“Researchers must be good at everything and great at one thing,” says Kaisu Puumalainen, Professor at LUT School of Business and Management
A slight smell of burning begins to waft from the kitchen, announcing that the dinner in the oven is as good as ruined. That is what can happen when you are really immersed in the world of science and research. Kaisu Puumalainen, Professor of technology research at the LUT School of Business and Management (LBM) says that every now and then the family reminds her about it. Allegedly, there has been some discussion during which Puumalainen has been actively nodding and giving answers but, afterwards, does not remember a thing about the discussion. She has had other things in her mind, such as the artificial intelligence (AI) research project that began in autumn 2020. Puumalainen and her research team are examining the effects of AI on employment in different parts of Finland.
"We use the Statistics Finland material to study how AI affects the labour market. Which competences are lacking and which ones are in oversupply? We are studying nearly 400 job titles in over 300 municipalities in Finland over a 10-year period from 2000 onwards. This is quite new area of research at LBM," Puumalainen says.
The idea for the study came all the way from the United States, as Professor Erik Brynjolfsson, a researcher of artificial intelligence and working life, visited Lahti in 2019 to talk about his own similar research. Back then, he received the Viipuri Prize of the LUT School of Business and Management, awarded about every other year to a distinguished international researcher. According to Brynjolfsson, the faster-than-predicted development of technology and AI will change the content of work and may replace work tasks performed by people, but there is regional variation in the extent of the impacts.
"The Viipuri Prize is a great innovation. The prize has won recognition for LBM and given us an opportunity to collaborate with the world's leading names in economics," says Puumalainen.
During his visit to Lahti, Brynjolfsson, one of the big names, made such a great impression on the VITAKO representatives present at the award ceremony that the society decided to fund the implementation of a similar AI study at LBM. According to Puumalainen, the results cannot be discussed yet, as the project is still under way.
Competitive but greatly enjoys helping others
Puumalainen is one of the original influencers at the 30-year-old LBM and one of its leading researchers. Over the years, her research has covered a wide range of topics, including marketing, international business, entrepreneurship, innovation management and corporate responsibility. In her doctoral thesis, she studied the global diffusion of innovations in telecommunications.
Alongside her professorship, Puumalainen has had several administrative duties at the university, including being a member of the LUT Senate (2008-2017) and the LUT Dissertation Committee since 2007.
Puumalainen has gained several awards and honours for her research work, not only international awards for outstanding papers but also grants from the Research Foundation of LUT and the Knight of the 1st Class medal of the Order of Finnish White Rose.
Puumalainen says that she is a competitive person and easily provoked to doing various things. She gives an example from the past when she went to play pool with some students without any experience of the game.
"With some incredible luck, I made it all the way to the finals. Even though I knew it in my head that, in this situation, I should let a student win, I couldn't help playing for real. And I won," Puumalainen says with a laugh.
Despite her competitiveness, Puumalainen says that she cannot raise a single achievement above others on her career. Instead, she mentions the public defences of the doctoral theses of the postgraduate students she has supervised. It has given Puumalainen great pleasure to help many others prepare their doctoral theses. This way, she has left a personal imprint on the research conducted at LBM.
"My international achievements would probably have been much greater if, from the very beginning, I had had one research topic of my own to focus on. But I believe that I would have become bored if I had only selected one research theme. It would go against my nature," Puumalainen says.
Puumalainen could have become a veterinarian – at least that was her childhood dream. She loved milking cows on his parents' farm in Pyhtää and, having grown surrounded by pigs, chickens, dogs and cats, she is still very fond of animals. However, the career as a veterinarian changed to something else because she had such good self-knowledge.
"My head wouldn't have been able to take all the suffering of animals that you are forced to witness when working as a veterinarian. Now I have a clean indoor job where I do not cause any harm to anyone."
Researchers must "showcase their expertise at every turn"
Puumalainen believes that the future of economics looks very diverse and digital. Globalism keeps on increasing in research, and it is increasingly possible to collect various elements of a degree from outside one's own university, even from abroad. Some of the practices learned during the coronavirus pandemic will live on.
"I believe that the number of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) will increase. If there is an excellent professor in the US who is better than others at talking about a specific subject, people will take his or her course."
At the moment, Puumalainen finds it frustrating that researchers "are expected to be highly vocal and showcase their expertise at every turn". The university's official tasks are societal impact, education and research, which are, of course, interlinked. However, the individual-level objectives derived from these do not support specialisation, and research funding is also fragmented.
As Puumalainen says, researchers must be good at everything and great at one thing.
"Finland could also produce much more globally recognised researchers than it does today if everyone could focus on their own areas of strength. For one it may be research, for another it may be teaching."
Green values, small size and cooperation are LUT's strengths
Puumalainen was involved when in 2010 LUT took a new direction towards sustainable development and value creation with the appointment of its new Senate. Puumalainen points out that LUT was ahead of his time in this matter. For many, sustainable development terminology was still a very strange matter a decade ago.
Puumalainen believes that LUT has benefited from its small size in the development work: people have known each other, and cooperation has been carried out across disciplinary boundaries, without hierarchies. Research assistants have been writing papers together with professors. We have been flexible, spontaneous and reformative.
This legacy has carried us forward. In addition, the university has invested in the adherence to the strategy for sustainable development.
"Today, more than a quarter of all research performed at LUT can be linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. I've heard comments and praise about this at international meetings of researchers," says Puumalainen.
According to Puumalainen, the good reputation of LBM has been earned by everyone who have yielded influence there.
"If Dean Kalevi Kyläheiko made us internationally known and made us focus on serious research, we can thank his successor, Jaana Sandström, for the major leap in teaching. During Jaana's term, we took a number of important steps, such as joining the international accreditation process. Our present dean Sami Saarenketo has continued the good work of his predecessors."
With regard to the general role of science and research in society, Puumalainen believes that, after the Trump era, the attitudes are in favour of science, not against it.
"We now need information based on facts and value it more than we have been doing for ages."
Born in Pyhtää, lives in Taipalsaari.
In her family, she has a husband, two adult children, a dog and a cat.
Education: D.Sc. (Tech.) (2002, LUT) and M.Sc. (Tech.) (1991, LUT)
Started her academic career at LUT working first as a research assistant in a summer job in the late 1980s.
Was given a professorship in 2001 and first taught international marketing for three years before her current position as a professor of technology research.
Has been involved in more than 30 research projects. Has supervised dozens of doctoral dissertations and over a hundred master's theses.
Puumalainen's research articles have been published in several scientific publications, including: Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, International Journal of Research in Marketing, International Business Review European Journal of Marketing and Technovation.
In her free time, picks berries and mushrooms, and does outdoors activities with her horse Whoops and dog Lalli. This winter, has become keen on doing Icelandic knitting.
LUT School of Business and Management celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2021. In honour of the anniversary year, we publish interviews with former and current staff members and the alumni of the School.