BLOG: And that’s two abstracts sent in over a day before the deadline!

The French version of “Let It Go” is “Libérée, délivrée” which more or less translates to “I’ve been freed/become free” rather than “let it go” and I am currently singing that song in my head. Actually, I shall put it on Spotify because I am not a good singer, even in my head.

I am currently singing that song because I submitted two abstracts to two conferences a few minutes ago – a whole day and a bit before the deadline! One is about innovation pathways based on a systems approach applied to the Finnish bioeconomy and the other about taking into account consumer behaviour in the development of bioeconomy products. I have good hope to have the first one accepted but the second one is a bit of a long shot – more popular conference, not my main field of study, but let’s see!

In any case, I am quite glad to have that off my plate as I agonised hours, if not full days, over those short texts. Even on days when I was not working on them, they still sat at the back of my head. Now I am that little bit lighter and I hope to carry that feeling of accomplishment that I am feeling right now till at least this weekend (we’re only Wednesday though). I am not even freaking out about the fact that the whole work email system is down and has been down since this morning! I am not feeling that impostor syndrome all that much! I shall sleep so well tonight!

 

Q&A: Do you have a method for keeping track of tasks?

First of all, I must admit that I have a tendency to see those shiny posts about productivity methods and bullet journals and my brain will always say, “try it, try it, try it – this might be the one that will work!” I lasted exactly a month with a semblance of a bullet journal before realising that those people who post pretty photos of bullet journals are very gifted in colour-coding stuff and drawing (I am good in neither) and probably spend more time on that than on actual work.

My three main task-tracking tools are an A5 diary I bought at Tiger for about 4€, my work calendar (standard Outlook stuff) and a Workflowy list (used exclusively for my shopping list).

My A5 diary works as follows: I don’t actually write down appointments/meetings there but rather write out the tasks for the week on the Monday page. I mark that week’s Monday page with a yellow page-marker thingy-thing (scientific term) and I also mark the next three Mondays in case I need to quickly mark a task for a week in the future. I cross out tasks as I get them done and every Monday I look at what I didn’t get done the week before and either decide it doesn’t need doing or I add it to the current week (I guess this is partially bullet journal stuff). Since this approach leaves 6 pages free, I use those for notes on different subjects, with the most important ones marked with other brightly coloured page-marker thingy-things. This diary goes everywhere with me and is always open on that week’s Monday page – mainly in the hope of shaming me into actually getting on with tasks I should get done. It works more or less well.

My work calendar is mainly for meetings and reminders. It’s pretty straightforward stuff.

The Workflowy list is remenant of when I thought I could work with a purely digital to-do list. Turns out I need to stare at my to-do list to get anything done and having a tab open with said to-do list is not effective, I need paper, I need to cross out things manually. These days the workflowy list is for shopping – I tried writing stuff I need to buy on a post-it not kept in my A5 diary but I would inevitably forget it in the A5 diary and feel too lazy to take it out in the shop (I wear a backpack and one should not underestimate my laziness). I do usually have my phone in my pocket at the shop so I can easily look up what needs to be bought… and workflowy is so streamlined that it makes for a great multi-platform shopping list tool.

 

Q&A: What do you do?/What’s your research about? (February 2018)

My main research aims to provide companies in the local bioeconomy with tools to assess and increase the sustainability (environmental, economic, social) of their products, processes and services while still growing their business.

We are looking at sustainability through Life Cycle Assessment (LCA – environmental component), Life Cycle Costing (LCC – economic component) and Social Life Cycle Assessment (SLCA – social component). In order to understand local bioeconomy companies, we model their along and across the value chain and we model all adjacent actors (both in terms of activities but also geographically). This allows us to see if there are any inefficiencies in the system and if there aren’t any missing “connections” (e.g. industrial symbiosis) and also pinpoint sustainability hotspots that should be dealt with. We also look at consumer behaviour because ultimately even a very innovative product or service is no good if it is no one buys or uses it.

While many companies know their business very well, they usually do not have access to simple simulation of the system they are in and how changing this or that impacts the sustainability of their products, processes or services and that’s what we’re working on providing them.

Currently I am working on making as precise of a model of the local construction wood business as possible. I use a special software where I can enter the different “actors” and then I have to understand and quantify (ideally through equations) how one actor impacts on another and how each impacts sustainability. Sometimes it’s impossible to have a neat equation so I have to find published historical data or collect my own and use that in the model. Once that’s done, companies can validate which aspects of the model are good and where more work needs to be done. Later on we will also model how consumer behaviour tends to change in Finland when innovative products and services appear on the market and what types of actions were taken by companies to promote those products or services.

Q&A: What’s your average work day like?

There are never really average work days because there is a good number of tasks I need to cover as part of my job. That said, I do have a job that is 95% not field-based.

I have always been a very early morning person (one of the reasons I love Finnish summers is that it gets light very early and I can cycle to work at 5-6am wearing sunglasses), so I tend to show up to work early but also leave work early – my brain needs a long break after 3-4pm. Although I can connect into my work system remotely and we can always connect into meetings remotely, I tend to prefer going into the office as I find it helps me keep a better work-life balance.

At work I could be doing quite a few things – catching up on emails (I try to always have fewer than 10 in my inbox), reading literature to build up parts of articles, working on my models, meetings, administrative tasks, grant writing to get more funding. Mainly though I try to keep it to (slowly, I am so slow at this) building up publications, working on my models and exchanging ideas with colleagues. My field work requires me to go meet with companies and discuss with them to see how I can make my models better to help them achieve sustainability and find ways to bring in added value to their products.

Of course, as a scientist, you are also expected to participate in conferences and symposiums, contribute to peer reviewing and even eventually sitting on editorial boards or organising committees. One of my previous jobs also included teaching and student supervision, which I enjoyed greatly, and I am hoping to add some teaching/supervisory tasks to my current role in the upcoming months. On the side I also work with outreach programs to encourage girls and women to join STEM fields and to bring scientists into classrooms to show students of all ages that working in a scientific field can be fun and rewarding.

I tend to try to and keep most work-related things to what I call my “working hours” (roughly 7am-4pm) but it’s not always possible. There are times when I do need to finish an abstract or article during my holidays or the weekend, there are meetings that are scheduled during the day in other parts of the world (therefore evening/night for me) and so I will have to participate from home, there are work trips that do not follow a strict schedule. Those things happen but since changing jobs I have tried my best to finish things before deadlines (the first deadlines, never hoping for extensions – 27yo me would be so impressed) and to tie all loose ends before the weekend hits.

Q&A: What does a scientist wear?

The main thing about scientist attire is that it should be appropriate to their setting.

The good news is that when you mainly work in an office, as I do, you can dress pretty much as you like (as long as your clothes are still decent and office-appropriate)!

I have a collection of graphic tee-shirts that feature video game and film themes, most of my sweaters are probably from H&M. I also have loads of scarves because they can make any outfit look snazzier (and they’re great to deal with overzealous A/C). In the warmer months I prefer skirts – somehow I always end up getting skirts with similar checkered designs to the point where it’s a running joke that I can wear a different skirt every single day but it looks like I’m wearing the same one over and over again. In terms of shoes, depending on the season and on the weather, I’m either wearing rainboots or winter shoes or Converse shoes (light blue). Of course with rainboots and winter shoes, it’s important to also keep “indoor” shoes in the office to change into otherwise it would be unbearable.

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When there are important meetings or I have to give a talk, I will usually dress up a bit. I have a few nice dresses but I draw the line at wearing heels – some people are good with heels, I have no problems walking in them but they’re just not as comfortable as flat shoes. I tend to stick to darker Vans, they look fancy enough without looking as casual as Converse shoes.

Q&A: Why did you decide to focus on sustainability?

I grew up with the notion that we should respect our environment because no wants to live on a planet that’s full of trash and where you aren’t close to nature. The older I got, the more I realised that some people just didn’t care about such things and that sometimes even I contributed to making the planet a worse place to live just by being a consumer. Eventually I took a class about materials and saw that there is potential to create products and services that do not degrade our environment but it’s still nowhere near being a perfect science and sometimes it’s downright a guessing game as to whether something is good for the environment or not. This is basically where I decided that being an engineer is great to design new things but I needed to learn more about how to do it in a responsible way.

At that stage I mainly focused on environmental impact because it was a topic that was already quite nicely developed and several tools and models existed to start quantifying impacts. I then realised that many people rejected environmentally sound solutions because they claimed they were much more expensive than their “traditional” counterparts. This is why we need to promote a life cycle costing approach – while historically the lowest purchase price has always been favoured, those low purchase prices tend to have hidden maintenance and end-of-life costs!

Finally, after a while it became more and more apparent that social impacts should not be ignored because, while it’s easy to displace an environmental impact, it’s even easy to displace social impacts. The problem with social impacts is that it’s extremely difficult to quantify them and many people do not seem genuinely interested in anyone’s wellbeing but their own.

So, over the years, I’ve built up on my previous work to fully focus on sustainability and find a way to cover all three pillars. These days I clearly see that they’re all interconnected but we often don’t consider them all when we design new products and services because we don’t have the tools yet to do so efficiently… and so that’s what I’m working on!

Q&A: Have you ever worked in a lab with chemicals?

I spent quite a few hours in labs full of chemicals while in school but these days the labs I work in generally involve mechanical rigs, loads of computers and prototyping equipment more than chemicals in beakers. That said I do have colleagues who also work on sustainability and bioeconomy and who work in labs full of chemicals – they focus on issues such as soil composition, the development of new foods and materials, and new ways of dealing with waste, etc.