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Ulla Tuomarla

Ulla Susanna Tuomarla
Born August 8, 1965, Turku

Master of Arts 1993, PhD 2000 (French philology), University of Helsinki
Docent 2002, University of Helsinki

Head of department 2014–, deputy head of department 2010–14, Department of Modern Languages, University of Helsinki
University lecturer 2009– (French translation), University of Helsinki
Acting university lecturer 2007–09 and 2000-03, postdoctoral assistant 2003–06, University of Helsinki
French teacher 1999–2000, University of Tampere

Publications, research projects and other academic activity
Research themes:
Linguistic polyphony and reported speech, argumentation, emotions and linguistic interaction (inter alia, hate speech).
The research project How to address?

Photo: Essi Lavonen
Written by Ulla Tuomarla and Tiia Niemelä
Translated by Matthew Billington

The agony and the ecstasy of administration

Ulla Tuomarla has been in charge of the Department of Modern Languages since it was established, first as the deputy head of department from 2010 to 2014 and then as head of department from 2014 onwards. Tuomarla has been employed by the University for 20 years now, becoming a doctoral student in 1995, but it was not until 2009 that she became a permanent member of staff. Almost as soon as she had signed her contract, a colleague became ill, and she was asked to take charge of the then Department of Romance Languages.

– I was the head of the Department of Romance Languages for only four months before individual departments were combined to form larger units in 2010,” Tuomarla says. “And this was already being worked on at quite a pace the autumn before.

Arto Mustajoki was chosen as the head of the new Department of Modern Languages, and Tuomarla became the deputy head.

– Those four years working under Arto were an invaluable lesson for me when it came to administration. Then when he became, to the surprise of us all, dean of the Faculty of Arts in 2014, the experience I had gained as deputy head made it possible for me to throw my hat into the ring when the new head of department was being chosen.

According to Tuomarla, one of the major challenges facing such large departments is getting people from very different fields to collaborate. Communal sprit was not achieved overnight when several small departments were brought together under one umbrella. After these initial hurdles, however, Tuomarla has been delighted to observe how people you might not think even knew each other are now chatting in the corridors of the Metsätalo building. She also sees a large department as being beneficial to research.

– When you come from a small field, it is often worthwhile engaging in dialogue with people from other disciplines. For example my own subject, French, is a small subject, so within that field it might be impossible to find a colleague who is interested in the same questions, and of course then it is very useful to form interdisciplinary networks.

Ulla Tuomarla’s 40th birthday party in Töölö. Also pictured is Mervi Helkkula.

Tuomarla has enjoyed her time as head of department. She is particularly fond of the variety her work offers, including matters that concern the entire University. It has been a pleasure for her to be able to make a difference, meet people from other departments and faculties, and understand the way the University operates at a more general level.

– Universities are known for being full of people who hate all things administrative, but I am not one of them. I am a bit of an exception, Tuomarla says with a laugh.

According to Tuomarla, the most challenging aspect of being head of department is prioritising and not having enough hours in the day, as there seems to be more work than time to do it in. Tuomarla admits to being a conscientious individual who wants to do her job well, which means that her own research has been slightly neglected, as more urgent work is constantly arriving on her desk.

– You should have a healthy amount of selfishness, and, for example, just say you will be unavailable on a Friday, but usually something interesting happens on Fridays as well, so it is difficult.

This autumn has of course been full of concern over the austerity measures the government has directed at the University.

– It looks unlikely that the current departments will continue as they are in 2017, which to me is a great shame. Of course reforms are always necessary, and I can see there are some real reasons behind them, but one thing that I personally would not have tampered with is the size of these organisations. For example, our Department is still small enough for me to know nearly everyone working here, at least by name.

Tuomarla has not yet thought about what she will do when her time as head of department comes to an end, but she would like to put her administrative experience to good use in the future. She would like to leave behind a department where people are able to discuss matters and listen to differing opinions. In other words, a place with a good communal atmosphere, where it is pleasant to work.

– Fostering community spirit and wellbeing in the workplace is close to my heart, and I have made a concerted effort to do small things to make that happen.

Core content analysis at a seminar on a ship. On the right of postdoctoral assistant Ulla Tuomarla is the student counselling psychologist Johanna Mikkonen and on the left is Mervi Helkkula. Photo by Elina Suomela-Härmä.


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