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Isabell Rumrich ja Pasi Hirvonen.

Prima Doctor and Ultimus Doctor selected for the doctoral conferment ceremony in Kuopio

Isabell Rumrich, PhD, and Pasi Hirvonen, DSocSc, have been selected as the Prima Doctor and the Ultimus Doctor of the doctoral conferment ceremony to be held at the University of Eastern Finland in June. 

The academic festivities will take place in Kuopio on 9–11 June 2022. In the conferment ceremony, doctorates will be conferred upon 126 doctoral graduates, as well as upon 13 honorary doctors. The three-day festivities include a ceremony rehearsal, a hat-fitting ceremony, the actual ceremonial conferment of degrees at Kuopio Music Centre, a banquet and ball, a conferment ceremony procession, and a cruise.

Traditionally, the Young Doctors’ Committee selects, from among the doctoral graduates, a Primus/Prima Doctor and an Ultimus/Ultima Doctor, who play a special role in the festivities. Both are doctoral graduates who have passed their doctoral defence with distinction. In the conferment ceremony, the Primus/Prima Doctor has the honour to be the first doctoral graduate upon whom a doctorate is conferred, and they will demonstrate the learnedness of the doctoral graduates by answering a question posed by a professor in their field. The Ultimus/Ultima Doctor has the honour to be the last doctoral graduate upon whom a doctorate is conferred, and they will give a response to an address to the newly conferred doctors in the banquet and ball.

Valuable research into environmental exposures and interaction

According to the Chair of the Young Doctors’ Committee Maria-Viola Martikainen, PhD, Rumrich and Hirvonen were selected in recognition of their highly valuable research.

Isabell Rumrich defended her doctoral dissertation in the field of environmental science in 2020, showing that smoking has an impact on foetal development already in the early stages of pregnancy. Smoking increased the risk of low birth weight, short birth length, and smaller brain size. The tool developed in her study can also be used to assess the effects of other exposures during pregnancy, thus aiming at targeted prevention of adverse health effects.

Pasi Hirvonen defended his doctoral dissertation in the field of social psychology in 2020. His doctoral research focused on examining the dynamics of small groups in the context of meetings from the point of view of linguistic interaction. He developed a positioning theory-oriented approach to examine what happens in the often unnoticed details of interaction during meetings.

Both Rumrich and Hirvonen have received the Young Researcher Award of their faculty, and Hirvonen has also been recognised with a doctoral dissertation award by the newspaper Savon Sanomat.

Getting familiar with the Finnish doctoral conferment tradition

The German-born Rumrich first learned about the Finnish doctoral conferment tradition when receiving her invitation to the ceremony.

“It is nice to become familiar with this tradition and to celebrate the results of our hard work together with fellow doctors.”

She says she was very surprised by being selected as the Prima Doctor.

“It is an honorary role that that makes me a little nervous, but in a good way. My thesis supervisors have promised to help me to prepare my speech.”

After completing her PhD, Rumrich has continued to do research on environmental exposures. At the moment, she works at the UEF School of Pharmacy in the Finpark project investigating the association between air pollution and Parkinson’s disease.
“I’m currently on leave from the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) to work in this project. Next year I will return to THL to continue work on the health effects of air pollution in the APPEAL project funded by Academy of Finland and advanced health impact assessment of air pollution in the ULTRHAS project funded by the Horizon2020 programme.”

“I hope that in the future, too, I’ll be able to carry out research which, in a best-case-scenario, can help to prevent disease. I’m grateful for having the opportunity to write a doctoral thesis, to continue doing research and to attend the conferment ceremony despite the pandemic and the chaotic situation in the world.”

A sense of community despite challenges

Hirvonen, on the other hand, says that participating in the conferment ceremony is already wonderful as such, but having the role of the Ultimus Doctor brings an added dimension to it.

“I’m also very proud that the organisational, team and interaction research that I represent will gain appreciation, visibility and recognition in this way.”   

“For me, the conferment ceremony is first and foremost a communal and social event where we researchers can celebrate our achievements together with our colleagues. Also, it is an opportunity to see each other in a festive setting after a long time. The festivities will certainly create a sense of community that has been somewhat lost due to the coronavirus pandemic. I look forward to seeing my friends and sharing this experience with them.  I also expect the event to highlight and make visible the great multidisciplinary research that is being carried out at the University of Eastern Finland.”  

“To me, it is important that academic traditions are upheld, and this is why I’m happy to be part of the doctoral conferment tradition. After all, these kind of festivities in the academic world are few and far between,” says Hirvonen.

“During the pandemic, for example, the academic community has faced many challenges. The expertise of the scientific community has been in high demand; yet from time to time, it also been criticised, even rather harshly. On the other hand, it has been great to see how the scientific community has, above all, emerged as a multidisciplinary arena providing the perspectives of, e.g., natural sciences, social sciences and behavioural sciences to help in overcoming the pandemic.” 

Hirvonen has worked in teaching and research roles in the Innovation Management Team at the University of Eastern Finland Business School both before and after defending his dissertation. At the moment, he is a visiting post doc in Bruges, Belgium, with the support of the Finnish Work Environment Fund.

“I work in the UNTRAD programme coordinated by the United Nations University Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies (UNU-CRIS) and the Vrije Universiteit Brussels VUB to study how neuroscientists and stakeholders work together, and how they understand and structure the participation of citizens and patients in research.”

At the University of Eastern Finland, Hirvonen is a member of the Neuro-impact and Innovation Research Team, which focuses especially on the management and organisation of neuro-health.

“We are planning, among other things, research into interaction between neuroscientists as well as into technology-mediated interaction.”  

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