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Here’s advice from the top talent in the science world

This year, seven researchers from Estonian universities made it to the top of the science world. Photo credit: Patrik Tamm
This year, seven researchers from Estonian universities made it to the top of the science world. Photo credit: Patrik Tamm

Seven Estonian researchers were highlighted in Clarivate’s annual list. Here is their key advice for success.

This year, 6,849 researchers were named. Clarivate, a data firm that tracks scientific research, considered citations and expert opinions in their annual list. Seven of those connected to Estonian research institutions made it to the top. Here are some of them, along with their advice to young colleagues. They emphasize the importance of hard work, collaboration, and luck!

Frank Jacomina Albert Witlox advises young scholars: “Win and let win!” Photo credit: Private collection

Frank Jacomina Albert Witlox

As a visiting Professor at the University of Tartu, Witlox is the Chair of Human Geography and Regional Planning. He is the co–editor–in–chief of the magazine Journal of Transport Geography and a Head of Department and Senior Full Professor of Economic Geography at Ghent University. “I think I am listed because of initial high citations,” he explained. He has about 25 papers with co-authors that get cited yearly.

What’s his advice?

“Hard work, be modest, inspire and get inspired, collaborate, have fun, and some luck on your side… This recognition does not come on its own and is also a result of teamwork. I like to work in a team, and what good fortune do we (as senior full professors) have to work with brilliant young scholars/students? Seek collaboration based on mutual trust and input, win and let win, and stay away from the egos…”

It takes a village to get to the top,” says Imre Mäger. Photo credit: Private collection

Imre Mäger

Imre Mäger focuses on gene therapies, drug discovery, and preventative and therapeutic vaccines. Mäger has co-authored over 40 scientific publications with over 8000 citations. “I believe it has all to do with the research papers I co-authored while working in academia in the last decade, both at the University of Tartu and the University of Oxford,” Mäger explained. “I was working intensively with extracellular vesicles, which was and still is a fast-growing research field. As a cross-disciplinary scientist, I participated in and was responsible for certain parts of many collaborative projects and doing my independent research.”

What’s his advice?

“Hard work and luck will greatly help. Luck can be created by building a network of colleagues to bounce ideas back and forth, building on and learning from one another. Having mentors to learn from helps a lot. So do curiosity, a can-do attitude, critical thinking, zooming in and out of problems, and going back to the first principles. Confidence is balanced with receptiveness to criticism. Marrying concepts from different areas. Curiosity and drive to learn and to do cool stuff with interesting and brilliant people on important topics. It does take a village!”

“A memorable name will get you to the top,” Leho Tedersoo says jokingly. Photo credit: Private collection

Leho Tedersoo

As a Head of the Mycology and Microbiology Center at the University of Tartu, Tedersoo is an Estonian mycologist and ecologist known for his significant contributions to studying fungi and their role in ecosystems. Tedersoo is recognized for advancing our understanding of fungal diversity, ecology, and their impact on ecosystems globally. “I was selected solely because of the high number of citations to several of my team’s research articles,” Tedersoo believes. He thinks the Clarivate algorithm systems favor his research field. “I have been lucky to work on hot topics such as global biodiversity, climate change, and novel molecular identification technologies and databases,” he added.

What’s his advice?

“Young researchers should be highly motivated and prepared to work more than regular hours. Luck is important because a good hot topic and a highly qualified supervisor can boost a scientific career. Scientific writing usually comes with experience during the end of the PhD studies, or not at all. It is also important to establish multiple collaboration projects or participate in these to gain ground in the research community and get visibility—also a well-sounding, well-memorable, strong name, such as DJ. Trump may help! Becoming a top researcher will take at least 10 years.”

Success is above all the result of having great colleagues,” says Elin Org. Photo credit: Private collection

Elin Org

As an associate professor in genomics and microbiomics, Elin Org earned her Ph.D. in molecular biomedicine from the University of Tartu. She carried out postdoctoral research at the University of California. She established the Estonian Microbiome Cohort, a nationwide initiative that includes stool and oral samples for over 2500 participants of the Estonian Biobank cohort, supplemented by regular links to national registries and hospital databases. To Org, strong collaborations with top scientists are key to topping this list. “I’ve worked on timely and pressing scientific questions, leading to important discoveries,” she reflected.

What’s her advice?

“To reach the top, you must have luck—engaging in a research field that interests society and receives support. It’s crucial to seize the opportunity. Better ideas can emerge through collaboration, and larger goals can be achieved. Engage in something that brings you joy and interest.”

The rest of the selected scientists were Ülo Niinemets, a Professor and Head of Crop Science and Plant Biology at the Estonian University of Life Sciences. He contributes to understanding plant physiological processes, particularly in plant responses to environmental stresses. Also, Mohammad Bahram, an Associate Professor in Molecular Ecology at the University of Tartu. He is interested in microbial biogeography, community ecology, metagenomics, and biotic interactions. Finally, Linda Desiree Hollebeek, an adjunct professor of Marketing at Tallinn University of Technology and a Senior Associate Professor of Marketing at Montpellier Business School, was selected. She focuses on customer and consumer engagement with digital technologies.

Written by: Marian MänniThis article was funded by the European Regional Development Fund through Estonian Research Council.

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