Telling it like it is

Doctoral programmes: through the thesis and beyond


Ilari Nikula, a student in the programme on Northern Cultures and Sustainable Natural Resource Policy, is doing research on the political nature of environmental discourse. He hopes his work will contribute insights into the type of governance produced when people discuss nature.

The programmes available to PhD candidates at the University of Lapland fall into four categories. Most students work in the general programme, where the research is done traditionally, that is, in keeping with the researcher’s chosen discipline.

The other three programmes are built around interdisciplinary themes, chosen to fit in with the University’s overall profile. Two of the three focus on sweeping societal development, such as the change in working life and sustainable use of natural resources. The third, culturally oriented service design, is unique to the University, offering opportunities to tap novel combinations of artistic and traditional academic expertise.

In practice the focus of each programme is reflected in the courses doctoral candidates take while working on their theses. The thematic programmes offer specialized courses taught by top international experts. This year’s visitors include Tim Ingold, Donatella Della Porta and Linda McDowell.

Research on policy to save the planet

MSocSc Ilari Nikula is into his second year of PhD research in a programme relating to the environment and the Arctic. In practice candidates in the programme focus on the Sámi and on issues of international politics and governance. Ilari’s own work concentrates on the political impact of environmental discourse.

As Ilari sums things up, “I am studying the prevailing conception of the ‘global environment’ and its socio-political implications. My work examines this environmental discourse as part of biopolitical global governance described by Michel Foucault”.

– My thesis tries to bring to light the political nature of the modern international planet-saving politics we see today and the impact it has on various power relations. The overarching aim of the research is to contribute new perspectives on the major issues shaping our world and in doing so to broaden the scope of political debate.

The ins and outs of funding for PhDs

Ilari has what’s known as a “status” position in the programme. This means the he doesn’t receive any salary from the University but can take part in the programme full-time and get funding for activities such as conference travel. Ilari has received funding proper for the PhD from the Kone Foundation, one of the principal sources of funding in Finland for social scientific research.

Ilari did his bachelor’s and master’s in short order – four years. He has been working on his doctorate for a year and a half now. He has funding lined up for four years and he plans to finish the degree while the funding lasts.

With regard to his future plans, Ilari muses: “What happens after I get the PhD is anybody’s guess, of course, with today’s job market for doctors. But the doctoral programmes give graduates a broad base of expertise and skills, making it easier for them than for most to work outside the academic world if they want to.”

On the subject of career plans, Ilari notes: “I would definitely be interested in continuing my work and as a full-fledged researcher. At this point of course I’m keeping all my options open. “

Original text in Finnish and image Tapio Nykänen

Translation Richard Foley

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