Changes: Or a Vaguebook clarification

Most likely, if you’ve seen any of my recent posts to Facebook you understood that something is in the air. And it’s not just the pollen that accompanies the change of seasons in Southern Finland.

tl;dr version: I recently submitted a formal application for a fixed-term position of University Lecturer in English at the University of Helsinki. I was not shortlisted and my last day in the classroom will be 5 June.

If that news shocks you, you are not alone. So, what’s going on? Why did I apply for a job I have been doing since August 2014, you ask? And, what the hell happened?

There’s a story here, y’all. And, I’ll try to clarify as much of it as I can.

The university has gone through some restructuring, a part of which involved creating several full-time, fixed-term teaching positions which will largely be responsible for offering courses on transferrable (or soft) skills, courses such as those I developed and currently teach. Until now, I have assumed a role akin to an adjunct faculty member rather than through a formal appointment or contract. Each year, normally in February, my boss and the PhD programme coordinators would negotiate how many courses they wanted to offer for the following academic year and on what specific topics. Then, I would take a look at that list and decide how many courses I could feasibly take on. [And, yes, I would normally take on more than I should because… well, students want/need the courses and I love teaching them. If you’ve known me for any amount of time, you also know that I’ve always overestimated what I can reasonably achieve. Whatever.] It’s honestly worked rather well and allowed me an enormous amount of flexibility in deciding my own schedule.

Anyway… the exact structural changes within the university are rather complicated and the specific details were largely rather unimportant to me until now. But, those changes impacted my life and especially my role at the university in quite a few ways, which were just weird and, honestly, slightly terrifying once the next steps became clear. Now, that terror has become a gut punch.

Primarily, it meant the woman who recruited me to teach at the university would no longer be my ‘boss’. Processing that is hard, because Leena has been not just a dream to work with, but also the most supportive, compassionate and protective-in-a-necessary-way direct supervisor I’ve ever had. She’s often protected me from myself. [See above about reasonable and translate that to my work plans.] I’ve had some great bosses, y’all. [Some of you are likely reading this and thinking, ‘Yo! What the hell, V?!’ No offence to you, truly. But, if you worked with Leena, you’d understand.] She’s not just my advocate and sounding board, she’s a great friend as well. Not teaching for her seems just… weird (and, right now, wrong). So, I chose not to process that reality until I absolutely had to. Thankfully, I’ll still get to work with her albeit in a different capacity. I’ll continue revising for the university community, which is part of her division as well. Silver linings and all, right?

The truly terrifying realisation for me, however, alongside with not working for Leena, was my future as an instructor at the university. Throughout the application process, and whilst awaiting word on my professional fate, I have had a lot of students in individual courses and will continue to do so through the first week of June (I have 6 courses to finish, each with at least 14 participants). Knowing how to respond to their queries about future courses is beyond my capabilities. I know neither their options nor until this week did I know my own fate as their instructor. If nothing else, this application process resulted in a thorough understanding of just how much I love what I do, and how much it now defines me. The self-reflection has been enlightening and powerful.

Anyway, I did everything I could to put together what I had hoped was a convincing case for ‘why me’ and what I have to offer this professional community that has been my home since 2014. I was supported by seven incredibly kind and rather embarrassing praise-filled letters of support: three from colleagues at the university and four from former students, one of which was sent to me unsolicited. The deadline for submission was 19 April, and following my own advice to students, I submitted on 18 April.

Alas, two days ago, my worst nightmare became reality, and I knew with certainty that I would no longer be an instructor of transferable skills courses to PhD candidates at the University of Helsinki. The reason? I did not finish my dissertation and receive a PhD.

I do not mind telling you that it was and remains a complete gut punch. I was and am heartbroken. If you’ve followed this journey of mine since 2014, you likely also understand that I have loved my role as an educator and mentor. Walking into classrooms this week has been brutal, y’all.

This entire process, though, has left me weeping on multiple occasions. Not just the rejection itself, although that still is enormously painful. What’s filled me with hope as well as with an undefinable sense of gratitude is the people who have had my back and the extraordinary kindness and lengths so many have gone to in showing their support for my candidacy, either by simply being there for me or actively supporting my application. From the gushing letters of support and recommendations to reviewing bits of my CV, cover letter and/or teaching portfolio, often multiple times, to simply offering a friendly bit of advice or strategically timed word of encouragement, I am left transformed. I will forever struggle to meet my own high standards for myself; but, y’all seriously left everything out on the field for me. And, I’m honestly speechless.

What’s next?

I honestly don’t know.

Well, first I’m finishing up the remaining courses I have committed to for this academic year. I owe that much to my boss, but more so to the students who signed up for those courses and to myself. I’m leaving everything ‘out on the field’ in these courses, y’all, and going out with a bang. I also have a mountainous backlog of feedback to send to past students, and maybe I’ll finally empty my inbox.

Beyond that, I don’t know. I’ll continue revising and try to sort out other more practical concerns as well as soon as I can.

I’m also going to do some healing of my shattered heart. The waves of emotions are tsunamis right now, and my I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit angry. So, I’ll be processing my feelings alongside working out what comes next.

I will close with a few lines from my cover letter. These passages perhaps more than any others encapsulate my feelings on that role I had and loved:

… Because I benefitted from careful mentoring on these precise skills from my own mentors, the idea of paying it forward compelled me. Thus, I agreed to take on a few courses in autumn 2014, a fortuitous decision in hindsight, and one which fundamentally changed my life and my identity. To put it simply, the last nine years have been the most rewarding of my career and my life… To my mind, my greatest professional success has been witnessing current and former students flourish. In return, this also grants me a priceless gift. Creating dialogues with students—some of which last for a single course, many of which extend beyond the PhD defence—and watching them blossom as they challenge themselves to step outside their academic comfort zones have rewarded me immeasurably…

18 April 2023

I haven’t even begun to understand how much I’m going to miss the view from various classrooms nor how much I’ll miss standing up in front a room full of eager young scholars. But, I will. And, still, I have zero regrets.

The view from Porthania, P667, a classroom in the City Centre I know incredibly well.

Teaching in the time of Corona

I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately, largely because it has so very little meaning these days. It passes, certainly. But, how we classify it seems all confused and out of sorts. For instance, I’m not sure if today marks the beginning of the last course to close out my fifth academic year (2019-2020) or the official beginning of my sixth academic year (2020-2021) teaching at the University of Helsinki. Why this confusion? Well the course that began today was originally planned for last spring, but was rescheduled due to Covid-19. Thus, we met for the first time today. Ambiguous time, right?

Thus, I’m straddling a weird place. Rather apropos for 2020, I suppose.

Regardless, as the time for that first ‘meeting’ of this specific course neared, I realised two things:

  1. I’ll never not be a bundle of nerves on the first day of the academic year or just prior to meeting a new group of students for the first time. It doesn’t matter how often I’ve taught the material or how comfortable I feel with it, I’m a nervous Nellie on the first day and through the first few moments of a class. Perhaps given that this was my first real-time Zoom class, I was even more nervous.
  2. This year more than most I am feeling so much solidarity with and love for every single teacher / instructor / professor I know at the moment. Whether their academic year features in-person, online or some hybrid format given Covid-19, and whether they teach the tiniest people or more seasoned and budding young scholars, educators everywhere deserve so much recognition and kudos as a special cadre of underappreciated superheroes in these times. I don’t know a single educator friend who is not a badass with the compassion of the Buddha to back up their mad skills. And, I know a fair many who are terrified for their students and themselves, which breaks my heart.

Today’s class went well enough all things considered. All of us are attempting to be a bit more forgiving and more patient with ourselves as well as with one another than perhaps we would be normally (speaking for myself here). We — students and educators alike — are all navigating strange times, and simply must deal with things as best we can and as they present themselves to us.

Hopefully, we all emerge from this surreal experience and academic year a little wiser and having met our individual and collective objectives as educators. And hopefully our students learn what we intended or planned for them and feel fortified and fulfilled, and ready to embark on whatever future awaits them.

I’m fortunate: my courses at least for the autumn term are entirely online. I would naturally prefer to meet my students in person. But, I’d much rather they and I remain healthy in these times. I genuinely hurt for those educators and students forced to enter situations in which daily they wonder if they are risking their own or their family’s health and well-being. No one should be forced into such a situation.

So, as Finnish school children and teachers across the country return, here’s to all of the educators entering the 2020-2021 academic year. In Finland, the United States and everywhere.

Be safe, y’all. And, I hope you feel supported and loved and recognised for your heroism and extraordinary efforts in continuing to inform, enlighten and educate your students. You’re value and worth are immeasurable and I for one and for what it’s worth salute you.

Google Doodle for 13 August 2020

School’s out

Taken on a Nokia 8. Munkkiniemi Frisbeegolf Course, Finland, 1 June 2020.

What a truly bizarre academic school year.

My last lecture for the 2019–2020 academic year was scheduled to take place this morning. But, covid-19 ensured that I would not physically meet with my students, and the entire last dash towards the end of the year was rather anticlimactic. I spent a portion of this weekend recording and cleaning up the audio files for my last lecture and sorting through my slide decks. And, by about 9.30 this morning, all of the lecture materials were uploaded and visible via various distance learning tools the University of Helsinki has made available to both instructors and students alike.

Now, I’m left with sorting through my inbox as final assignments filter in and submitting my final reports and student grades. No lovely send offs. No in-person thanks and well-wishes for equally productive and restorative summer holidays. No fanfare at all, it seems.

It kind of sucks, to be honest.

And, most educators I suspect have felt something similar for the last several months. specifically as they close the books (pun intended) for this school year. And, certainly at the end of this most memorable and challenging of academic years.

Teaching and lecturing are exhausting during the best of times, and more so when you must quickly adapt and adjust to new realities with relatively little warning at all. I’m fortunate. I love my job and find the exhaustion infinitely rewarding because of the returns earned through inspiration and continual intellectual challenges and breakthroughs for me and my students. I’m infinitely fortunate to have the continual support from my direct supervisor and immediate colleagues, and incredible students, all of whom as graduate students are more than capable of using their own reserves to draw upon for self-discipline and time management necessary to learning asynchronously.

But, goodness I miss lecturing.

The worry for me and the source of my overwhelming exhaustion this year relates to that constant concern that the courses and materials are not meeting their needs. That all of these tools and technologies made available to us are poor and rather inadequate substitutes for the real-life, in-person interactions we typically enjoy and use to gauge engagement and understanding. Interactions I enjoy, and ultimately use to measure my own performance as much as theirs.

Summer may have arrived in Helsinki for this university instructor and her students. But, much of this summer for me means revamping and reexamining how to make distance learning a little more palatable for my students as well as for me. How to make achieving our mutual learning objectives a bit more possible and attainable. And, how to make the experience a little less lonely and a little more fulfilling and more interactive even with social distancing measures in place.

And, here, again, I suspect I’m not alone.

We are all redefining what ‘normal’ means to and for us. [Instructor and teacher friends, we’ve got this!] We are all adjusting to new realities and wondering what various seeds of change drifting on one wind or another will sprout in the near and distant futures.


As a twenty-something graduate student, I never imagined teaching. The prize that I kept my eye on at that time was research, ideally in a position related to policy in some way, shape or form. At that time, as an arrogant graduate student rather myopically focused on her own research, I thought landing a teaching gig would be the worst possible outcome of all those hours and years spent as a graduate student.

Oh, the irony. Life has a way of reminding us of just how foolish we can be as young (or, even, older) idealists.

Fast forward 20-plus years, and here I am lecturing to graduate students. What’s weirder still, I love it. After three full academic years of teaching at the University of Helsinki, I cannot imagine not teaching.

Part of my enthusiasm for teaching lies within the topics I teach: academic writing, conference presentations and presentations in general, and grant writing, along with a few other transferrable skills courses. I was fortunate as a graduate student to have incredible mentors, professors-turned-friends who I still rely on for their wisdom and guidance, even if I don’t constantly pester them or hover in their doorways. The lessons they taught me years ago remain with me even now, and often echo in my own lectures. I can only hope that I do these incredible minds and kind souls justice. Because they shaped me in so many ways and helped me to become a more dedicated member of the academic community I now feel duty-bound to serve.

As exhausting as the academic calendar is and as much as I look forward to summer and winter breaks, being an instructor never ceases to provide further inspiration and immeasurable rewards. This most likely reflects the immense privilege it is to guide the pool of students that grace my classrooms. These brilliant, dedicated individuals, wise beyond their years, amaze me. They are, quite simply and, as one professor referred to me, indefatigable. As I sift through my inbox sending reviews and feedback to those who worked incredibly hard throughout whichever course they took with me, some of these bright young minds provide feedback to me. I welcome these moments because they help me do better in future. But, this, this I wasn’t expecting and it has moved me in ways I can’t begin to describe:

…. [O]ne thing that I found particularly inspiring was that you seemed to let your personality bubble through your professional instructor role. I have noticed that especially women often somehow suppress or flatten their personality when acting in an expert position, which is maybe because they are afraid of not to be taken seriously otherwise. I don’t want to end up falling into this pit, so I also want to thank you for showing an empowering example that it is possible to be a professional without burying yourself under a role.

For whatever reason, this feedback from an incredibly bright young student represents one of the most powerful indicators that I’m doing what I should be doing. What I was intended to do. And, perhaps, something I’m truly good at. If my classroom example encourages young women scholars to be themselves regardless of stereotypes and expectations, all the better.

Indeed. As a graduate student, as a young career professional and later as a mid-career professional, I didn’t always feel sufficiently empowered to be me. Perhaps the greatest gift this gig has offered me is a way to find my own voice and to apply that voice to providing guidance to others. Without consciously realising it, my own voice appears more genuine and more authentic than it’s ever been before. And, oddly, more confident.

I love my job. Truly. But, this personal metamorphosis was so entirely unintended, yet I completely welcome it. And, can only hope that it continues. At the very least, I hope my own metamorphosis allows others to transform as well…