Kirsti (Kiti) Aaltonen (born in 1945) died of bile duct cancer in February 2021. From 1989 to 1998, Kiti served as the first head of administration of the Institute of Biotechnology, an independent institute at the University of Helsinki. The head of administration was also the deputy director of the Institute.
Kiti herself said on many occasions that these were the most interesting years of her professional life. First encounters with Kiti were already memorable. She exuded interest in and respect toward science and researchers, and she had a rare ability to listen to others.
The position of head of administration was a new one in the academic institution, and time-consuming. Kiti was responsible for administration as a whole, as well as a range of other duties. The door to her office was always open, and she provided significant assistance to researchers, especially junior group leaders and international researchers who were only learning the ways of Finland and the University. When necessary, Kiti could be stern, a good trait from the perspective of the director of the Institute, particularly in budget negotiations.
At the time, Finnish universities and research were becoming increasingly international in nature, and funding for science grew at an unprecedented rate. In many ways, the Institute of Biotechnology was the most international institute of the University of Helsinki. The Institute also developed new kinds of research administration activities, and was the first in Finland to implement international assessments of research and research groups carried out at regular intervals. New also to the administration was the fact that all research director and group leader positions, the director included, were fixed-term vacancies filled through international calls for applications.
Kiti had a big impact on the Institute evolving into a top-level international research institution. Kiti was extremely interested in new administrative models, in whose development she was involved at the Institute, with many of them adopted permanently for use. In this regard, Kiti’s efforts were groundbreaking. She greatly contributed to the Institute’s rapid growth right from the start in the 1990s, and to the administrative operations comprehensively supporting the management of a new kind of institute. For instance, a total of five Academy of Finland Centres of Excellence were active at the Institute in 2000.
In Kiti, we have lost an educated and captivating person, and a loyal friend.
Mart Saarma, research director, director of the Institute of Biotechnology 1990–2007
Arto Halinen, head of administration at the Institute of Biotechnology 1999–2013