The first years of the PhD association

This text is the second part of HYVÄT’s anniversary blog series. This story by Tommi Tenkanen, the second chairperson of HYVÄT (then HYJO).

As I started doing my PhD in the beginning of 2014, I was exactly in the right place at the right time. As Harri Waltari described in his previous blog post I, among others, stepped in exactly at the right time to become involved in the founding of the association. For its first year in operation, I was also elected to serve as the vice-chairperson of the board. I found it very exciting to work within a new association, especially because it was clear from the beginning that the association would face interesting challenges in advocating doctoral candidates’ interests at the university, and so I got elected as the chairperson of the board for the year 2015.

In the beginning, there was no strong university-wide community of doctoral candidates at all. Therefore, among our very first duties, we decided to start creating one.

The board operated with a very small budget: in 2015, we only had 300 euros allocated for the entire year. Yet we managed to organize several pub nights, various get-togethers, and even two big workshops – thanks to the very active board and members who were eager to organize events and attend them. In June, we went to Seurasaari to celebrate the very first anniversary of the association. In the autumn we launched an outreach campaign to attract more members and get more people involved in decision-making. We also organized a panel discussion on academic careers in Kumpula and organized screening of the PhD Movie 2 after the discussion. The event was a big success.

We also conducted a large survey on challenges doctoral candidates face at the University of Helsinki. We got over 600 responses, all of which showed that there was clear need for doctoral candidates taking part in making decisions that affect them.

To get involved in decision-making, the association decided to build strong relations with those centrally involved in doctoral training at the university, including vice-rectors, directors and coordinators of doctoral schools, as well as administrators on research and academic affairs at the central administration of the university. We also met multiple stakeholders including The Finnish union of university researchers and teachers (Tieteentekijöiden liitto), The Student Union (Helsingin yliopiston ylioppilaskunta), the Council of Finnish foundations (Säätiöiden ja rahastojen neuvottelukunta), as well as other doctoral candidates’ associations, in particular Aallonhuiput. We were very busy at the time! Luckily, particularly active in organizing events and taking part in advocacy with me were Sonja Trifuljesko, Julia von Boguslawski, and Adrien Vetterli.

I think it is fair to say that everywhere we went the founding of the association was, on one hand, greeted with joy but also with some suspicion, as we wanted to represent a community of 4000 doctoral candidates with only few hundred members at the time. The challenge was to convince everyone that we can do it and that we have a plan for it.

We decided to concentrate on advocating matters important to both local and wider communities of doctoral candidates through the representatives in doctoral programs and schools. The plan was to make the association a body that connects the representatives and gives them the training and assistance they need in their important work.

Perhaps the single most important achievement of the board was to obtain the right from the university to organize the election of representatives in doctoral schools’ and programs’ steering groups. We pushed really hard to get representation also in other committees and working groups important for doctoral candidates. This bore fruit, as we got involved in e.g. planning and executing the Big Wheel (Iso pyörä) study reform at many different levels. Had there been no PhD association, I doubt anyone would have asked doctoral candidates about their opinion on the reform.

Today, I’m delighted to see the association is well alive and thriving. The challenges are still many and the road ahead is long but I hope all of it will be more bearable and even enjoyable by knowing where the association and its traditions come from. As with the Student Union and other associations within the university, being a member of the PhD Association is not all about advocacy and problem-solving but also about receiving support from one’s peers, learning new things and having fun. I’m glad to see the association ticks all these boxes.

I wish the association a marvelous 5th anniversary, and even though I personally cannot attend the celebrations this year, I wish to do so in five years to celebrate the first full decade of an ever bigger and ever-more-thriving association. Happy Birthday HYVÄT!

Tommi Tenkanen

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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