"My studies in plant biology give me the opportunity to tackle global challenges"

The University of Helsinki offers a comprehensive master’s programme in plant biology where you can combine your studies with research that has the potential to change the world. We talked to Quan Zhou and Skylar Burg from the Master’s Programme in Integrative Plant Sciences about their experiences in the programme. 

Quan Zhou moved from China to Finland to begin his studies at the University of Helsinki two years ago and will graduate soon. Skylar Burg, originally from Minnesota, United States, has studied in Helsinki for a year. Both of them followed their passion for plant biology to the Master’s Programme in Integrative Plant Sciences.

Who is the Master’s Programme in Integrative Plant Sciences for?

Quan Zhou: “I think the programme is suitable for a broad range of people. However, I think it is especially useful for someone who wants to learn how scientific research is done. The programme teaches you the basics, and there are a lot of opportunities to contribute to real research in plant biology.”

Skylar Burg: “The programme is for people who want a great, comprehensive education in plant biology that is also accessible financially. It is for people who want to go out of their comfort zone and who are interested in a wide range of topics. The programme is versatile and has a lot of freedom, so you can customise it to suit your needs.”

What is it like to study in the Master’s Programme in Integrative Plant Sciences?

Zhou: “I think the programme is well-rounded. The lecture courses teach you the theory, which you get to apply in the lab and field. You can also specialise in the topics that interest you the most. I am especially interested in plant molecular biology and have found that the programme suits my needs well. There is a lot of variation in courses in terms of teaching methods. There are a lot of lecture courses, but also lab and field courses. The teaching groups are usually quite small, so you get to know people easily.”  

Burg: “I specialise in plants and environmental change and taxonomy and systematics. There is a lot of practical learning, and the flexibility of the programme allows you to learn from a diverse range of topics. For example, you can choose a third of the credits in your degree from other programmes, if you want. The academic culture is very laid back, and there are a lot of opportunities to network and to talk to professionals in different fields. The teachers in the programme are very accommodating. Although they push you to do the best that you can, the amount of work is not overwhelming, and there is never any work that feels unnecessary or irrelevant.”

What kind of career opportunities does the programme open?

Zhou: “The programme offers a broad range of opportunities – for example, you could work as an expert in companies or organisations. Personally, I am interested in becoming a researcher. I am finishing up my master’s thesis on plant stress at the moment, and have already been offered a PhD position at the University of Helsinki. My dream is to use genetic development to make crops more productive in the future. It would bring significant solutions for areas suffering from famine.”

Burg: “I think that the programme is especially great if you want to be a researcher like I do. I am writing my master’s thesis as part of a larger study. I am looking at the effects of climate change on a plant that grows on the Åland Islands. I will be involved in publishing a research paper on the project, which is great for my career. The programme allows you to participate in research projects, and the teachers in the programme want to help you to publish work.”

“I enjoy studying in Finland so much that I would like to do my PhD here. There are a lot of groups that I would like to work in. I am interested in topics related to plants and climate change. It would be especially interesting to do research on the Arctic. I would like to use my skills to study the effects of climate change and communicate it to people both inside and outside the scientific community. Climate change is such an important issue, but a lot of people don’t understand it.”

What are the strengths of the programme? 

Burg: “The programme offers a range of opportunities. You get to work with professors on papers, meet international students and people and work with organisations. In other places such as the U.S., you have to pay a significant amount of money to get a graduate degree. Here, you can get a scholarship and, in the best-case scenario, study for free. The facilities are excellent, and the teachers provide guidance and attention. Overall, the Master’s Programme in Integrative Plant Sciences is an excellent and affordable plant biology programme.”

Zhou: “I think the staff at the programme support your learning. The teachers are really nice, and they are always willing to answer your questions. I am especially impressed with the supervisors of my master’s thesis, who have given me a lot of help and often ask what they can do for me. Everyone is passionate about their research, but also very approachable.”

What is it like to live and study in Helsinki?

Burg: “I think Finland is the best country you can go to get a good accessible education. The healthcare system is great, the university restaurant UniCafe offers cheap meals, and the public transportation in Helsinki is good. At the University of Helsinki, there are a lot of different organisations that arrange parties and other events, so it is easy to meet people. The university has a big international community and offers a really good orientation for international students. In fact, I am currently living with friends that I have met at university. One of my roommates was in my tutoring group!”

Zhou: “I love living in Finland. I mostly spend time with people I have met in lectures. Some of them are international students, some are from Finland. We are a close-knit group. We often go to bars in the city centre or have barbecues. We also train at the university gym UniSport together.” 

Learn more about the Master's Programme in Integrative Plant Sciences.

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Master’s Programme in Integrative Plant Sciences 

The Master’s Programme in Integrative Plant Sciences is a joint programme of the Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences and the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, which ensures an exceptionally comprehensive curriculum. You will be able to study the diversity of wild and cultivated plants from the Arctic to the Tropics, as well as plant functions from the molecular level, such as ontogeny and regulation of growth and differentiation, to the ecosystem level. 

Learn more about the Master’s Programme in Integrative Plant Sciences.

Learn more about the admissions at the University of Helsinki. 

Interested in studying at the University of Helsinki? Sign up for the Admissions Newsletter.