Why do researchers need to meet in international contexts?

18 November 2022

Umeå University is a part of several international collaborative projects in which researchers discuss academic topics. Building relationships and exchanging experiences, knowledge and expertise strengthens academia and can result in new research topics. MIRAI 2.0 is an example of such a collaboration.

To achieve a breakthrough of knowledge to solve a societal challenge requires drive, courage and a certain amount of risk-taking. That is why sense of security, trust and public confidence are important linchpins of academia. We can meet in different ways to build and strengthen long-term relations in the academic community. Digitalisation has led to collaborative projects replacing many physical meetings with online alternatives, which is time efficient and positive from a climate perspective too.

Katrine Riklund, Pro-Vice-Chancellor

Photo: Mattias Pettersson

Nevertheless, it is not always enough to meet others purely online. Researchers sometimes need to meet face to face. Physical meetings offer another form of dynamics and are crucial to expanding your academic network and to promote the exchange of new ideas. Long-term relationship building enables projects to develop, routines to establish and collaborations to strengthen. Exchange of experiences and shared commitment promote the achievement of joint goals and result in internationally competitive research. The informal meetings taking place in the breaks between the more formal meetings are important and often fuel the most creative ideas. Such opportunities are hard to replace by online alternatives.

There is, of course, a paradox between a university travelling to meet internationally and also taking its global responsibility for the future. But this responsibility for the future requires taking a holistic approach and hence it is not only air travel that needs to be considered. Everything such as procurements, waste management, use of disposable products and indoor temperatures, and modes of commuting to and from work should be the object of analysis and improvement in our responsibility for the future. It is also worth taking a moment to consider how reduced travels would affect Umeå University's participation in solving the challenges we are facing, not least those of the 2030 Agenda, how our research quality and, from a wider perspective, how Sweden's contribution as a knowledge nation would be affected. This is certainly a complicated issue.

One example of an international collaborative project that gives Umeå University new perspectives is MIRAI 2.0 which brings together nine Japanese and eleven Swedish universities, of which we are one. The aim is to promote long-term research collaboration between Sweden and Japan in education, research and innovation. And I especially appreciate the explicit focus within MIRAI on researchers at the early stage of their career. During that phase it is particularly valuable to have the chance to establish connections and collaborations with other researchers in your own field.

In the project, researchers can apply for seed funding for research collaborations. Participants from Sweden and Japan that have participated in one of the activities in the collaborative project are eligible to apply for funding. Even if Japan and Sweden share certain common traits, such as the challenge of having an ageing population that continues to grow, the differences between us is what may be most useful in finding new solutions, in my mind.

This week, MIRAI 2.0 is organising a research and innovation conference at Kyushu University in Japan titled "Sharing ONE future: Integrative Knowledge and Sustainable Transformation towards a better world". I am participating together with a delegation from Umeå University to meet other researchers, students and university managements from the participating twenty universities as well as funding bodies and decision-makers. Discussing how to strengthen collaborations between Japan and Sweden is truly rewarding. The agenda is crammed with meetings at the Swedish Embassy, university visits and days filled with academic presentations and discussions.

The trip can be summarised with the word "MIRAI" meaning future in Japanese. This also coincides with my approach to the value of international collaborative projects.

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