Maie Kiisel: The Paradox of Environmental Awareness

My interest towards society grew out of my interest towards the environment. I have been an environmental activist and researched environmental movements in Estonia, as well as the way the environment is depicted in the media, consumption, eco-innovation, and ways to make people act in a more ecological and sustainable manner.


Maie Kiisel. Photo from a personal archive.

Behind all of this experience are some unanswered questions that still haunt me. How is it possible that after the decades-long environmental education and the highest environmental awareness of all time the global ecological footprint is still growing? What is it in a person’s activities and way of living in a society that causes the ecological footprint? And why is it relatively complicated to decrease it?

The tent pillar of sustainable development is thought to be people’s knowledge of their actions’ impact on the environment. Knowledge is supposed to make them value the environment more and it should in turn lead towards deeds that save the environment. The latter leads to a decrease in the ecological footprint and is a step towards saving the planet.

Lately, however, many scientists have demonstrated that knowledge and values play a relatively small role in promoting environmentally friendly behavior. A person’s level of involvement in the practical organization of everyday life has much more impact on one’s behavior than one’s own wish to save the environment.

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Pocket Monsters Conquering the World

People used to collect all kinds of stuff in ages past. Some people collected stamps, others matchbox cars, and others cat figures made of porcelain or stickers. I, for one, collected bubblegum wrappers. Right now, it feels that if somebody is collecting something, it could only be pocket monsters – Pokémons. What could one get from such a virtually real collection of fictional creatures?

Pikachu Parade

Pikachu Parade. Image credit: Yoshikazu Takada / Flickr Creative Commons

This summer pocket monsters conquered the world. No kidding. They were everywhere and there were more and more people catching them as well, resulting in Pokémon Go becoming the most popular mobile game in the world – in just a few weeks. An analysis performed by Axiom Capital Management showed that in mid-July 2016 alone, some 450,000 persons all over the world hunted the monsters daily. Pokémon Go players spent even more time in the environment of their game than in Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, or Tinder. As a search term, ‘Pokémon Go’ was even more popular in July than the usual web search engine favorite word – ‘porn’.

Certainly, one of the reasons for the great number of users was really good timing – the game was released in summer. With autumn creeping in, the first excitement of catching the monsters has started to fade, and both here and elsewhere there is an increasing number of Pokémon hunters whose monster collection was locked down because of the beginning of the school year. By the end of August, the number of daily players had fallen to 30,000, according to an analysis by Axiom Capital Management.

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Marta Tarkanovskaja: How To Get a Nobel Prize

Marta Tarkanovskaja is the only young Estonian scientist who was granted a chance to meet with the Nobel Laureates and participate in the reputable 66th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting this year. Marta is also a doctoral student of materials science both at the University of Tartu and University of Turku.

We will hereby forward you Marta’s thoughts about her work, her studies at two universities, and particularly about meeting with prestigious Nobel Laureates.

Marta Tarkanovskaja

Marta Tarkanovskaja. Photo from a personal archive

Materials science has always been an interest

I was always curious about how things work and from what different materials they are made. Thus, I did not think long about what I should study. Materials science is just perfect for me. It is an interdisciplinary field of science, something that connects physics, chemistry, and engineering. Such interdisciplinarity offered me an opportunity to test myself in different fields of science; for example, during my bachelor studies I studied organic chemistry by synthesizing polymeric ionic liquids, while during my master’s studies I focused on inorganic sol-gel chemistry and elaboration of ionogels.

Currently, I study at two universities: we have a joint supervision agreement between Tartu and Turku Universities, which leads to one doctoral thesis and two doctoral degrees from the respective universities. Being a part of two universities is fun and much more educational. You get to work with more people, in different laboratories, and as a result learn more. I like to work in Finland. I find that I am super productive there, since I do not have too many distractions while in a foreign country.

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Getting Inspired at the International Summer University

It is a widespread stereotype that summer is a sunny time of rest and joy. Still, there are people who have a constant passion for new knowledge and discoveries. The summer school programmes at the University of Tartu are, no doubt, nice opportunities to dig deeper into a variety of topics that interest you” (Stanislav Mohylnyi, Ukraine).

International Summer University 2016. Photo sent by Sticea Mihaela

UT International Summer University 2016 participants. Photo sent by Sticea Mihaela.

Although a new academic year 2016/2017 has just begun, it is not too late to take a look at what happened at the University of Tartu during the summer.

This summer there were more than 330 students from all over the world taking part of different summer school programmes. This blog post is composed of the impressions of 14 students who were granted a development cooperation scholarship by the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to participate in four different International Summer University programmes:

  • Secure e-Governance (in cooperation with Tallinn University of Technology)
  • Social Dimension: Estonian Business Environment and EU-Russian Relations
  • Social Dimension: EU-Russian Relations and Baltic Regional Security
  • Juri Lotman and the Semiotics of Culture

During those two-week-long programmes, students had the chance to work together with university professors; visit governmental institutions as well as IT and technology enterprises; enjoy the cultural programme; study in the cities of Tartu, Tallinn and Pärnu; gain lots of new international friends; and get to know new cultures.

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Be a Good Friend to Yourself!

Many scientific studies have linked high self-esteem to positive factors, such as good health, happiness, well-being, and success at home and work. That is why lot of countries – with the United States foremost among them – have invested in programs to increase self-esteem for many decades. Thousands of self-help manuals have been published, and they are popular in Estonia as well. Then again, the hoped-for benefits to well-being, health, and success haven’t followed, according to Kerttu Mäger, a master’s student in psychology at the University of Tartu who analyzed self-esteem and self-compassion in her master’s thesis.

Self-esteem by Kiran Foster

Self-esteem, a post-it wall. (Photo: Flickr: Creative Commons/Kiran Foster)

Why is this so? There are many incentives that can boost self-esteem for a little while: a good grade at school, promotion, increased salary (or some other work-related victory), praise, compliments, a large number of Facebook likes, etc. These things can make most people feel better – even to such an extent that students may value the factors increasing self-esteem more than sex, their favorite food, or meeting a best friend. This is according to scientists Bushman and Moeller in their article “Sweets, sex or self-esteem?”.

At the same time, it has not been convincingly proven that interventions aimed at increasing self-esteem can do it in a lasting manner and bring about success at school or in other fields. For example, Roy Baumeister, one of the leading social psychologists, has teamed up with other scientists to research situations where researchers have tried to raise the self-esteem of students who are not doing so well at school. It turned out that those students had worse exam results on average than those whose self-esteem was “left alone”. While it is true that good grades at school and high self-esteem are linked, it could rather be claimed that good grades push our self-esteem higher, not that high self-esteem helps us to get good grades.

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International Internship in Tartu – It’s Possible!

My name is Liina and I’m a business administration student at the University of Tartu. I finished the first year of my studies this June and am currently doing my internship. I got a chance to join Contriber as a marketing intern. What I really like is that Contriber’s mission is to unlock to the potential of tech businesses by building a startup community in Tartu and providing office space, investments, mentoring events, and a lot of useful info. Since I’m from Tartu, it’s no surprise that I’m also completing my internship here, but a fun fact is that I’m working in English. I believe that this shows there are opportunities everywhere for international students also – you just need to find them. I saw the advert in the UT career mail list.


Tartu town hall square. Photo: Google

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Five Reasons To Visit Tartu

The unpredictable summer weather in Estonia often makes people travel to faraway southern countries during their holidays, when in fact there are exciting tourist attractions here to enjoy on your days off should you wish to spend a memorable holiday in Estonia. Ildiko Siimon, Marketing Manager of the newly opened Hektor Design boutique hostel in Tartu, introduces the most attractive locations in the City of Good Thoughts.

  1. Black Dog Garden and Tartu Organic Gardens

Tartu green thumbs actively contribute to urban gardening by creating spaces where people can distance themselves from the city noise and enjoy fresh air, while doing some gardening if they wish. Visitors have planted herbs and other plants in urban gardens such as the Black Dog Garden and Tartu Organic Gardens. “Organic gardens like these attract more and more green-thumbed people, as well as those who crave the countryside idyll and sometimes just want to feel like they are at granny’s, in the middle of flower beds”, says Siimon.

Black Dog Garden. Photo by:

Black Dog Garden. Photo by: (in Estonian) (in Estonian)

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