Eeva Houtbeckers: In TOKO I learned to take time for my PhD project

Dear Centre for Doctoral studies in Aalto University School of Business,

Or TOKO if we are less official,

I have never before written an open letter to you – nor anyone else. Yet, today I think it is appropriate to thank you openly as tomorrow I am moving to other premises from TOKO. Before I tell you the reasons for my gratitude, let me go through our brief but intense history together.

I have associated TOKO to the images of discipline and order, and myths. The first image of discipline and order is mainly thanks to the fact that TOKO is familiar to all PhD Candidates from applying to doctoral studies in Aalto BIZ. Later on we associate TOKO with filling up the yearly personal study plan (and when we realize we still have that one essay to hand in order to pass the last course). By the time we finish our PhD (seriously I know people who have done it), TOKO is the one efficiently taking care of the administrative side of the process. I dare to say that everyone I know, who have defended their thesis, has been deeply impressed and thankful for this irreplaceable and professional service.

The second image of myths is due to those PhD Candidates working physically in TOKO. For those not that familiar with TOKO practices, before the PhD candidates getting funded by TOKO (to work on their PhD) have been provided a working space physically in TOKO. This space has been slightly separated from the departments, which has created some mythical air around it. Yet you have been able to meet these TOKO PhD Candidates once in a while. These PhD candidates seem to be very intense about their studies when you talked to them. Same same but different, as the saying goes.

Thus, to me and maybe to others too, TOKO has an air of order and discipline but also invites to some legendary interpretations. However, these interpretations are about to change as TOKO has started to physically dissolve: The administration (i.e. always reliable order and discipline) has moved to the main building of Aalto BIZ. The PhD Candidates have moved or about to move to work physically in the departments.

As this is an end of an era, let us go to the reasons behind my sincere gratitude. When arrived to work physically in the TOKO premises, I realized it is very quiet. In fact, it was so quiet I could hear someone cough from a room in the other corridor many many meters away (the space is shaped like an L). When coughing stopped it was quiet again. At first this silence was daunting: no sounds of busy office life or no one to interrupt your thoughts. In short, nothing to save me from thinking about my PhD project. But that’s what I soon started to do, very seriously, as there was nothing else to do. Consequently, I started to resemble one of those TOKO PhD Candidates (but not all!) who show up for Proffa lunch with a messy hair and intense (or crazy?) look in their eyes – as they’d been thinking something long and hard. And trust me, I had been thinking long and hard.

During this time physically sitting in TOKO, I have learned how take time to write, to read, and to do data analysis. I still don’t claim I know how to actually do all of this perfectly but at least now I try instead of avoiding it all. Therefore, I thank you, TOKO, sincerely for allowing me this opportunity to physically take distance, to think, and most importantly to do research. To be fair, I should also mention that there have been other initiatives too, like academic writing coaching, but I’ll write about those another time.

It has not been easy to concentrate, and many times I have longingly looked after my department colleagues who have continued to their offices together. However, important things are not supposed to be easy (although they sometimes can be): Taking time and energy for your own PhD project is important and not easy.

As I’m now moving to sit close to my department colleagues, a new time emerges. I’m excited about the fact I can join them for coffee and lunch more easily and engage in the social side of doing research. However, I will never forget TOKO. My colleagues should be prepared for the fact that I’m not always available because I hope to carry the TOKO spirit with me as long as I do research: When it is my daily time to write, read and do data analysis, I will take it.


Eeva Houtbeckers is a PhD Candidate in organisation and management, department of Management and International Business, Aalto BIZ. She studies contemporary social entrepreneurship in Finland.

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