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My experience using the Researcher exchange to develop and connect

Although a bit of a cliché, they say that an exchange is the best part of your life. Since a few years; or let’s be honest, decades have passed since my university exchange, I decided to take up the opportunity to go on staff researcher exchange. What are my expectations and what are my learnings; read on to find out!


Minna-Maari Harmaala

Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 13.10.2022

My research exchange consisted of attending a conference where I was hosting some conference tracks (including of course paper reviews and commentary) and presenting a paper written with a colleague as well as working intensely in a research grant writing workshop with partners for an upcoming EU financing call. In fact; the last touches to my 1,5 week long exchange program were only finalized as I was sitting at the airport waiting for the plane to board.

Bringing research dialogue forward

I was expecting the research exchange first and foremost to bring international research dialogue forward and to truly and robustly support the consortium in finalizing the research proposal idea and to be able to word it together as a coherent application. It was really to be a full week and a half full of exploring different research ideas; exploring research and practitioner insights from all corners of the world as well as developing hopefully fruitful and sustainable project collaboration within the European University Framework.

On a personal level I was hoping to connect with researchers in the sustainability area, which is an area where Haaga-Helia does not yet have an abundance of peers. Additionally, I was hoping to gain new insights, new perspectives as well as to learn from best practices; all things that would enable to increase the research capacities both personally and from an organizational perspective.

It turned out the research workshop was a roaring success! Certainly there were some hiccups along the way; mainly that there were too many parallel tracks leaving some of them with an audience of largely the other presenters. However, it was highly focused conference focusing on the topic of responsible management education. I got so many new insights and connected with so many practitioners from (mainly) Europe that I was almost overwhelmed. My worst fear now is that I am unable to successfully spread the message and develop new ideas within my home university. This would mean that any changes would only happen in my head and not in our practices; time will tell.

Personal contacts are the cornerstone of building a research proposal

And let’s be honest, proposal writing needs personal contacts. Especially international research and development projects build on personal connections that are formed through working and interacting together; an exchange is an essential vehicle for this. Before you even start ideating on a project, you need personal contacts. Our proposal writing workshop was hybrid, but the on-line participants were already familiar with almost everyone else from another earlier consortium. I feel it is unrealistic to start thinking of or writing a proposal if you have not met in person. Thus I think a research exchange should always be done with this end in mind. While we did not finalise anything; nor did we even drill down to the level of work packages, we advanced by leaps and bounds with respect to having a common understanding and sharing a common goal.

In summary, the exchange certainly had a high return on investment on a professional level! The researcher exchange allows to build connections which are vital for international project cooperation. Also on a personal level, it helped with my focus and motivation. I’m grateful for the opportunity given by the Helia foundation and would warmly and wholeheartedly recommend the researcher exchange to anyone thinking about project writing!