by Sarah Marten
Kim Talus is a Lecturer in International Energy and Resources at the University College London School of Energy and Resources in Adelaide, Australia (UCL SERAus). He recently moved to Australia from the Institute of International Economic Law at the University of Helsinki in Finland, having worked there as a researcher for four years. Kim is an expert in European Union energy law. He recently talked to Sarah Marten about his new post in Australia, which he started in early 2010.
Why did you choose to work in Australia?
The idea of working in Australia hadn’t even crossed my mind before I saw my current post advertised on the jobs.ac.uk website. However, I had both worked and studied abroad before, in France, Holland and the US, and had really benefitted from that experience.
The job at the UCL SERAus appealed as I felt it would provide me with the opportunity to work as part of a small team and to set up a whole new venture. The position also seemed an excellent match for my previous experience and areas of interest, both in International Energy Law and Geopolitics.
How did you prepare for the move?
When I was offered the job I was nearing the end of my PhD, so I did as much as I could to finish this off before leaving. I am married with two young daughters, and we decided that I would spend the first six months working in Australia on my own, with my family joining me later on. This was quite a difficult decision, but my wife supported me in this as we all saw the chance to work in Australia as a great adventure for our family. My children are very excited at the prospect of moving here, even though it will be winter when they finally arrive.
My new employer, UCL provided great support during the transition to the post in Australia, which included everything from financial help with relocation to assistance with obtaining my visa.
UCL also provided me with information about some accommodation websites, which enabled me to start looking for suitable accommodation before leaving Finland.
How did the visa process go?
Applying for a visa includes completion of a lengthy and detailed form, although I was fortunate in that UCL helped me with this. I have been granted a temporary visa which will last for four years, after which we might apply for permanent residence.
What was it like in the first few days/weeks?
I checked into a hotel in Adelaide as soon as I arrived, but only stayed there for two days before finding a small studio flat to rent. UCL staff based in Adelaide helped me with the process of viewing potential properties. In comparison to Helsinki rented accommodation is reasonably-priced, and I was fortunate to find somewhere that is just a ten minute walk from UCL SERAus in downtown Adelaide.
The team here at UCL SERAus have given me a tremendous welcome – everyone has been so friendly and this has made it easy for me to settle here, despite the fact that my family are still on the other side of the world. Using Skype means that I can keep in regular touch, and can even play games like online chess with my young daughters.
My colleagues have also been very supportive and allowed me to complete my previous commitments, which include writing papers and concluding the final aspects of my PhD.
Adelaide is a lovely place to live, although it is really too early to decide whether we will want to live here permanently. Once my family join me in Australia I expect to have more of an idea about our long-term future plans.
What is the social life like?
I am really enjoying the social life here at UCL SERAus, which for me includes relaxing after work with the new friends I have made at the University. In my spare time I sometimes play football and have also visited local beaches and vineyards. However, as this is a new job and my family have yet to join me, I have also made the most of this opportunity to get on top of the work, which has frequently involved working seven days a week.
What sort of work are you engaged in?
I will be undertaking various research programmes whilst in Australia. One theme is issues in Australian energy and the regulation of different forms of energy, including oil, electricity, and natural gas. I will also be looking at Australian and international laws relating to energy.
I am also working on some projects relating to EU energy law. At present Australia does not generate nuclear power, but even if the situation does not change, it is something that we will want to consider, given the need to reduce green house gases. I have written many papers on this topic, as Finland has an active nuclear energy programme.
Teaching students on two courses as part of the UCL SERAus MSc programme – International law of Energy and Resources, and Geopolitics of Energy and Resources is the other main part of my new job. I have had previous experience of lecturing, although this has mainly been to lawyers rather than a mixed group of students with backgrounds in engineering, international relations or geology.
My teaching is organised into one intensive week of teaching each term, which means that I will spend eight hours a day teaching, five days a week. This has involved a great deal of preparation, including writing modules which I started as soon as I arrived in Australia. I was given a general outline to indicate the overall requirements, but from there I spent a lot of time in meetings discussing and planning course content and structure.
Do you have a preference for teaching or research?
I really enjoy both parts of my work, and since both are very different it is hard to compare them. There are so many different aspects to this job, and that really adds to my enjoyment. I consider myself to be a researcher first and foremost, but teaching is also important and is something I find very satisfying.
How is the Higher Education sector different in Australia?
Back in Helsinki the work at the university is a bit different in the sense that we at UCL SERAus are much more student-oriented with a stronger emphasis on teaching.
Higher education in Australia is expensive, and the student is seen as the customer, so that staff are encouraged to provide the students with the best experience possible. This means that careful and detailed planning are all part of the process, along with regular evaluation. We are an integral part of University College London, so our procedures are aligned with those in the UK.
What are the students like in Australia?
Our students here at UCL SERAus come from all over the world, including Papua New Guinea, Russia and the US. They are really quite different to the students I have worked with before in Helsinki, Germany or the US, mostly because they tend to have extensive industry experience. Their ages span mid twenties to mid fifties and we work in small teaching groups of around 15 students, thus providing ample opportunity for in-depth class discussions.
The fact that our international students have different views on various issues makes for lively classroom debate. I have found that the students bring examples from their own countries, and we all learn from one another. Since arriving here I have certainly learnt at great deal!
Are there any differences in your academic discipline in Australia?
International perspectives in energy are top of the agenda at UCL SERAus, although clearly we are also looking closely at Australian issues. This is important as our qualifications are aimed at students from all over the world, including the Middle East, Africa and the US. Back in Helsinki the approach was more European, and I have observed a noticeable difference in Australia.
My other area of work is Geopolitics, which in this context examines the relationship between different countries in the fields of energy, and the role of energy in international relations. This aspect of my academic work fits well with the international focus predominant at UCL SERAus.
I have already written some book chapters on the basics of international energy, and have extended my knowledge of Geopolitics since arriving here. I am intending to ensure that my own research in Australia also further develops my expertise in this field.
How will the experience of teaching in Australia benefit your career?
Australia is what is known as a Common Law country, as opposed to the Civil Law operational in the Continental EU. Gaining experience in this legal system is a great advantage. I am also delighted to be working for UCL – a highly prestigious institution with a world-wide reputation.
What was the best moment so far?
I have really enjoyed the whole experience of moving to Australia and working with my new colleagues, who have been very friendly and supportive. The academic facilities are superb – we are based in a historical building which used to be government offices and has undergone a complete refurbishment to the highest standards. The finished result is stunning, with lots of glass doors and displays of modern art to create a very attractive working environment.
Because my family are still in Helsinki I have often been working seven days a week, but I am also really enjoying my time in Adelaide.
What was the worst moment?
The worst part for me has been being away from my wife and children, and of course I am missing them all hugely. I have made the most of every opportunity to keep in touch, and it won’t be long before they join me here in Australia to start our new life together.
Have you got any advice for other academics planning to work overseas?
If you get the opportunity to work overseas then take it as this will open your eyes and you will see things from a fresh new international perspective. Hurdles such as language barriers can be overcome and if you make the effort you will pick up the new language. When I went to France with Erasmus as a student I did not speak any French, but was determined to learn once in the country. English was not a problem for me, as I had spent many years at school learning the language.
Kim Talus has a master’s degree in Law (LLM) from the University of Helsinki, which he completed following a mandatory year in the Finish military and a year studying physical education and health sciences. Part of Kim’s law degree included two years spent studying in France, as part of an Erasmus programme. After graduating Kim worked as an Associate Lawyer for a law firm in Helsinki, and then became a Legal Officer for the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, working on European Union litigation.
Kim then worked as a researcher at the Institute of International Economic Law (University of Helsinki), conducting research into European Union energy law.
Kim is the Editor-in-Chief for Oil, Gas and Energy Law Intelligence (OGEL) and serves on the Editorial Committee of TDM (Transnational Dispute Management. He is also a member of several professional and academic bodies including the International Bar Association (IBA) and the Energy Law Research Forum (ELRF). Kim also lectures at the University of Helsinki, University of Bonn and University of Houston.