A growing need for professionals educated to analyze societies, identities and cultures
For those interested in our rapidly changing and increasingly diverse societies, the Master’s Programme in Contemporary Societies at the University of Helsinki provides a variety of fields, topics, and phenomena to study.
Studies in Contemporary Societies give a solid basis for work and research

Emma De Carvalho, a second-year Contemporary Societies student, discusses what made her choose the programme, the pros and challenges, and student life in Finland. Our International Master's Programmes have one intake per academic year. You can only submit your application during the application period. The application period for studies starting in autumn 2022 is from 1 Dec 2021 to 5 Jan 2022.

Who are you and what do you study?

I’m Emma, I was born in Finland and I’ve lived abroad for most of my life. I’m currently a student in the Master's Programme in Contemporary Societies at the University of Helsinki. My study track is Sociology.

Why did you choose to study Contemporary Societies in Finland? What have you been studying before?

My undergraduate degree was in Sociology. I’ve always been very interested in learning about societies, identities, and cultures, which is why I chose to pursue my Master’s degree in this field as well. I wanted to attend a program that would allow me to move between subjects and fields of study and explore my different interests.

The type of work I want to pursue is very relevant to this degree as well. For me to properly research (and work in the fields of) journalism, arts, and culture, it is very necessary to have a grasp on how societies function as a whole. There’s a lot of synergy between all of my courses, and with time I’ve come to realise that everything I study is connected. My studies are predominantly theoretical, but this has given me a solid basis for my research and work.

The mix of theoretical and empirical courses

What is the special thing about studying Contemporary Societies?

This programme is quite flexible because it allows for you to build your degree and choose what types of courses you want to take. I’ve been studying a wide range of topics, including film, migration, gender, environmental anthropology, and political sociology. I just started a law-based course this week, which is very new to me!

The degree also gives you a solid basis for doing research, as you will attend multiple courses on research methodologies and skills. I have had a mix of theoretical and empirical courses over the past year and a half, and they’ve supported each other very well.

Being able to meet so many people throughout the degree has been amazing! It’s always fascinating to exchange ideas and experiences with other students in class and to be able to engage with other perspectives and backgrounds outside of Sociology. Something I would advise for anyone starting the program is to create connections with your professors and teachers. Everyone in the department is working on such interesting projects, and they’re usually very excited to talk about their research and their work with students. Being able to learn from them in a more sustained way has been very fulfilling.

What do you find the most challenging about your studies?

Since most courses last for one period (which is roughly 6 weeks), it can be a challenge to immerse yourself very deeply into a specific topic. Of course, you have the option to take similar courses, or to take multiple courses by the same professors and teachers. But if you want to jump around like me, then you need to stay on top of your readings and coursework!

One large difference I’ve noticed between the UK and Finland is the emphasis on lecture journals here. I was not accustomed to being asked to reflect this deeply on my learning process. The lecture journals push you to think through what and how you are learning, and how your studies relate to your everyday life and society. It was a challenge to get a feel for how to do this, but it has helped me process the course material much better than I would have otherwise.

What does a typical day studying look like?

I usually study at home in the mornings, and then head off to campus in the afternoons. As more buildings have opened up this year, I’ve found a few study places outside the library. The Soc&Kom (Swedish School of Social Science) building on Snellmaninkatu is one I’ve been going to recently - highly recommend it!

In the evenings I try to get off my devices and do something relaxing. Sometimes I just make tea and paint, or listen to music and take a walk by the sea. I’m also very lucky to live close to family and friends, so it’s been lovely to be able to spend time with people throughout the week.

The university and the city has great facilities for students

What would you say to students who are wondering whether the Master’s Programme in Contemporary Societies is right for them?

In terms of the academic content, I would suggest you go through the course options and degree structure to make sure the topics we cover are of interest to you. You should also be prepared to read a variety of articles and chapters every week and be ready to do independent research. In this degree, most courses are assessed by writing a final essay or doing a presentation. The learning diaries are also a main part of the courses. Think about whether this learning method works for you.

In addition to that, I suggest familiarising yourself with the current research happening in the department. Master’s degrees start to be much more research-oriented than undergraduate degrees, so there must be figures in the department who you are inspired by and want to interact with, and projects and research that you want to follow.

In general, it’s important to take classes that interest you and put time into the things you are passionate about both in and outside this degree. In my experience, a massive part of your time at uni is going to depend on who you meet and spend time with. In this sense, the degree itself is very important, but so is your life outside of your studies.

How do you feel about Finland and Helsinki as a place to study?

Moving back to Helsinki as a student has been strange to me because I remember this city from how it was back in the early 2000s. The university has great facilities that are open for students to use. Places like the Oodi library are also fantastic for finding new resources or a place to study. 

There’s a lot of activities that you can do outside of your studies as well. Many smaller theatres and galleries organise free events and activities. I also have to recommend the Arkadia International bookshop in Töölö, and Rosebud books in Kruununhaka (very close to the main campus). Both places have a great selection, especially of books in English, and the folks who run the bookshops are always very kind and helpful.

Another great aspect of studying in Helsinki is that you are always close to nature and the sea. You can take a ferry to different islands off the southern coast and have a hike there, or get to Seurasaari and Lammassaari by public transport. It’s inspiring to be so close to these places.

What are your near-future plans?

I have some exciting work coming up next year that I’m really looking forward to! My Master’s thesis is going to be the main focus of my studies next year, and I’m looking forward to working on that as well.

Apply to the programme

In the Master's Programme in Contemporary Societies, you can choose from six major subjects:

  • Global Development Studies
  • Social and Cultural Anthropology
  • Social and Public Policy
  • Social Data Science
  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology

You also study themes like Data and Society, Ethnic Relations and Migration, Mind and Society, Socio-Cultural Shifts and Sources of Inequalities.

The application period for studies starting in autumn 2022 starts on 1 Dec 2021 at 08:00 (UCT+2) and ends on 5 Jan 2022 at 15:00 (UCT+2).

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