1. Congratulations for being awarded as an employee of the year. What do you think is the secret of your success?
Thank you, this is indeed a great honour. I try to live by three simple rules passed down from my father and his father: play hard, play fair, and have fun. I received this advice as a young baseball player, but later realised the rules could be applied to life in general. If something is worth doing, it deserves my best effort. I also try to remember that we need to have respect for rules, laws and, most importantly, each other. Lastly, I have tried to follow a path of happiness and personal fulfillment.
2. What do you do at LUT?
I am an Associate Professor of Sustainability Science, the Head of the Bachelor’s Programme in Technology and Engineering Science, and I teach several courses at the School of Energy Systems. In the past couple of years, I have been involved in establishing new international double degree Bachelor’s programmes with Hebei University of Technology and developing the Climate Action family of Massive Open Online Courses. My research involves the transition towards sustainable energy systems.
3. What are the things you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy working with great people (staff and students) from all over the world that have common goals. It is easy to unite around the sound strategy of our university, one that seeks to make improvements in fields that I am very passionate about. And we get to do this in a brilliant and modern physical environment, and with great food and other services!
4. How did you end up leading an academic career?
If you ask my mother, she’ll say it comes as no surprise. She tells stories about how I used to wake up very early each day asking if it was time to go to school yet. I still wake up early with the same enthusiasm. I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to be involved in education at the highest levels.
5. What would you like to change at the university?
In fact, I think we need a period of relatively less change for a while. We have taken a lot of big steps forward recently, and I would recommend a period of consolidation before making any big changes for perhaps even a couple of years. However, I absolutely agree that change is an integral part of being a trailblazer and that we have a responsibility to constantly make improvements. It’s part of a Plan, Do, Act, Check cycle that is integral to our quality management. I just think we need a somewhat extended checking stage before taking any more big steps.
6. What is your greatest career accomplishment so far?
With colleagues from the Solar Economy team, we did an analysis of the European power system that resulted in a publication called, Flexible electricity generation, grid exchange and storage for the transition to a 100% renewable energy system in Europe. It was a massive amount of work that we all knew was quite special.
When we submitted it to the journal Renewable Energy, it was accepted without the need for revisions, something that doesn’t happen very often. It also remains the publication with the most citations I have received, and was even cited in the latest IPCC Assessment Report. It is a great feeling of accomplishment to know that we have made a notable contribution to science and towards efforts to mitigate climate change.
7. What would you like to study if anything was possible?
I wish I had time to study more languages, especially Chinese. Maybe I would also study some Computational Engineering with my daughter, who is a student here at LUT. She’s much better than me at using Matlab especially, an important tool that I should really be better at using myself.
8. Who or what inspires you most?
From the mid-1980s to the early 1990’s, life was full of challenges. I was doing bachelor’s studies at one of the best universities in the world, yet I was struggling. And within a period of about 7 years I lost three grandparents and then my father. To make things worse, there was a global economic downturn that meant good jobs were difficult to find, the world was struggling to deal with HIV, and there were several gloomy international events. The new music of bands like Nirvana perfectly reflected the growing frustration of Generation X.
But out of these challenges also came a lot of inspiration, particularly a person, a place and a thing. The person is my wife, Christel, and we have been inspiring and enabling each other for 30 years. The place is Finland. Since moving here in 1998, we both remain very grateful for the opportunities we have had, and continue to be inspired by a wonderful network of colleagues, friends and family.
The thing is a book written by Dr. Seuss in 1990, called “Oh, the places you’ll go!”. This story captures how the journey of life is full of challenges, and offers inspiration to keep moving forward with confidence and a sense that we are the agents of our own success. “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose”. I’ve read that story hundreds of times on my own, to my children and even to some students. It remains a powerful source of inspiration.
9. How do you balance your work and personal life?
The balance I have now is very different from the one I would have needed even five years ago. My children are now adults and living successfully on their own, which allows me to dedicate more time to work. I also like my work very much, and it gives me a lot of personal reward as I feel that I can achieve a lot of personal goals at work. At the same time, I am happy that our employer has offered us a lot of resources and advice about maintaining a good balance. It is also reassuring to know that I can openly express my concerns about this balance, and these concerns are respected and handled appropriately.
10. Tell us something about yourself that others may not know.
During my bachelor’s studies at the University of Toronto in the late 1980’s, I spent most of my time on academic probation. Although I passed all my courses each year, my grades were not at all impressive. I had lots of excuses at the time for why that was so, but it was mostly because I wasn’t working hard enough. Once I found the right focus and spent less time in the pub and more time in the library, things began to change.