Skolar Award judge Miiri Kotche: “Great ideas die without a champion”

Skolar Award  competition is a great vehicle for promoting research as it offers postdocs a literal and a metaphorical stage for sharing their passion, Kotche enthuses.

Miiri Kotche

After spending a half-year stint in Helsinki as a Fulbright scholar, two things made an impression on Skolar Award judge Miiri Kotche. First, people can ride their bikes in the middle of traffic without having to fear for their lives. Second, the quality of Finnish research, especially in applied technology, is impressive. The latter is a good place to start as we embark on this year’s Skolar Award journey.

Kotche is a professor of bioengineering at the University of Illinois, where she practices and teaches design processes for various types of medical technology. Until the beginning of July she worked as a Fulbright scholar at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. During the scholarship, Kotche dove into the Finnish culture of collaboration and interdisciplinary development in health care.

Kotche relishes the possibilities to bring together diverse research teams and create opportunities between academia and the health tech industry. This is quite fitting for a Skolar Award judge as the competition aims to strengthen the bridges between science and the rest of the world.

Communication skills help navigate seas of complex information

The better people understand how to reach scientific outcomes, the better they can make informed decisions and policies. In the worst case scenario, research is misinterpreted or ignored. It’s the scientific community’s duty to help people outside academia grasp how science works, Kotche says.

“It’s our job as scientists and researchers to protect the integrity of science by spreading it to a larger public.”

This is where communication comes into the picture. No matter what the subject is, researchers navigate the deep seas of intricate details and complex information. Being able to dissect and convey a broader picture without losing the integrity of the research can be a challenge.

“It’s essential to have strong interpersonal, communication and presentation skills to share all your complex and hard work,” Kotche says.

Skolar Award provides young researchers with these skills, which is one of the reasons Kotche is looking forward to her duties as a judge. The competition encourages researchers to spread their incredible ideas without getting tangled into time-consuming charts and graphs.

“Skolar Award is a necessary event since great ideas can die without a champion, someone pushing them forward,” Kotche says.

Taking the plunge

Miiri Kotche sees Skolar Award as a great vehicle for promoting high-quality research. It offers postdocs a literal and a metaphorical stage for sharing their passion. It's also a unique opportunity to push the envelope with bold, risky research ideas.

Skolar Award is very much about looking outside the box. It’s a chance to take a break from convention centers, posters, and information-laden slides. Instead, researchers experience something from the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s something different, which seems to suit Kotche. She first worked as an engineer in a large pharmaceutical company and then took the plunge into academia. She’s intrigued by roads less traveled.

“There are so many ways to pursue science, whether you work in academia, in the industry or in science communication. It’s important for people to know that the typical path is not the only path.”

Miiri Kotche is one of the six members of Skolar Award stage jury. They will choose the finalists and the winner of Skolar Award.