HYVÄT’s values lay in Community, Information and Advocacy

This text is a written version of the speech given by HYVÄT’s 2019 chairperson Anton Saressalo at the association’s 5 year anniversary party. This is the last edition in the HYVÄT anniversary blog post series.

HYVÄT is an association of weird abbreviations. We are endlessly talking about doctoral schools like HYMY and YEB, doctoral programmes like SEDUCE and DOCPOP – and even the association’s name is an abbreviation. By now all of you should already know that it comes from the Finnish word “Helsingin yliopiston itöskirjatutkijat”, University of Helsinki PhD Students.

However, also our activities can be squeezed into an acronym – C I A. I’ll try to explain before your imagination starts to run too wild in the conspiracy theories…

First of all, HYVÄT is a Community. It is one of the few university-wide advocacy associations which actually regularly bring together people from all the campuses, all the doctoral schools and most of the 32 doctoral programmes.

Our community has been growing steadily during the five years of existence and by now, we reach almost 400 doctoral candidates from all across the university – almost 10 % of them all. However, it’s not without challenges.

For some reason the association is really popular in Kumpula and City Center, but Viikki and Meilahti have been more difficult areas for us. It is really nice to see that today here we have people from all of the campuses and even guests from outside of our University, all the way from Otaniemi and Eastern Finland (Joensuu)!

The different nature of each campus means that also HYVÄT has to adapt to different needs. City Center has a huge variety of disciplines and crunching these thousands of PhD candidates into one doctoral school with 11 programmes is not easy, therefore City Center is usually where most help in advocacy is needed. Kumpula is compact, but still we see a high demand for communital activities. Viikki and Meilahti already have many strong “student councils”, so maybe HYVÄT should find itself useful in something else.

Information. We can all agree that Flamma is not the easiest place to find it. We need to remember that the university is a community of 40 000 people and I’ve never heard of one where information flows flawlessly.

Compared to an individual PhD student, HYVÄT has the extraordinary advantage of more than 80 little birds – student representatives in doctoral programmes, schools and some other boards.  Together with these people, and actively listening to our collaborators such as the Student Union HYY and the  Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers, we hear many things and try to communicate them out as best as we can – in all the directions.

I have to admit that this is not easy and also HYVÄT has a lot ot improve in the area of communication.

I already mentioned it, but HYVÄT’s main activity is Advocacy. This means that a major part of the work done by our board is spent on keeping track of what is going on at the university and wondering whether it will affect the PhD candidates and if it will, is the change going to be good or bad.

During the 5 years of existence, HYVÄT has has done a lot. It has had 72 board meetings, along with 14 association meetings. The association has performed two major surveys, which both provided more than 500 answers of really interesting and important data on where HYVÄT should focus its resources. We have also produced 12 major statements, their topics go large in variety

  • Statement against office rents
  • Preserving the structure of doctoral schools
  • Higher education funding
  • Doctoral Programme application periods
  • Statement on university regulation changes
  • Big wheel changes
  • On the costs of dissertation language checks
  • Equal distribution of resources
  • Disciplinary web pages
  • Study Psychologists
  • Working places at the City Center Campus
  • Supervision agreement guidelines

But regardless of this, HYVÄT does not want to be a “no”-association. Our approach is to do as much collaboration with the university and other relevant parties as possible. And I think this is perhaps the most important thing we have achieved these five years. We have secured our place as the advocator and connector of the PhD students. During the first years, it was really difficult for HYVÄT to be heard or to find purpose for its existence. Organizing the elections for the PhD representatives was a really good way to get HYVÄT known – and this fall is already the third time we are doing that. This is really important for HYVÄT, even though it takes quite a lot of our effort.

This collaborative approach has brought HYVÄT to the middle of all the decision-making. Our statements are heard with great impact, and our meetings with the doctoral education personnel are frequent and really fruitful.

Our continuous quests include improving the equality of all the PhD candidates regardless of their campus or source of funding.

Also improving the value of PhD candidates – and the graduated doctors – in the Finnish society as a whole is an important fight we’ve been fighting along with the fellow associations from the beginning. This comes back to our name which in the beginning was HYJO – Helsingin yliopiston jatko-opiskelijat. Those who know Finnish, probably know that the term jatko-opiskelija, graduate student is problematic in many ways. In every turn we make – both in the academic world and outside of it – we should stress the value and expertise of those doing their PhDs. Most of the time we are not students, but highly specialized professionals on the verge of becoming the number one experts on our own narrow, but important branches of science.

Let’s now all raise a glass for for everyone of us, who are there making this wonderful association be what it is.

One more thing! I mentioned the statements and it might seem that HYVÄT is always asking for favours from the others – and might most of the time be true. However, now we want to give something back. Supervision is our main advocacy topics this year and it is always good to share the good practices and bring to front those who are following them. This is why we are publishing a prize for the best supervisor at the university. Anyone of you can suggest names and justifications for the best supervisors on our website until the end of September, after which we will form a small council that selects the winner. The winner is published later in the autumn, possibly in the PhD Kick off or some other similar event.

You can give your proposals here: Supervisor prize

Here you can see the pictures from the Anniversary Cocktail Party: https://flic.kr/s/aHskUz36qy