Importance of international collaboration for researcher career

Every university emphasizes the importance of international collaboration in their strategies, like University of Eastern Finland (http://www.uef.fi/en/web/guest/uef/strategy). The distinguished research will be done in international and multidisciplinary research groups. Teaching is based on international knowledge and mobility of staff and students is highly recommended. More students include an exchange period abroad in their studies, but still more students would do it. We are also privileged to work with the international students and colleagues in our home universities. These contacts can be remarkable starting points for the future collaboration.

I would like share my personal internationalization story with you. I grow up in small countryside village. Since my childhood, I have been interested in different cultures and countries. In that time it was common to have pen pals abroad, as I had from Brazil and Scotland. Geography was my favorite subject at school. I was dreaming about working as a nurse in Africa, but it never happened, maybe I was too shy and I cared my old parents. It took time in my professional life when I worked first time as a visiting scholar. In January 2009 I travelled first time to US and Pittsburgh. I worked nearly three months with professor Gail Wolf, leader of Magnet Hospital commission, at the School of Nursing, University of Pittsburgh. My special goal was to learn about Magnet Hospital research, especially about transformational leadership, complexity science and evidence based practice. I saw also in practice how the Magnet Hospitals were functioning. After coming home, I had a chance to implement lot of knowledge in practice, which I had learnt in Pittsburgh. It was a huge experience and important step in my career and great exercise for my English skills. After that period, I have visited at the School of Nursing in Pittsburgh several weeks in 2011 and 2013.

Next step in Pittsburgh collaboration was professor Paula Sherwood’s visit as a Fulbright professor in our department 2012. Professor Katri Vehviläinen-Julkunen, professor Paula Sherwood and I got an idea about international project. There came a new call of EU Horizon 2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie action, RISE-progam (International and inter-sectoral cooperation through the Research and Innovation Staff Exchanges). RISE supports short-term mobility of research and innovation staff at all career levels, from the most junior (post-graduate) to the most senior (management), including also administrative and technical staff. It was open to partnerships of universities, research institutions, and non-academic organisations both within and beyond Europe. We decided to apply RISE-funding!

Planning of the project started in 2013. I was preparing the application with the leader of the project, professor Katri Vehviläinen-Julkunen and professor Paula Sherwood. Active writing of the application was January-April 2014. Those months were close collaboration with the leader of the project, daily discussions and writing sessions, Skype-meetings and contacts with other partners. Good collaboration was needed and it produced an excellent outcome!

One evening in September 2014 we got a stream of e-mails from EU; we are getting the grant! Next step was to finalize the process and sign the grant, which was an interesting phase of the project. We got a great support from UEF project management services by Research Services, which has continued all the time. The kick-off meeting was held in Kuopio 30. and 31. March 2015. We started with enthusiasm four years journey, INEXCA -project (Excellent research and expertise of quality of cancer care by internationally trained staff). I have been privileged to work as a co-coordinator of INEXCA (http://www.uef.fi/en/web/inexca). I have learned a lot. First, I have had the great opportunity to change ideas with colleagues from other countries, learn new methods to implement the research and in addition know research ethical aspects of different countries. Being a co-coordinator in a complex project with an excellent leader of the project and colleagues from all over the world has increased my research and leadership skills. Good planning, enough time and taking risks are challenges of international project, but they are worth of facing and solving.

Secondments (exchange periods) to other universities and organizations have given wonderful experiences and they have been important for everyone’s career. International collaboration between universities has strengthened. I myself have been three months in Pittsburgh and one month in CEREF, a private quality company in Padova, Italy. We have created new contacts for future projects and made friendships. Appreciation to different ways to work, do things and organize research has been useful to learn. I am very happy that I have been able to support PhD-students and post docs for international collaboration.

You may be interested how it has been possible for me. All heads of the department have supported me. For the first visit, I got a grant of Saastamoinen Foundation and some smaller travelling grants for the next periods. Now INEXCA-project supports the costs of travelling and accommodation. Of course I have used own money, too. It has been a very a useful investment for researcher career and generally for my life. I use to say time abroad has been full of work in three shifts: first, early in the morning e-mails and Skypes to Finland, then eight hours at the university and later in the evening again e-mails and other works at the house. I have enjoyed my time in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is my home city in US, where I have wonderful colleagues and friends. My home is there where I am. Modern connections, like Skype, make possible to talk and see your loved ones daily and they can come to see you as my husband has done.

I hope my text is inspiring you to consider exchange period abroad, because it is really important for your career in many ways. First, you could discuss with your supervisors or mentors, they may know which university would be the best for you. You need to challenge yourself, remember creating a real valuable international collaboration takes time. Now I can say I have well working collaboration with Pittsburghians.

International collaboration on ice: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers (44 Kimmo Timonen)

Tarja Kvist
Associate Professor
Department of Nursing Science
Faculty of Health Sciences
University of Eastern Finland