Segregation and water shortage are just some defining examples of global challenges that have an effect on millions of people. Geography is one of the fields in the frontline developing solutions to this type of global challenges. In addition, geography has a direct link to national decision-making.
“For example, in our department, research on segregation and the changing relationships between nation states and cities have affected many national policies”, Venla Bernelius says.
Bernelius is an award-winning Assistant Professor (tenure track) in Urban Geography. She has been chosen as the “Best female lecturer” twice by MaO Ry, an association for Geography students at the University of Helsinki. Her main academic interests have been to understand socio-spatial development in cities, and the way it impacts the society and its institutions.
However, like so many others, she had no clue what she wanted to do with her life when she was still in high school.
”I wanted to study absolutely everything. The interesting thing was simply the whole world! Then I suddenly realised that Geography is the perfect solution. It is the discipline that tries to understand how the world works, the discipline of everything happening in place and space”.
Now Bernelius is teaching in the Master’s Programme in Geography, one of the most successful Master’s programmes at the University of Helsinki. It holds the 42nd place in the 2018 Shanghai ranking and ranks among the world's top 50 in the 2018 QS World University Ranking by Subject.
”Michael Palin once said that geographers will be the ones to save the world, and I couldn't agree more!”
Wonderful home base for exploring science
At the University of Helsinki, the Master’s programme in Geography is divided into three study tracks: (1) physical geography, (2) urban and human geography & spatial planning and (3) geoinformatics. Students can also take courses from the Master’s Programme in Urban Studies & Planning, a joint programme of the University of Helsinki and Aalto University.
”Our Master’s programme in Geography is a rich combination of humanities, social studies and natural sciences. Although the studies are differentiated by the choice of specialisation within geography, the wider perspective is always present. The broad perspective of the discipline is one of the keys to understand complex challenges, where both natural sciences and societal questions play a part,” Bernelius explains.
The Geography unit at the University of Helsinki, the biggest in Finland, represents a rich variety of research topics in human and physical geography.
”The research spans from climate change and arctic microbes to housing preferences and segregation in European metropolises. It is a wonderful home base for exploring science and the world outside”.
For example, most Bernelius’ own work focuses on segregation and schools. However, she has also studied other themes such as trust and solidarity in neighbourhoods and the housing preferences of highly skilled immigrants in Helsinki.
Studies in Geography at the University of Helsinki combine theoretical analysis with hands-on fieldwork. The teaching methods include lectures, methods courses, field trips and collaborative courses with for example municipalities and companies.
“The studies address current issues and many hot topics. Our researchers and students are in the media frequently presenting their research and giving expert opinions”.
According to Bernelius, the Master’s Programme in Geography is closely connected with the geography research groups.
“There are plenty of interesting research groups in the department and students have the possibility to participate in ongoing research early on in their studies. Many of the groups also offer thesis subjects and collaborate with students at all stages of their studies”.
Helsinki – a real-life laboratory for learning
The versatile approach prepares students well into the working life providing broad networks within and outside academia. The students are offered both practical and theoretical tools for exploring various options before graduation and can after graduating find themselves working in for example research, teaching or regional and urban planning.
“One of the best things about geography is that it is a truly multidisciplinary approach in itself. You get a broad understanding of the surrounding world and are tuned into looking for spatial patterns and processes that shape societies and landscapes all over the planet”.
Bernelius also points out Helsinki as one of the clear advantages of studying in the programme.
”The city itself is such an interesting real-life laboratory. The Nordic welfare state with a rapidly growing metropolitan area with its challenges provides a rich array of research topics and physical geography students can take advantage of the research stations around the country and in Taita, Kenya”.
Bernelius would recommend the Master’s Programme in Geography to anyone who is interested in making an impact in the world.
”In my opinion, geography is the discipline of explorers – both in the natural environment as well as in the quickly growing cities on all continents – with the capability of saving the world.”