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Attracting global talents: An interview with Iranian researcher Sanaz Zarabi in Finland

Photo of Sanaz Zarabi, a Doctoral Researcher at Aalto University and Minna Palmroth, Chair of Board of Technology Academy Finland

Future innovations require talented people who are offered supportive environments to work for world-changing solutions. The desire for educated, international talents is growing around the world, especially in countries with quickly aging populations. We interviewed Sanaz Zarabi, an Iranian PhD student in Finland, to better understand what makes a country attractive to global talents.

Sanaz Zarabi has worked as a Doctoral Researcher in Advanced Materials at Aalto University, Finland, since 2020. Last year, she won the Millennium Graduate Student Contest with her pitch on Inkjet printing as an example of renewable energy technologies. She has also been nominated by Technology Academy Finland to a group of 11 scientists from Finland to participate in Singapore’s Global Young Scientists Summit in January 2024.

Sanaz Zarabi, how did you get interested in Finland as a place to study and work, in the first place?

“While searching potential PhD positions in the Nordic countries, I developed a strong interest in Finland. Aalto University stood out as an academic giant.  Delving deeper into the Finnish way of life, I discovered its commitment to safety, stability, progress, and gender equality — qualities particularly appealing to someone hailing from a region where women often face oppression. Recognizing Finland’s merits, I believed it to be an ideal place for both personal and professional growth.”

How has it been in Finland? What has been the best and what has been challenging?

“My time in Finland had been extremely rewarding. My PhD accomplishments, together with a supportive supervisor and the positive direction of Finland’s hydrogen programs, painted a promising future. However, recent changes in immigration policy have generated uncertainty, leaving me with doubts about my continued welcome. The prospect of relocating from a place I considered safe and comfortable, my home,  is disconcerting.”

You are talking about the Finnish government’s plan that would require the holders of work-based residence permits to leave Finland, in case they are between jobs and don’t find work in 3 months. How do you see this affecting to the big picture of global talents choosing Finland?

“I believe the proposed requirement for the professionals to depart Finland if job opportunities are not secured within a three-month timeframe, and also prolonging the naturalization period, could potentially diminish Finland’s attractiveness for foreign experts.
Such rules may inadvertently encourage professionals to seek more stable and friendly environments in other European countries. To keep Finland competitive in the global talent environment, exceptions similar to those implemented by other leading countries like Denmark, Norway, and Germany, should be considered, especially in light of an approaching talent war.”

“Exceptions for foreign talents in government policies would decisively influence my decision to stay, enabling me to contribute meaningfully to Finland’s future while establishing a fulfilling career.”

Sanaz Zarabi, PhD student at Aalto University

What about other practicalities – is it easy for you to work in Finland and live your life or are there some practices that could be improved?

“Navigating work and life in Finland presented initial difficulties, which were worsened by the start of my PhD during the COVID-19 pandemic and associated quarantine restrictions. However, I rapidly came across a community eager to help, whether I was looking for directions or addressing scientific questions. Over time, the supportive atmosphere became evident, transforming initial difficulties into a testament to the helpful and collaborative nature of the Finnish environment.”

Sanaz Zarabi, a Doctoral Researcher at Aalto University, was interviewed at the Parliament of Finland by Minna Palmroth, Chair of Board of Technology Academy Finland, a foundation awarding
the Millennium Technology Prize.

How do you feel that working culture in Finland takes into account different backgrounds of people?

“At Aalto, we believe that diversity is our strength. Collaborating with people from different backgrounds brings new problem-solving ideas, generating synergy in the workplace. Learning from colleagues with various viewpoints is an enriching experience that adds greatly to professional development.”

Do you feel that you have opportunities to pursue you career in Finland?

“Participating in a Hydrogen Cluster event last summer confirmed my belief that I can make significant contributions to Finland’s emerging hydrogen sector. The country has enormous potential for building a hydrogen economy, which is perfectly aligned with my professional goals.

As a foreigner, in addition to feeling welcomed as an expert, my objective is to integrate into a culture that values Finnish principles. While acknowledging competitive offers from other countries, my commitment to Finland remains solid. Exceptions for foreign talents in government policies would decisively influence my decision to stay, enabling me to contribute meaningfully to Finland’s future while establishing a fulfilling career in hydrogen energy — the frontline of the battle against climate change.”

WATCH ALSO our discussion event (in Finnish) about attracting global talents in Finland at SuomiAreena 2023.

Partners of the Millennium Technology Prize