For Tommi Brander, mathematics has always been easy. This is why, after his master’s degree, he continued on to a PhD. This once-shy student of mathematics is now working as a postdoctoral researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. He ended up in Norway via Denmark, where he spent slightly over a year.
Tommi Brander originally comes from Ylöjärvi. Because he did well in mathematics, he decided to pursue it further after upper secondary school. Only a few of Tommi’s close relatives are highly educated, and he made his own choices without any preconceptions and recommendations. “I didn’t know anything about anything,” Tommi says, describing the time of choices. Moving to the Helsinki region was not an attractive option for him, so the remaining alternatives in the study guide included Tampere, Jyväskylä, and Joensuu.
“Tampere seemed suspicious; it might be because of teacher studies or statistics as part of mathematics, I think. Jyväskylä was more accessible than Joensuu, so I ended up in Jyväskylä. My school and matriculation examination grades offered me guaranteed admission without entrance examinations, which also made this alternative pleasant to me.”
Tommi Brander was not socially active, and he didn’t care about any stereotypical student life. His own social network consisted of his fellow students, through a role-playing games club, and later also the friends of his friends. “Many of these people are still important to me,” he says.
From the studies as such, Tommi recalls the final stages of his master’s studies, at the time of which they, in varying compositions, used to work jointly on their exercises and make the world a better place. “Talking about mathematics at the limit of one’s own competencies, and often a bit beyond, with peers and often more skilled people – it was and is very intensive and rewarding,” says Tommi, reminiscing about the conversations they had in the corridors of the MaD Building.
In addition to mathematical knowledge, Tommi finds important the growth of self-confidence along with the studies and thereby developed skills for public performance.
“I was very shy when I started my university studies, but the healthy social environment gave me an opportunity for a change. Undeniably, study success increased my self-esteem, and presenting one’s own solutions to the practice problems on the board in front of others, which was a compulsory part of mathematical studies, forced me to get used to public performance – it was not pleasant, but it was useful.”
After his doctoral dissertation, Tommi was employed at JYU as a postdoctoral researcher while looking for his next job. At the same time, he was also looking for teacher posts in Finland. First, he found a short-term (slightly over a year) position for a postdoctoral researcher at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), in Kongens Lyngby near Copenhagen. Tommi moved to Denmark, and after settling in, continued looking for more or less permanent jobs – this time from all the Nordic countries.
He found a three-year vacancy as a postdoc researcher in Trondheim, at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). Both the Danish and the Norwegian posts touched upon Tommi’s own field of research, though in different ways, but neither matched it precisely.
“Moving to Denmark would have been easier if I had better acquired the compulsory Swedish language already in school. Yet, even though largely forgotten, it was lurking somewhere in the background, and I did give a few lectures in Norwegian just six months after moving there, and after a year I taught a course fully in Norwegian.”
Both of Tommi’s workplaces abroad differ from the University of Jyväskylä to some extent. The difference is clear already in terms of size, since both of these universities are among the biggest technological universities in the country. There are also many similarities, as Nordic countries are even largely similar in terms of their culture. “I noticed more of participation and construction of team spirit,” Tommi says, analysing the differences between the universities. “In Finland, researchers are working largely on a fixed-term basis and the tenure track system is further increasing it and lengthening the time of uncertainty pertaining to a research career.
“In Norway, the posts equivalent to those of Senior Lecturer, Senior Researcher or Associate Professor (førsteamanuensis, førstelektor) are usually permanent positions and a next step after postdoc research. There is pressure to decrease fixed-term employment even further, because in the university sector, fixed-term employment is more typical than in the public sector in general.”
Continuous learning is actively present in Tommi’s life. In recent years, it has meant language learning, in particular, which has also enabled getting a permanent post in mathematics teacher education at the University of South-Eastern Norway.
“As to my child starting school and other adaptations to foreign, even if not too foreign, society also call for learning plenty of new things, making errors, and acquiring information. As a researcher, I tend to learn something new all the time.”
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