Now that summer is approaching and summer schools for PhD candidates are likely to be cancelled, postponed, or arranged online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I have found myself pondering my past summer school experiences. By sharing my experiences in this blog, I wish to encourage other early career scholars to explore and share their thoughts on how international and interdisciplinary summer schools have deepened their own work and experience as scholars.
I attended a summer school targeted for PhD candidates and post-doctoral researchers for the first time in the summer of 2018. At that time, I had only recently started working full time on my doctoral dissertation, titled Sociotechnical Imaginaries of Oil in Finland from the 1950s to 1973, at the University of Oulu. The summer school that I attended was called Does Technology Drive History? Theoretical Concepts and Historical Examples, and organized by the International Committee for the History of Technology (ICOHTEC). I remember excitedly anticipating the new knowledge I might acquire during the summer school, since the program seemed relevant from the perspective of my research topic. I was especially keen to gain new information on four theoretical approaches: the Social Construction of Technology (SCOT), Actor Network Theory (ANT), Large Technological Systems (LTS), and technological determinism. I also looked forward to meeting other participants.
There were many interesting discussions during the two-day summer school as well as during the subsequent ICOHTEC Symposium. Each participant of the summer school gave a short presentation on their own research, after which other participants posed several questions. This format was successful, as it gave the participants a quick idea of the research topics of other early career scholars.
Inspired by this summer school experience, I decided to apply for two summer schools and a seminar the following year. During a one-day Pre-Conference, organized by the Finnish Society for Science and Technology Studies, the Research Center for Knowledge, Science, Technology and Innovation Studies, and the New Social Research programme in June 2019, I received constructive and encouraging comments from the seminar organizers. The Impact Workshop, in particular, gave me new ideas on how to increase the societal impact of research.
June 2019 proved to be quite busy. Immediately after the above-mentioned pre-conference, I attended the Eudaimonia & HS-DP Summer School at my home university. Participating in a local summer school turned out well, as it made it possible to network with colleagues working in different faculties at the same university.
I ended my summer by attending a five-day master class, called Museums & Environmental Humanities: A Master Class, organized by The Greenhouse. Perhaps one of the most interesting assignments was to present your research topic from a fascinating point of view: the task was to approach our research topics through an object that presumably illustrated the whole theme to the audience. Since the source material I use in my research includes written documents and images, I decided to present a committee report as an object. I was especially pleased to share my work in a suitable setting, at the Norwegian Petroleum Museum.
Since my study focuses on petroleum-related imaginaries in the context of post-WWII Finland, the visit to the Norwegian Petroleum Museum was a thought-provoking experience. I found it interesting to have a quick peek at the intertwined history of petroleum and a neighbouring country, Norway. For me, among the most memorable items on display were a small bottle of oil and a hard hat that had belonged to a crane driver.
In retrospect, I learned several important lessons from attending these summer schools. For instance, my presentation skills have improved, and I have received new knowledge on various themes ranging from theoretical approaches to the drafting of exhibition plans to various past and present phenomena. A number of new acquaintances and friends, who I have had the pleasure to meet during my summer school experiences, have also brought considerable joy to my path as an early career researcher. Indeed, I think that the advantage of summer schools compared to large conferences is that it is easier to get acquainted with colleagues in a relatively smaller setting. Last but not least, I want to say that I feel a special gratitude toward the summer school organizers, who have provided settings for learning and networking.
Cover Image Credit: Timon Studler, Unsplash.