“I am learning to use microbiology to tackle global problems”

At the University of Helsinki, you can learn from and work with accomplished microbiology researchers. We talked to Sally Chesnut, a student in the Master’s Programme in Microbiology and Microbial Biotechnology, about her studies and life in Finland.

Who is the Master’s Programme in Microbiology and Microbial Biotechnology for?

"I think that students from a variety of backgrounds would enjoy and excel at the programme. I, for example, have a bachelor’s degree in global disease biology. The programme covers a wide range of topics, so if you have a background in science and are interested in microbiology, I think the programme could be a good fit for you.

One of the best things about the programme is that you can customise it to suit your needs. I am particularly interested in medical microbiology, so I focus on that, but I have also included other studies in my degree, such as courses in the Finnish language."

What is the most inspiring thing about your studies?

"It is especially inspiring that our teachers are also accomplished researchers in the field. When they are teaching, they often include their research and the papers that they have written. There are many opportunities for students to do research – for example, if you want to do a lab internship, you can ask a teacher if they have space in their lab.

I am doing my master’s thesis in the lab of one of the lecturers, Minna Poranen. My thesis is about bacteriophages, which are viruses that infect bacteria. If we can understand how a virus behaves, we could potentially utilise that information for controlling bacterial infections. I received funding, so I can work on my thesis on a monthly salary."

Why do we need experts in Microbiology and Microbial Biotechnology?

"The Covid-19 pandemic demonstrates why we need experts in microbiology. We can develop new technologies to tackle global problems, including public health issues, world hunger, and climate change. After graduating, I would love to work in a medical biotechnology company, or something else that is healthcare-related."

What is it like to study and live in Helsinki?

"I have had great opportunities to participate in research projects also outside my everyday studies. I have been working as part of a project where we built an ingestible biosensor that measures metabolites produced by your gut microbiome. The idea is to measure the concentrations of different molecules that can affect people’s mental health.

In my free time, I like to spend time in nature. I have gone mushroom and berry picking with my friends in the national parks near Helsinki. I think that Finnish summer is something that everyone should experience at least once! The sun doesn’t set at night, so you can do lots of things in the evenings. I once rowed on a boat on a lake in the middle of the night in the summer – the scene was surreal."

Studying in the programme
About the programme

In the Master's Programme in Microbiology and Microbial Biotechnology, you learn about microbes and their biotechnological applications as well as what research techniques are used to study viruses, bacteria and other microbes.

The studies include topics like the application of microbiological knowledge, biotechnology and bioinformatics, functional principles of microbial cells and communities, research methods in microbiology and solving microbiological problems.