In honor of International Women’s Day on 8 March, we spoke with some of the women who work with the Arctic Council to learn more about them, what it means to be a woman in their field and their advice for young women.

Johanna Ikävalko is a former polar biologist and consultant for the Arctic Council’s Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP). Now as the new Director of the Arctic Centre, we spoke with Johanna about her calling to Arctic research, having a fearless personality and advice for young women interested in Arctic science.

Can you tell us about yourself and how you have been involved with the Arctic Council?

I’m a former polar biologist, with particular interest in sea ice biology in the Arctic, Antarctic and the frozen Baltic Sea. Through various steps and phases in my career, I’m now the new Director of the Arctic Centre (University of Lapland), as well as a new inhabitant of Rovaniemi, the Arctic capitol of Finland. Prior to my current position, I worked as a consultant for the AMAP Secretariat where my tasks were related to improving Earth system science approach, monitoring the Arctic and engagement of Indigenous Permanent Participants in AMAP’s work.

What motivated you to pursue a career in Arctic science?

This was purely through natural selection. I simply feel strongly that ice, snow and Arctic traits are part of what I am. I’m generally interested to know and understand the world around me, with a true researcher’s heart beating in my chest. When I met my supervisor to be, Dr. Helge Thomsen, from the University of Copenhagen and was invited to join his ice biology research group, it was all crystal clear to me: I am a polar biologist.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

Days never repeat themselves. I think I’m privileged as every day at work is a day at high school. The research interest at the Arctic Centre – including the environment, Arctic governance, anthropology, Indigenous peoples and law – form an impressive and unique ensemble. The Arctic Centre also has science communication and its crown jewel, the Arctic Science Centre. This combination of various activities is very invigorating.

"I haven’t faced any major obstacles during my career. It could be that I’ve just been lucky, but I also think two facts have brought me forward. First, my open, fearless personality enables me to accept professional challenges that may have been a bit too much for some. Second, the fact that equality matters are traditionally quite good in the Nordic countries have allowed me to make rather untraditional turns during my career." Johanna Ikävalko

Have you faced any obstacles during your career? Do you believe any of these were specific to being a woman?

I’ve been very fortunate, I guess. I haven’t faced any major obstacles during my career. It could be that I’ve just been lucky, but I also think two facts have brought me forward. First, my open, fearless personality enables me to accept professional challenges that may have been a bit too much for some. Second, the fact that equality matters are traditionally quite good in the Nordic countries have allowed me to make rather untraditional turns during my career.

Who is your role model, and why?

This may sound cliché, but my role model is my 87-year-old mother. She has planted in me courage, fearlessness, ambition and curiosity for life that has given me so much. My mother has been wise in giving us children the freedom to make our own choices and always provided her support. And if we’ve failed, she’s been there to secure soft landing, comfort and understanding. I do have a feeling there is a lot of my mother in me, and I am proud of it.

"There’s so much to learn and explore, so many faces to the Arctic you will never get bored." Johanna Ikävalko

What advice do you have for young women who are interested in pursuing a career in Arctic science?

Go for it! You won’t regret it. There’s so much to learn and explore, so many faces to the Arctic you will never get bored. But be careful: it may sweep you and you’ll never be the same again. This I know myself!

Share