Alumni and student stories

Meet students, graduates and staff of the Master's Programme in Environmental Change and Global Sustainability (ECGS) and learn what they think about the programme, studies and life in Helsinki.
Voices for sustainability

What is sustainability? We often think it is only about ecological, social or economic sustainability ­– but the reality is much more diverse. 

To reach a better understanding of the concept, five ECGS students and future experts in sustainability science answer five questions.

"Everything in my studies related in some way to sustainability"

Thomas Karlsson chose the Master's Programme in Environmental Change and Global Sustainability because he wanted to get an understanding of environmental issues from different perspectives. 

One of the best parts of his studies was also getting inspired by new ways of thinking and learning about sustainability in unexpected ways.  

Thomas graduated in 2022.

The interview was conducted in 2021.


Who are you and what do you study at the University of Helsinki?

My name is Thomas and I study in the Master's Programme in Environmental Change and Global Sustainability (ECGS).

Why did you choose this particular programme?

I chose the programme because I wanted to get an understanding of environmental issues from different perspectives. During my bachelor's, I focused on studies in environmental chemistry, for example about the kinds of chemicals that are released from wastewater into the environment. And while I found that interesting to work with, I also wanted to expand my understanding of sustainability focusing more on the drivers of environmental problems. That is why I was intrigued by the nuanced approach to sustainability, which the ECGS programme gives, and which I think is essential to find solutions and move towards sustainability.

What has been the best part of your studies so far?

The best part of my studies so far has been getting inspired by new ways of thinking and learning about sustainability in ways that I did not expect. This is very much thanks to some amazing teachers who have inspired me and had a huge impact on what I am interested in working with. For example, I have been fascinated by courses which take a social science approach to sustainability, which was new for me in the beginning but has now become the main focus of my studies.

How is sustainability typically shown in the content of your studies, how is it reflected in your studies in practice? 

Everything in my studies relates in some way to sustainability. Sometimes directly, like learning about the concept of sustainability itself – and other times more indirectly in the kinds of questions that I work with, which often have to do with how societies can become more sustainable. In that way, sustainability permeates my studies and the questions that I am engaged with, also because it is the topic that I am personally most interested in working with, so I tend to see it no matter where I look. 

For example, I had a course where I wrote an essay about colonising Mars, which is a topic that I find fascinating. In the essay, I wrote about how the idea of colonising Mars is also about the situation on Earth and the vision for sustainability here. In that way, I made it about sustainability, even though that is not an obvious angle for that specific topic.

Name a particularly fun, challenging or memorable course.

I enjoyed the course Communication and Sustainable Development, where I was presented with new and exciting ways to think about sustainability and environmental issues. The course focuses a lot on how sustainability is understood, and to learn about this we used completely different kinds of materials than I was used to. For example, we watched the movie Snowpiercer and analysed how it frames the environmental crisis, which I found amazingly fun and interesting, and it opened up a new world for me in terms of how to think about sustainability.

What is it like to study and live in Helsinki, the capital of Finland? 

I enjoy studying and living in Helsinki. Of course, things have been very different during the last couple of years because of COVID-19, and I have missed the social life that comes with going to the campus to study and having lectures in person. But even so, I have still enjoyed the facilities on campus, for example, the student cantina which is a great place to have a cheap lunch and hang out with friends from the studies. And I think Helsinki is a nice city to live in, not least because there are some great outdoor possibilities, for example climbing which is something I like to do.

What are your thoughts on career possibilities, what are you planning to do after graduating?

I am planning to continue with doing a PhD. I have been applying for funding and am currently waiting for responses. And if I don’t get funding this time around, I will continue and apply next time it is possible.

Do you have any tips for students considering applying to the University of Helsinki?

My best tip would be to check out the possibilities for studying and living in Helsinki and see if some of it gets you dreaming. For me, it was a very difficult decision to make, whether to move to Helsinki or not – and I think what finally helped me decide was the feeling that there was an adventure waiting for me if I went. And I think that is a good starting point, having that inspiration to go and seek out something new.

What does sustainability mean for you?

Sustainability is a tricky concept for me. It is often used in ways that I am not on board with, especially when it is simplified to say that something is “sustainable” in any circumstances. I think sustainability is a very complex thing, more like an ideal that we as a society can strive towards and which requires some profound changes both in the structure of societies and in how we think.

Your tips for anyone to be more sustainable?

I think it is important to be strategic about how to reach sustainability and consider where changes can be made that can have a substantial effect. Focus is often on what we can do as individuals, but to me, it seems more beneficial to look at how we can act together and push for more structural changes, which I see as the way forward. So my tip would be to think about what sustainability would look like and where the possibilities for changes are that can take us there.

"Multidisciplinary nature of studies brings together knowledge"

Ville-Pekka Niskanen wanted to develop his expertise in environmental and sustainability sciences as there is a growing need for specialists who can assist with allocating our limited resources expediently.

“From the perspective of the future, it is crucial to train experts with varied competence and ability to apply what they have learnt. Merely reporting on the state of the world is not enough; we must also know how to correctly allocate our limited resources.”

Ville-Pekka graduated in 2021.

Meet our staff and lecturers

Did you know that in addition to all previous University of Helsinki degree and exchange students also our staff are our alumni? What do they have to say about studying and learning? 

UH student experiences from other fields

The University of Helsinki offers multidisciplinary study options across 11 faculties. Studying and cooperation across the fields are highly encouraged.

Would you like to know what students from other degree programmes and academic disciplines think about their studies and life in Helsinki?

More about the programme