media, I think we should popularize more.

Another thing that has been discussed quite a lot here is the use of social media. With regard to that, one of the fundamental problems, it seems, with both University of Helsinki and University of Copenhagen is the language. In both of them the Faculty of Science has a Facebook site in the native tongue, not in English, even though there is mutual a goal of becoming more international…

The problem with switching the language of the site to English, however, would be that majority of the events and contents that are currently being posted about on Facebook are not in English. Using two languages is one option, but what about the name of the page then? Should that be in the native language or in English? In my opinion, if the name of the page is not in English, most people don’t expect it to have content in that language.

There was also discussion about Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest, the #s and the @s, and what have you. My first though was that in my work, I should be doing so much more to get the most out of social media. But after digesting that thought a bit, I started to wonder would it really be worth the trouble…

Apparently, the youth are moving away from Facebook before we have even decided what language to use there, and as a information channel it is unreliable unless you are willing to pay for your posts to appear on news feeds. Using Twitter effectively would require a lot of effort, and what kind on content and by who should Instagram of a Faculty of Science have? I don’t know. I think it is a good idea to be represented in social media, but the priorities should be somewhere else. (For example in making information visible and easily accessible on our websites.)

Videos and more school visits

On Friday, there was an Open house event at Frederiksberg Campus presenting the MSc programmes. For that, I tagged along with Simon and Jesper’s video team with the intention of getting some footage of the event and interviews with potential Master’s students at the Faculty. The video they will make will probably be something similar to the one made of the Open House event for the BSc Programmes.

However, this time I was the interviewer and the language was English as it is the language of instruction in almost all of the MSc Programmes at SCIENCE.

Even though I had made some videos including interviews in Helsinki, such as the one of math workshop filmed at the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, I’m really not used to interviewing people in such a distractive situation. I guess, if and when we’ll start putting more effort on videos at University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Science, I really have to learn to focus on listening to what the interviewee is saying and asking further questions instead of just rushing into the next one in my question pattern, and also on signaling positive response to what the interviewee is saying as a way of encouraging him or her to carry on…

As for this week, it started with my presentation of some of the aspects to communication within University of Helsinki. Even though during my visit I’ve noticed many things that could be done so much better there and in Faculty of Science in particular if more resources were invested on communication, I think I managed to provide my Danish colleagues with some good examples of successful communication we do back home.

Lower high school students working on dye-sensitized solar cells.

Lower secondary school students working on dye-sensitized solar cells.

Today, I also visited the Nørre Campus for the second time, and this time the labs there were crowded with a bit more younger scientists than the last time. Torben, who is in charge of the school activities for lower secondary school took me to four laboratories to see what the students were working on. The university student-led visits seemed quite similar to the ones we have, but what I liked in particular was that the hands on activities were clearly linked to global problems, such as sustainability of energy production, that are currently being solved through science.

Judging the faculty by its websites

Today I talked to Signe, web editor working at SCIENCE. We compared the social media use and websites within the Faculties of Science of University of Helsinki and University of Copenhagen. SCIENCE has recently joined Instagram, which is definitely something we should also look into when I return to Helsinki.

appearancesBut with regard to websites, VI HAR BRUG FOR HJÆLP! I’m not going into the complex reasons behind the problem but something has to be done to the mosaic that is the layout of various sites related to University of Helsinki, Faculty of Science and departments operating under it. To be honest, I hadn’t even fully understood the extensity of the problem before presenting the sites today. Doesn’t give a very coherent impression, I’d say…

Luckily, the hjælp is on the way! I certainly hope that with the upcoming website reform at University of Helsinki this problem will be fully solved!

Luring new students

Yesterday, I talked to Lykke, a biologist working on upper secondary school activities and bridge building between schools and university. The volume of visitors to University of Copenhagen’s Faculty of Science per year is huge, 70 000 visits from secondary schools alone, which is explained by the fact that Natural History Museum also operates under it.

The ingredients of a healthy meal.

The ingredients of a healthy meal prepared by upper secondary school visitors.

However, the Faculty also has some interesting methods for luring upper secondary school students to study science subjects.

Just like in University of Helsinki, there are a lot of visits from student groups. However, I found one aspect to these visits particularly interesting. At SCIENCE, the visits are perhaps more closely connected to on-going research projects.

In addition to what is on the plate, the lunch included salad and falafel.

In addition to what is on the plate, the lunch included salad and falafel…

Today, I followed a group of upper secondary school students participating in a day-long visit the theme of which was the OPUS Research Project developing, studying and disseminating the New Nordic Diet the aim of which is to introduce a healthier lifestyle for future generations. The students were first familiarized with the project and the benefits of a healthier lifestyle and diet during a morning lecture. After that they entered the Gastrolab.

... and some dessert.

and dessert.

In the Gastrolab, the students were given a recipe for an entire meal based on the the New Nordic Diet, including plenty of vegetables. They prepared the lunch in groups and ate it later at the Campus cafeteria.

After the meal, the students had another lecture on how better food habits can lead to healthier Denmark.

In addition to familiarizing themselves with this particular research project, the students also heard about the study possibilities at the Faculty of Science and got a tour around the campus with the student-guides.

I thought it was a really good idea to present the students with quite an inclusive picture of one area of research, especially as the research project was so closely connected to everyday life. Furthermore, through everyday applications science can be made more interesting and appealing to prospective university students. The link between science and everyday life is also emphasized on study visits to University of Helsinki, but I think that the connection to actual research projects is not this clearly present.

Another interesting method of student recruitment, offered by SCIENCE, are the “Student for a Day” activities in which upper secondary school students can request a visit to one of the departments and there they are guided by a university student who’ll take them to lectures and show them around the campus. The activity is also quite popular, as around 400 upper secondary school students visit the Faculty this way during the academic year.

The Faculty has also surveyed how many of their new students have participated in these activities. 14% of new students have visited the Faculty with their class during upper secondary school and 15% have been “students for a day”. And out of that 15%, 61% say that the experience had a great or decisive impact on their choice of study. That is something to think about.

More revelations (and some taxidermy)

If yesterday’s big revelation was “what if communication was made stronger on faculty-level?”, today’s was “what if it was made stronger on department-level?”

Jes, a SCIENCE journalist writing about chemistry research related to environment, energy and medicine, took me to another large campus area of University of Copenhagen, the Nørre Campus, where many Departments of Faculty of Science, such as Mathematical Sciences, Chemistry and Biology as well as the Zoological Museum (with its mammoths) are located.

karvainen-mammutti mammutti

In addition to the tour at the Zoological Museum, Jes showed me around in some of the laboratories where interdisciplinary research on cloud seeds and biofuels was conducted, and told me about his work. Among the things we discussed, one thing in particular stuck into my head. Department-level communication.

We discussed, for example, how researchers are not active or enthusiastic enough in communicating about their research even to journalists and press officers working within the university, and how the journalist has to go through the doors and make the effort to get the story. It made me think whether it is even possible for a communications officer working on faculty or even university-level to truly dedicate one’s time on looking for topics to cover. Whereas working on department-level would enable building a deeper understanding of a certain field of science and people working on it, which would be an obvious benefit. The threat is, however, that you will get so close to the researchers that you forget to ask the stupid questions…

First day at KU

I started my March by flying off to Copenhagen, leaving my mundane life and winter coat behind. Well, it might have been a good idea to keep at least the latter with me as the Danish spring is not as far along as I would have hoped… Yet.

I arrived on Saturday evening and treated myself with some Tuborg and a night in before conquering my new hometown for five weeks. The apartment I had rented had a nice and hip appearance and location, with near proximity to a bike rental that in the following day provided me with all the transportation I will need.

Fredriksberg Campus as seen from Bülowsvej.

Frederiksberg Campus as seen from Bülowsvej.

And on Sunday, there I went by pedal power to search for my work place for the following two weeks to avoid the Monday morning stress over whether I’d find the right place on time. The Frederiksberg Campus as seen from Bülowsvej revealed an old and prestigious buildings overlooking a big garden, but it was not until the next day that I found out how extensive and architecturally versatile the campus area actually was.

Lecture Hall with beautiful paintings on the ceiling that were redone after this part of the old building was destroyed in an  gas explosion.

Lecture Hall with beautiful paintings on the ceiling that were redone after this part of the old building was destroyed in a gas explosion.

Frederiksberg Campus is home for some of the departments within the Faculty of Science, such as Food ScienceGeosciences and Natural Resource Management and Plant and Environmental Sciences as well as the Faculty Administration, and SCIENCE Communication unit.

forestry

The Faculty also offers courses on landscape architecture and subjects related to forestry, which is seen on the interior of the newer buildings on Campus.

On Monday morning, I was greeted by almost the entire staff of SCIENCE Communication that consists of 17 people, all dealing with different aspects to communication on and offline, nationally and internationally and through various channels, including science news, media relations, internal communication, bridge building between schools and universities, student recruitment, among other things.

“Wow, so many people dealing with science communication together,” was my first thought.

Kristen, my contact person at SCIENCE explained that it hadn’t been until several Faculties of University of Copenhagen merged under the name Faculty of Science that such a big communication unit that is physically separate from the faculty administration was formed. Nevertheless, it made me think about the possibilities for communication that would open up if the Faculty-level communication would be made stronger at University of Helsinki as well. One of the obvious benefits of that, as I discussed with Kirsten, is that the people working for communication are where the students and researchers are, and not where the central administration happens to be located.

But as for my first day, thanks to discussing with Kirsten, I learned a lot about the Faculty of Science and university-life in general in Copenhagen, and expect to learn a lot more during my two weeks there. For that, I received my day-by-day programme that involves collaboration with many of the unit’s employees.