How to deal with Finnish professors?

Professor-student relationships in Finland are not constrained by formal conventions. THERE IS NO HIERARCHY. Well, formally there is. There are titles as usual: MSc (Master of Science), PhD (Doctor of Philosophy), Professor, Head of the Department, etc. But in reality, people are not respected for having any of these titles. They are respected by students for being intelligent, approachable, friendly or even funny.

The atmosphere in a classroom is exceptionally relaxed. With Finnish professors, it is possible to make politically incorrect jokes and laugh about it  together. It is very easy to approach a professor and ask a question if you did not understand a topic and he/she will set off some time to explain it to you. If your group is very busy with deadlines and it is hard to submit an assignment on time, in Finland it is no problem to come to your professor and ask for giving you another week of time.

What astonished me the most was that it was alright for a professor to come to a student party, drink no less than students do, leave after midnight and the next day have a morning lecture at 8AM with the same bunch of students like nothing happened. This may sound strange but I assure you there is no indulgence or privilege for these students. They will have to write their exams just like anybody else and their grade will be what they deserve. This does not often go this way in other countries.

Finnish professors laugh a lot about first-year foreign students’ attitude towards them. Coming from another country I was used to raise my hand and ask a question somehow like this: «Professor Suomalainen, can I please ask you a question?» Whereas in Finland it should be more of «Matti, why is this and that?» It took me quite a few months to get used to this.

I think this kind of a relationship between a professor and a student is one of the reasons why Finnish educational system is one of the best in the world.

Ekaterina Sakarinen
Chemical Engineering

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