Talent, good collaboration and a little bit of luck
Kim Calders recently secured an ERC Starting Grant for his SPACETWIN project at the University of Ghent, which sets out to create the most comprehensive forest models built so far. The models are in 3D, but through time, so there actually is a fourth dimension to them. The models will be used to study how different disturbances, such fire, logging and drought, affect forests and their ability to recover from disturbances.
“The plots we use are very local and not that large, so we want to use these models together with simulations. We simulate satellite data to create a link between what we observe on the ground to how we can monitor that with satellite data, which is of course very helpful if we want to do upscaling, for example,” Calders says.
Ninni Saarinen, too, submitted an ERC proposal and was interviewed, but not selected for funding this time. Her proposal was very similar to Calders’, but with just one disruptor, fire. Calders and Saarinen also commented on each other’s proposal drafts.
“Traditionally, researchers are not very comfortable with sharing their research ideas and draft proposals, but it really pays off. Most ideas really aren’t that unique, and others are thinking about the same things: it’s your unique background or approach that can bring something extra to the table. It’s better to share your ideas than to jealously protect them – and that’s actually the philosophy behind open science, as well,” Saarinen points out.
Getting one’s proposal accepted or rejected is a matter of talent, but luck is a factor that can’t be fully excluded from the equation, either. According to Calders, good proposals outnumber the funding available, and success eventually boils down to detail, and a little bit of luck.
“Collaborating with others leads to better funding opportunities, instead of trying to do everything on your own,” he says.
Leading by example
Talking to the researchers, it’s clear that they’re all very enthusiastic about their work. Yet, they also bring up good work-life balance, and their own role in advocating it.
“Researchers often talk about having a passion for research, and that’s all good and well, but it can also be a factor that leads to exhaustion. It is important to have other things in your life besides just work,” Saarinen says.
“It’s important to lead by example: let people see that we as supervisors take our holidays and turn our out-of-office messages on. Even if you sometimes work crazy hours, that needs to be balanced by good recovery,” Vastaranta says.
“I think working five days a week is such an ancient view of how we should work. We’ve made so many technological advances in so many aspects of life, but we are not really using them to make our lives easier; instead, we just use them to do more,” Calders says, rolling his eyes.
And leading by example, the researchers are getting ready to turn their out-of-office messages on: next up, it’s a week of holiday amidst the snow-covered trees of Finnish Lapland.