Autumn as a postdoctoral researcher

After the morning writing session, Pekka and I had decided to go for a jog to refresh our thoughts. The surrounding forest and a layer of snow on the gravel road muffled the sounds of the running steps so that the atmosphere was very peaceful. We had run a few kilometres along the traditional Finnish road through the spruce forest when we came across a small sign saying “Home bakery”.

During the last autumn, I worked at the University of Jyväskylä as a postdoctoral researcher. The university has its own research station in Konnevesi, where university students and staff can visit, meet, do research and write. A place dedicated to research is a concrete reflection of the importance of space for thinking. Although researchers are involved in collaborative and community-based knowledge production and discussion at an international and global level, science is done by people in particular situations and contexts. 

For me, this means creating a space that enables and supports learning, wandering around ideas, thoughts and concepts (in practice: taking time for thinking, doodling, scrolling databases and journals, reading articles, running (!), taking notes, discussing and reflecting).

Sometimes it can mean typing on a laptop and putting on noise-cancelling headphones at the library, sometimes it can mean getting out of the city, away from familiar environments to places where the closest establishment is a home bakery serving rye bread baked in the morning (photo related).

Research helped to understand everyday (data) practices and literacies related to technology

In the Running with Data -project, together with Associate Professor Pekka Mertala, we are investigating the use of sports technology by runners. For me, this has brought new understanding but also encouraged me to reflect on the importance of science and researched data in society.

In particular, we looked at sports technology from four perspectives:

  1. Running as a leisure time activity has become largely digitalised with various data-driven tools available. This is an interesting topic, as running as a physical activity does not necessarily require a separate technology. In our study, we have explored what technologies Finnish recreational runners actually use and what meanings they give to it.
  2. On the other hand, not everyone uses technology. We have also looked at the reasons runners give for not using technology. In other words, the conscious reasons and decisions not to use technology.
  3. Running is an information-intensive sport. In addition to the different senses and bodily experience, runners have access to many different sources of technological information. In our research, we have looked at the ways in which runners assess the reliability of the information they encounter. This enables us to explore data literacies in everyday contexts. This is particularly interesting in situations where different sources of information are conflicting: whether to believe your own body or the readings presented by technology.
  4. Although technological information is often presented as an objective, accurate and neutral source of information, not everyone may have such a one-sided view of it. One inspiring area of research is to look at the (epistemic) trust people assign to technology.

Although the topics above illustrate separate perspectives, they emerge from a common ground. In addition to the main themes of the study, one of the most uplifting things during the research period was to wander around with different ideas and thoughts. Even familiar phenomena were deepened by new concepts and theoretical perspectives. Data searches, open databases and conferences illustrated the richness and diversity of research and knowledge. 

Conducting research helped me to gain a more nuanced understanding of the nature of different conceptualisations, such as certain literacy conceptualisations, and the relationships between them. Data related competences are discussed not only in terms of data literacy but also in terms such as digital literacy and competence, information literacy and media literacy.

A particularly strong common theme between the research perspectives is contextuality, which helps to draw attention to the diversity of situations and environments. Rather than trying to find abstract principles that apply everywhere, people’s own descriptions help us to better understand the meanings that different phenomena and issues have in their everyday lives.

In addition to conceptual understanding, the researcher’s position helped me to clarify the role of research in society

If Konnevesi reflects a place dedicated to thinking and researching on a concrete level, the concept of place can also be a way of looking at the relationship between science and society from a broader perspective. What is the place of science in our society today? 

Collage of the places for thinking: Oodi library, Ruusupuisto (“Rose park”) -building, Konnevesi

In addition to increasing our knowledge and understanding, research develops new ways of approaching different questions and provides ways to challenge existing assumptions. Instead of collecting a list of hard facts, science can help us to identify our own ways of thinking and knowledge structures, and help us to evaluate them and find new approaches to the assumptions we might have. However, changing attitudes is not easy, but rather requires firm courage. Science is not just about analyzing the situation at present, but it can also help us discover something new. Although recent research findings have raised the question of the disruptiveness of science, it is still the key to a better world.

The question is, of course, about research and knowledge-based practices. Perhaps my own position encouraged my attention to the debate on the importance of reliable information but during the autumn there was (surprisingly) a lot of discussion in the Finnish media about the importance of information in decision-making. Unfortunately, the debate emerged particularly in situations where not enough attention was paid to knowledge or research, for example in relation to immigration,  ethics of artificial intelligence and nature conservation decisions.

With digital development and open access, more research is available than ever before. Working at university means actively seeking out information yourself and trying to stay on top of the latest discoveries and contributions in your subject area. There is also a lot of sharing of information about new publications within the university. However, I am not sure whether its importance and potential is recognised or utilized enough outside the university. At least not to the extent that there is potential.

Note to self: How could research-based practice be strengthened?

In addition to research (and running), during the autumn I was able to do some science communication and broaden my focus outside the university. I got to give a lecture presentation at a running store (picture), share research based posts on social media, and present information about the research in both video and infographics.

I believe that by identifying, clarifying, discussing and developing different approaches, we can find solutions to strengthen the role of research in different areas of society. Of course, this should not be just a few empty phrases about valuing research, but a lot more: structures, funding, incentives, attitudes, practices, objectives, priorities, guidelines, trust, courage, reflection, cooperation, training, knowledge and sharing experiences, just to name a few aspects.

Although it is a complex whole, the possibilities that reach out in different directions invite us to apply them and find ways that suit the best. With a fresh inspiration and curiosity, I look to the future and wonder how I could personally try to strengthen the relevance of research in my own work.

Research period in the university was truly an inspiring time, especially from a learning perspective. I enjoyed being able to focus on writing and thereby developing ideas and my own thinking. For me, when I was doing research, this was seen above all as a relationship with the collective work of the university community to advance science in general. Thank you for your kindness colleagues at the Department of Teacher Education and MultiLEAP -team.

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