April 26, 2017

Life & opportunities at Harvard: the visiting scholar perspective


Greetings from Boston! I am postdoctoral researcher in the Aalto SUB –group and I am currently visiting Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. Here I will talk about some of my experiences during the visit.


My visiting position is through the SCANCOR program, which promotes research mobility to top-tier universities in the US for organizational researchers in Scandinavia. SCANCOR offers exchange positions at Harvard University for PhDs as well as Stanford University for PhDs and doctoral students. The visits are generally for one term (Spring, Autumn or Summer) at a time, although longer stays are sometimes also possible. There are currently six SCANCOR scholars at Harvard and we are the second cohort overall. For all the practical things related to the (e.g. visas, housing, etc.), the SCANCOR coordinators and the Harvard International Office can give helpful information.

The SCANCOR program offers office facilities for the exchange term and visitors also get full access to Harvard’s services (e.g. libraries, email, recreation, etc.). We have a weekly meeting with the SCANCOR group, where one person presents their research and other comments on it. There are also various weekly seminars that we can attend. These are very good for learning and networking. In addition to these, we can set our own schedule. Most scholars are using their time to write articles or books, collaborating with other scholars in the area or collecting new data. For myself, I am also collecting data from a nearby industrial cluster on their sustainability activities.


There is considerable collaboration that is present between the universities in the Boston area and how this is evident in many of the daily events going on. The Boston area is home to 54 different colleges and universities with 250,000 students. Along with Harvard, other notable large and highly ranked universities include MIT, Tufts Universities, Boston University, Northeastern University and Boston College.

Many of the seminars, conferences and events that are going on a daily basis are held in collaboration with these different institutes. They are also often multidisciplinary, encouraging new ideas between scholars from different fields. A good example is the Economic Sociology seminar which is one of the most important weekly seminars for the SCANCOR group. It’s held in collaboration with Harvard Sociology Department, Harvard Business School and MIT Sloan School of Management and the venue alternates between these three places. The topics are at the interface of sociology and economics, focusing on areas such as the creation and dynamics of new markets.

I also recently attended a small half a day conference organized by the Weatherhead Center, focused on food production in the 21st century. The conference included 24 “flash-talks” from different academic researchers from the Boston and New England Area, and the organization was also joint effort between several universities. The speakers were a diverse group of economists, historians, environmental scientists, sociologists, anthropologists. There were many points of view around the central topic, including the sustainability, economics, legal and technological aspects of food production. Overall, it was a highly insightful afternoon of academic discussion and the flash-talk format worked really well in my opinion.

This kind of collaboration between universities and different academic disciplines is what makes Boston such as great place to come for a visit. You have a wealth of opportunities for learning both inside and outside of the university you are based in.

Other activities

There also a wealth of open activities and events hosted in the campus. These includes arts, culture, science and health –related events such as lectures, courses, seminars, etc. Often these might be linked to some Harvard centers but they are open to the public as well. Harvard Gazette, the university magazine, has an excellent listing of these. Some interesting open seminars I’ve attended include for example the monthly evening seminars Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, talking about their newest findings and activities. I also attended a large seminar related to the future of news in the “post-truth” era, which speakers included managing and senior editors from some of the biggest newspapers and media companies in the US. You can also find a lot of various daily activities related to arts, culture and sports around the campus.

There’s no shortage of opportunities for learning and inspiration at Harvard! I have written more detailed postings of my experiences in my personal blog.