Prehistory of the PhD association

This text is the first part of HYVÄT’s anniversary blog series. This story by Harri Waltari, the first chairperson of HYVÄT (then HYJO).

My history with the doctoral student community within the University of Helsinki starts long before I was a doctoral student myself. I became the secretary of academic affairs at the Student Union in August 2006. There were two secretaries and as I came from a research intensive field myselft, I took the resposibilities concerning research and graduate education.

Back then, the Student Union followed what happened in the scientific council (tieteellinen neuvosto) and had meetings with its doctoral student members a couple of times a year, also inviting some other active doctoral students to such meetings. At that time I got to know that there had been discussions about a doctoral student association already – probably one such period was when the current Aallonhuiput was founded in 2003 – but there was never enough momentum to get one founded at the University of Helsinki. Still there was a need for one as doctoral students were considered to be underrepresented in the university administration – in the student quota they were outnumbered by undergraduates and in the staff quota the short contracts made it hard to be a member in the faculty/departmental councils.

I resigned from my post at the Studend Union in early 2010 and went on to continue my studies, graduating the next year. As particle physics was in an exceptionally exciting phase at the moment, I decided to carry on with doctoral studies.

During the big organisational reform of 2009-10, the University got a scientific advisory board. One of its recommendations was to restructure the doctoral education to doctoral schools. This was then discussed within the community and the result was to have four doctoral schools and around 30 doctoral programmes, each with at least 10 graduates a year. The schools and programmes would then have boards, which would have also doctoral student members. I was in such a phase of my studies that I volunteered and got elected as the doctoral student member of my doctoral programme.

The fact that there were doctoral programmes within doctoral schools called for co-operation between different representatives and also doctoral student communities. The first phases were mostly discussions between doctoral students at the center campus and the Student Union, which was also interested in the new board members of doctoral schools and what was happening regarding the reform of doctoral education.

The first real event was a doctoral student forum mainly for the new members of the doctoral school and programme boards. This was organised by the Student Union and Sari Aalto, Jussi Junni, Outi Hakola, Veikko Eranti and Mari Simola, who all were former actives at the Student Union level. This first forum was on January 27th 2014 and there was discussions on what should be done regarding the new programmes and schools and what is the situation. There were more than 30 participants and the discussion was lively. After the more practical matters there was also a discussion of how we should continue and should we have a formal platform for doctoral students. Most of the people thought this would be a good idea and a small group got the task to arrange a second forum for a wider audience regarding how doctoral students’ interests should be advocated in the future. As I was nearly the only one from Kumpula in the first forum, I thought that I should become involved so that there would be more chances to develop a university-wide community. Together with me also Jonna Teikari, Essi Mäkelä and David Huisjen got involved together with the organisers of the first forum.

The main options were an association or a sub-committee under the Student Union. The former had more formalities involved and as we later found out, operating a multilingual association under the Finnish Associations Act is not easy. The latter would have been a less formal and a less independent one. We had a look at how things were arranged elsewhere, there were two associations (Aalto & UEF) and one committee under the Student Union (Oulu). We also had a discussion with the board of Aallonhuiput and visited some of their events to see what they were doing.

There were actually a couple of events before the decision on founding an association was done. Two former secretaries at student unions, Mari Simola and myself, organised a training event for the members of doctoral schoool and programme boards. In addition, we visited a workshop of the National Federation of Student Unions (SYL), which had a session on doctoral students. Also the chairperson of Aallonhuiput was there.

The next bigger forum was on April 7th, when a clear majority thought the best way to proceed was to found an association. A committee was nominated, which I became to chair, to prepare the documents for the founding meeting and the bylaws of the association. Other people participating in this work were Tommi Tenkanen, Jussi Junni, Essi Mäkelä, Nadia Nava, Laura Sibinescu, Sonja Trifuljesko, Anna Medvedeva, Terhi Järvinen, Paavo Pietarinen, Outi Hakola and Jonna Teikari.

The first board of HYVÄT

The hardest part were the language issues. It was clear to all that practically the association would operate in English (all events etc.) as roughly a quarter of its potential members were not Finnish-speaking. Nevertheless, the Finnish Associations Act requires that the administration must be in Finnish and hence we needed a lot of translation. We had to learn quite a lot of the procedural terminology in English and I must say that for a physicist is was quite a demanding task to make a translation (even if it was unofficial) of the bylaws.

The period of writing the action plan and the bylaws was intensive as we were ready to have the founding meeting already on May 26th. There were several days that were considered, but eventually we just picked a suitable day. The Student Union generously gave us the Music Hall of the Old Student House for the meeting. Not too many associations have been founded in such a beautiful environment!

The founding meeting had roughly 50 doctoral students, a rather good number. The action plan was mostly to continue supporting the representatives in the doctoral school and programme boards and to start building an university-wide doctoral student community through social events. The board was also elected and I became the chair of the board. The board consisted of nine members, the idea was that there would be the chair and then two members per doctoral school. The original name of the association was “Helsingin yliopiston jatko-opiskelijat” (we arranged a poll, but only one suggestion was made), although there is a problem that in Finnish there is not as good a term as the Swedish “doktorand”. The current name, “Helsingin yliopiston väitoskirjatutkijat” is probably a better one.

The first year the association was small compared to what it is now. Looking back the most important thing was that we finally did it, since it seems that once it was founded, the community has been lively enough to keep it going. The association has also found a natural place for itself and collaborates with the Student Union and the trade unions and is a recognised part of the University community.

Harri Waltari

Register to HYVÄT 5 year anniversary held on May 13th by May 3rd in the following link. The registration is available and free of charge for all HYVÄT members as well as the invited guests.


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