Many Post-Doctoral Scholars in Finland dream of being funded by the Academy of Finland. The Academy can provide the luxury of focusing on your research without massive teaching or admin burden. But while you enjoy your freedom of research, you are forced to do a part of it abroad. In brevity, without official invitations from foreign research institutions and clear plans of international mobility, you have zero chance of being funded by the Academy. This can cause challenges for post-docs and their families. In addition, the Academy of Finland’s costs are eventually paid by tax payers. This raises an interesting question to both researchers and tax payers: are international research visits really worth it?

I was priviledged to receive three-year post-doc research funding from the Academy of Finland in 2018. As a part of my research project, I had agreed to visit the University of Auckland Business School in early 2019. This took me an my family (wife and three children) to New Zealand for 2.5 months. While the research visit during the New Zealand summer was a good experience for the whole family, I would particularly emphasize the academic benefits of visiting foreign research institutions.

First, research visits deepen established relations. Typically, you know at least one or two researchers in the university you are going to visit. That was also the case when I visited the University of Auckland. With some I had already co-authored an article, with others I had papers in process or had laughed a lot in conferences. During the visit, we were able not only to continue laughing but finalize a paper that had been waiting for submission for some months before my visit. In addition, I was happy to start new paper projects with old acquintances. I would argue that none of these projects would have otherwise been initiated. When you meet people more often and are present all the time, you just start discussing more, which leads you create new ideas.

Second, research visits allow meeting new faces in the target university. While I knew many researchers In Auckland, there were still people who had similar research interests but whom I had not met before. I was really fortunate to meet these great minds that think alike, and plan for collaboration for years to come. Meeting new people is challenging if you are just staying at your home university. In conferences you can meet some people but typically it is the same people that go to the same conferences. Therefore, it is good to go and visit other universities to see who else is working with your colleagues.

Third, research visits enable serendipity for creating new opportunities. This is something that you cannot by nature plan ahead. For instance, during my visit there were other European scholars visiting the Business School. I was able to meet them and discuss potential collaboration. One of these meetings led to an opportunity to write a chapter in a book published by a highly-ranked publisher. In another occasion, I was able to meet a researcher in another university in Auckland after randomly seeing her doctoral thesis sharing the basic idea of my research project. And this is the beauty of research visits. You never know who you meet in local online forums, bus stops or crafts shops. These encounters can lead to friendships, new business opportunities or research ideas. While you never know what’s there to come, you can be certain that this would not happen by just staying at home.

In the end, I would say that international research visits are worth the researcher’s effort and the public money. I can admit it takes a toll from the family before the visit with the stress about getting everything organized, and the life abroad is not necessarily always smooth. Often, there is also uncertainty whether there is enough money for the visit. It is expensive to travel across the world and live with a family in large (and expensive) university cities. Further, while travelling abroad, scholars still have to cover the costs of keeping the home they are soon returning. Thus, a part of this toll could be diminished by ensuring that researchers and their families are well-funded. In fact, I’d argue that for the funders international research visits cost relatively little compared to the investment that families need to make as well as the benefits of research visits. Spouses taking unpaid time off from work and the children living without friends in a new (sometimes stressful) environment. The money is often not enough to cover the costs of taking the whole family abroad, and for many living several months away from family each year of the multi-year research project is simply not an option. There have been suggestions to raise the funders’ budget for the costs of international research mobility. I support that initiative and consider that, particularly if international research mobility remains mandatory in the future, the money needs to be enough to cover all costs of the visit.

Valtteri Kaartemo

Postdoctoral Researcher