Professor Marja Makarow is Director of Biocenter Finland and former vice president of the Academy of Finland, chief executive of the European Science Foundation and vice rector of the University of Helsinki. Makarow drives translation of research findings into innovation, business and jobs in the governing board of the European Institute for Innovation and Technology. She also chairs Technology Academy Finland which awards one of the world’s most important innovation prizes, the Millennium Technology Prize.
1. Why did you join the Helsinki Challenge jury?
Because I want to support the positive impact of fundamental research findings on mankind.
2. What kind of thinking do we need when solving the United Nation’s Agenda 2030 challenges?
We need to be creative, take risks and understand that fundamental research should benefit society.
3. What would you most like to get out of Helsinki Challenge 2017?
I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of innovative ideas the research teams come up with, which scientific fields they stem from and how multidisciplinary they are. It will be interesting to see different generations of researchers at work, especially younger ones.
4. Why does the academic world need Helsinki Challenge right now?
We have a moral obligation to ensure that publicly funded research eventually produces something that benefits society. Helsinki Challenge encourages researchers to develop a personal interest in the impact of their work and how their own research findings could change the world.
5. What is your piece of advice for the teams?
Build a small support group for your team right at the beginning of Helsinki Challenge. It doesn’t matter how many people there are, it could be only one person, just as long as you have someone to lean on during the competition.
6. Can you recall an example of successful cooperation between researchers and other actors of society?
A concrete example of this sort of co-operation is the programme for strategic research, which is operated in the Academy of Finland. It funds multidisciplinary research that has great societal impact and requires that the research findings reach the decision makers and end users quickly. The research themes address the grand challenges of the Finnish society, such as security and urbanisation.
7. What is your piece of advice for the teams when they face a moment of weakness during the accelerator programme?
I mentioned earlier that it would be a good idea to build a support group. If you’re facing a moment of weakness you should definitely use the help of your support group, or now at the latest build one.
8. What has been an encounter that has led to a change in your way of thinking?
In 2008–2012 I was Vice-Chair of the European Research Area Board that advised the Commissioner for Research and Innovation. There I met Sir David King, who was the British Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor at the time. He introduced the concept of grand challenges, which is now embedded in the Horizon 2020 programme.