An interview with Jukka Kallijärvi

Name: Jukka KallijarviJukkaKallijarvi

Current Job: senior researcher at Folkhalsan Research Center, Helsinki

Scientific Discipline/Field: biomedicine

Country: Finland

Pick some letters (L,G,B,T,Q,+, etc.): G


What does your job involve?

I’m a senior researcher/co-PI in a small research group working on models of mitochondrial respiratory chain complex deficiency. My work is extremely versatile, from lab work to guiding students, writing grant applications, attending conferences to administrative tasks. I love almost everything about my job but particularly the daily communication and brainstorming with my students.

How did you get to this job (education etc.)?

I was finalizing my first – not so successful – postdoc in another institute in Helsinki in 2012 and was thinking what to do next. I wanted to stay in research but was not at all sure if it was worth it any longer at that point and age. Then I logged on to the Academy of Finland website to check who had got research funding in the previous round and might need to hire a postdoc. There, I found this amazingly interesting project related to mitochondrial medicine. I contacted the professor leading the research and got the position. It turned out to be absolutely the best turn in my career in science.

Do you feel being LGBT has affected your career decisions?

No. I have been interested in very nerdy things since I was a school kid, so natural sciences was an obvious option. I grew up in a working class family with very little contact to the academic world, so my parents were mostly unable to advise me on career choices. But I got full support for whatever I decided to do.

Have you had any reactions from colleagues about being LGBT, either good or bad?

Only positive ones, fortunately. Or maybe I’m too naïve to notice if there were negative ones… Sometimes I’ve seen slight confusion, though, in some colleagues who knew I’m gay but were apparently not sure how to talk about my partner etc.

Did you have any role models growing up (LGBT, STEM, totally unrelated…)?

I had a love-hate relationship to my Finnish teacher in upper secondary school. She was almost inhumanely demanding towards students but I loved her endless knowledge about culture and everything. She was the epitome of the famous quote “Homo sum, humani nil a me alienum puto, I am a human and consider nothing human alien to me”. I suppose she had a big influence on my thinking.

What are your plans for the future?

Life is good now. I’m in my dream job so I hope funding agencies will make favourable decisions and we can continue our work and I can get more independence. At some point, it would be fun to spend a sabbatical somewhere outside Finland, but I’d like to do it together with my partner and his field/job makes this a bit challenging.

Anything else you’d like to add?

In the academia, I think there is a slight glass ceiling for LGBT researchers. It’s very thin and invisible but it is there. I think it’s almost never intentional discrimination but more subtle things, like as a gay man you just don’t get invited to lunch with the important male professors as often as someone else. People tend to want to spend time with people they bond with, it’s very human. In any case, I’ve always been out at work and I think it’s important to always be who you are and try to shatter the glass ceiling if you feel that there is one.

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