We talked to two former students about their experiences, Fabio Tuccillo and Aino Siitonen. The degree opens plenty of other career paths in addition to a research career. Graduates can work, for example, as specialists in the food industry, legislation or public health organisations. Or become an entrepreneur and develop their own product ideas.
What was it like to study in the Food Sciences programme?
Fabio: The studies had the perfect balance between practical work and theoretical courses. Some courses had essays, and some included group work. The courses were well organised. I really liked the interaction between students and teachers during the classes. Professors, teachers, and researchers were very welcoming to students, and it was easy to find opportunities for research. I liked the fact that the studies include a lot of freedom. The downside is that there are so many interesting courses that you may have to compromise because the interesting courses can overlap.
Aino: It was very interesting. It was possible to go in-depth into topics that interested you. I’d found what interested me the most, so I could tailor my studies around that. There was more of an emphasis on research in all the courses compared to my bachelor’s studies. In terms of course types, the degree had slightly more lectures than lab courses. However, if labs are your thing, you can emphasise those when deciding on your thesis topic. That is what I did.
What kind of programme-related work experience have you had?
Fabio: Only research. This is what I want to do in my life. I worked as a research assistant during my master’s studies. I am halfway through with my PhD.
Aino: I used to compete professionally in the pole vault, so I was not able to work during the summers as I was competing. I did, however, work as a research assistant after my graduation. I got that opportunity just by asking my thesis supervisors about opportunities. That experience strengthened my decision to go for a PhD.
Did you know from the beginning what you wanted to do after graduation?
Fabio: I knew I wanted to do a PhD, and I chose this programme for the strong research orientation. The main motivation to do research? It gives meaning to my life. I’m contributing to something bigger than myself and having an impact on the world. It’s also a way to be remembered, and it feels good to help others: researchers and future generations. I work with grains and grain-based products and do research to enable a more environmentally sustainable diet. My research is on pulses’ flavour, especially faba bean, and how bioprocessing can improve the taste. Sensory and consumer sciences are my main fields of interest, so I feel very lucky to carry out research on such topics.
Aino: Back in upper secondary school, I was interested in chemistry and health sciences. That’s how I found food sciences. I studied food chemistry as my major. I didn’t have a clear idea for my career, and it changed along the way just by trying out different things. But from the beginning of my studies, I knew this was the right programme for me. PhD only came later. I’ve always been curious and willing to learn. I’m doing my PhD in pulses and am interested in plant-based products. We need solutions for sustainable food production and working with those topics is exciting. I am doing research on a topic that is in line with my values: sustainability and health. My PhD topic is legume foods as sources of B vitamins.
Who is the programme and career opportunities suited for?
Fabio: I’m originally from the south of Italy. I moved to Finland in August 2019 to study in the Food Sciences Master’s Programme. I’d applied to several master’s programs, but I chose the University of Helsinki because of the research emphasis and the fact that tuition is free of charge for EU students. I looked in detail at the studies and liked what I saw. I was also familiar with the language and the culture. I was an exchange student in Finland during high school, living in a very small village called Lamu in Northern Ostrobothnia.
Aino: I think this fits many types of people who are interested in food. You can tailor your studies quite independently. The studies combine the practical and theoretical. When starting my degree studies, I briefly considered nutrition. I quickly discovered that food sciences is the right field for me.
How has the transition from student life to work life been?
Fabio: When you move from master’s studies to PhD, you will have more responsibilities. Your voice is heard even more as a doctoral researcher. As a result, you are more secure and self-confident and can enjoy the freedom of doing research on something that you are passionate about.
Aino: There is a significant change from being a master’s student to being a PhD researcher. I’m more focused on research, which feels and is work – but in a good way. I also finished my competitive sports career as I started my PhD. Research has helped me with the transition as I now have another topic to focus on.
Which part of your studies or student life has helped you the most in your career?
Fabio: I made great contacts within the academic context, and it was helpful to know them before starting my PhD studies. I recommend that you start your networking as soon as possible.
Aino: Just the fact that I could concentrate on topics that really interested me and that the studies were so varied. Networks are important. I wasn’t active in any student organisation but met people by attending courses and events. I took several food safety courses even though studying something else might have been more beneficial. But then again, I don’t think you should worry too much. I believe you must follow your heart and go with what tickles your curiosity.
What are your plans for the future?
Fabio: I want to continue to a postdoc position at the University of Helsinki. I like the environment, and the people are top researchers willing to share their knowledge. They challenge you, and you can challenge them back. I can see myself here in the future as well.
Aino: I’m at the beginning of my research, which will be my path for the next four years. Then I’m not yet sure. I am interested in the private sector, but it may well be that I continue with research. In that case, I would like to have a research-related position, for instance, in product development.
Why did you choose to work in Finland, Fabio?
Fabio: I like Finland, and I want to stay here. It’s a very safe country and has many opportunities for everyone. I think Finland has a great food culture too. Finns are a bit shy about it and don’t want to brag, but I think there’s no reason not to. As an international student, come here with an open mind and a mindset of acceptance and adapt the best you can. And remember to share your own culture; people appreciate that as well.