“Postdocs are massive energy reserves for the academic community”

Researchers in the beginning of their careers are extraordinarily productive and have unparalleled scientific freedom, says Research Pitching Competition 2017 finalist Tommi Himberg. He thinks that’s exactly why investing money on postdocs really pays off.

Tommi Himberg Skolar Award

When the application period for Research Pitching Competition opened in August 2017, Tommi Himberg’s research project was at a crossroads.

“The competition took place at a time when we were looking for a new direction to set off on”, Himberg explains.

Himberg's research project examines how movement and dance improvisation can be used to improve learning and people’s sense of community in certain places, such as classrooms and workplaces. The research group has developed a set of group improvisation games, or ‘GIGs’, intended to improve people’s social interaction skills.

Himberg himself works at the Department of Neuroscience and Biomedical Engineering at Aalto University. His research project combines neuroscience and psychology with dance and pedagogical know-how.

Due to the project's multidisciplinary edge, it has been difficult for Himberg and his group to find the right place for the project within the university world.

Getting a spot at Research Pitching Competition finals was a good recognition and reminder that the team was doing the right thing. "It was encouraging to get a kind of acknowledgment that our research really exists”, Himberg says.

"Postdocs are brimming with ideas"

“Being a postdoc is a time of creating one’s own scientific identity and becoming scientifically independent”, Himberg says.

Not to mention that the postdoctoral period is one of the most productive ones in the career of a researcher. During their dissertations, postdocs have collected all the tools needed for conducting meaningful research but their schedule hasn’t yet been packed with teaching or the administrative tasks that come with being a professor or lecturer.

“Postdocs are massive energy reserves for the whole academic community. They can concentrate fully on the questions they find important.”

Himberg has a clear message to give: providing funding for postdocs really pays off.

“Postdocs are brimming with ideas and they haven’t yet become stuck with certain patterns or models. Funding the Competition finalists is an even better idea because they aren’t afraid to talk about their work. They are able to critically assess what’s good about their research and what they still need to work on.”

Science should be spread far and wide

Himberg’s research has steadily progressed after his Competition pitch. The research group has written its first scientific article and the project has been integrated into another one that Himberg is working on.

The “Neurocognition of intergroup processes” project is funded by the Academy of Finland and it investigates the neural and behavioural mechanisms of sociality, as well as how people form groups and how group dynamics influence them.

Apart from conducting research, Himberg has also continued to explore the possibilities of science communication. Research Pitching Competition wasn’t his first communicative effort, as he belongs to a group of brain researchers who have been organising conferences on brain research – on Twitter!

“Open science means more than freely accessible scientific publications. We want to bring scientific conferences and discussions to a place where everyone can follow and participate in them.”

Being on stage at Slush simply confirmed what Himberg already knew: science should be spread far and wide.

“The competition opened my eyes once again to the fact that there’s far more to the world than just university lecture halls. Science and research generate huge amounts of interest outside academia as well.”