“Economics can help to understand our complex world”

The Master's Programme in Economics at the University of Helsinki is social-science oriented and more mathematical and quantitative than at other Finnish universities. Saara Haikonen and Simon Zuerneck share their experiences of the programme’s research track.

What first drew you to the field of economics? 

Saara Haikonen: “I completed my bachelor’s degree in Sweden and aimed to pursue my studies in political science, but I then grew more interested in quantitative methods. I found that economics is a good way to combine social sciences with mathematical and statistical methods. I then decided to change my major to economics and have been happy with my choice.”

Simon Zuerneck: “After high school and a year of voluntary service, I started studying Middle Eastern studies and economics in Germany. During my studies it became quite clear to me that I want to concentrate on economic research. I was fascinated by the way in which economic models can be used to understand our rather complex world.”

How did you decide to apply to the Master’s Programme in Economics? 

Saara Haikonen: “I was interested in research, and this programme seemed challenging enough. At the University of Helsinki, economics is a part of the Faculty of Social Sciences, and you can choose courses also from the Faculty’s other disciplines. This was a very good opportunity for me to broaden my skills in social sciences.”

Simon Zuerneck: “I have always wanted to live in the Nordic countries. I compared several master’s programmes in the Nordic countries, and this programme felt unique, as it offers the opportunity to do PhD level courses as part of the master’s programme. I didn’t find many other study programmes that offered such a distinguished path to doctoral studies.” 

You can choose courses also from the Faculty’s other disciplines. This was a very good opportunity for me to broaden my skills in social sciences.

How has your understanding of economics evolved during your studies?

Saara Haikonen: “The programme is tightly linked to research. Not only did I develop my theoretical skills but also got to see what kind of research economists can do in practice by meeting many researchers. Same courses are offered for both research master’s students and doctoral researchers.”

Simon Zuerneck: “My studies have been especially useful for enhancing my skills in mathematics and in understanding difficult models used in economic research. The research track can be tough, but it is worth it at the end.”

In your opinion, what is the importance of economics in addressing contemporary global challenges?

Saara Haikonen: “Economics is a versatile discipline: it is a social science that demands quantitative skills and offers the opportunity to work with large amounts of data. It is also a fruitful environment for discussion, as research is conducted in many different topics.” 

Simon Zuerneck: “There are limited resources available in society, and it is important to distribute them in the most efficient but of course also fair way. For me this is what economics is all about. Regarding many topics it makes sense to think about it also from an economical point of view. For example, how can fossil fuels be used most efficiently? Or when we talk about Finland as the world’s happiest country, how do we – and should we even – quantify happiness?”

What's it like to be an economics student at the University of Helsinki? 

Saara Haikonen: “I really enjoyed my time in the Master’s programme. We were a close-knit group of students – we took the same courses together and had a good team spirit. There are many different topics, seminars and courses to choose from in the study programme. I also think that the cooperation between the University of Helsinki, Aalto University and Hanken School of Economics is useful and something that stands out.”

Simon Zuerneck: “I think it is easy to be a student in Finland. Going to Sweden or Denmark might have been an easier choice for me regarding the language, but after a couple of weeks I found my group of Finnish friends. The University of Helsinki also offers Finnish courses for foreigners. I took an entry level course myself and found it useful. I also love to use the University premises – for example, I have started playing badminton at UniSport.”