My studies in Agricultural Sciences can contribute to making life better for people

Climate change poses a threat to agriculture while population growth increases the demand for more efficient food production. We talked to Kaiyue Qin and Timo Hytönen, a student and a teacher, how experts in agricultural sciences are needed more than ever.

Kaiyue Qin is a student in the Master’s Programme in Agricultural Sciences at the University of Helsinki. She wishes to make a difference as a researcher in the future. Timo Hytönen is an Associate Professor of Molecular and Translational Plant Biology. He leads the University of Helsinki’s Strawberry Research Group and teaches in the programme.

Who is the Master’s Programme in Agricultural Sciences for?

Qin: “It’s for people who want to get a deep understanding of how agricultural production works. If you are interested in plant production sciences, the most important quality in a student is patience. With most plants, it takes time to see what they do and what the differences are between them.”

“I think it is important to be brave and ask questions. Especially when you are doing research, there might be questions that nobody yet knows how to answer. Sometimes the results you get from an experiment might also be different from previous research. It can be uncomfortable, but you still have to tell the truth about your results.”

Hytönen: “Biology is the basis for everything in this field – really, overall interest in nature is a plus. Like all plants, horticultural plants originate in nature, so interest and curiosity towards nature can be very beneficial for a student.”

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

Hytönen: ”The programme offers a wide range of different courses, such as plant cultivation, agricultural production, plant pathology, and animal physiology. You can also do lab courses which delve deeper into molecular biology.”

Qin: “One of the most interesting courses I’ve attended is called ‘Plants in a changing world’. It focuses on climate change and how we can help plants survive it. I had never thought about climate change from that angle before.”

“At the moment, I’m writing my dissertation on the cultivation of diploid strawberries as part of Timo Hytönen’s research group. It is really cool! I am hoping to continue doing research after my studies, so getting experience in working in a research group is very valuable to me.”

Hytönen: “Kaiyue’s dissertation is part of a study on the control of flowering in strawberries. There are lots of opportunities to do cutting-edge research in agricultural sciences, as there are many topics which have never been studied before.”

“I also think that the Master’s Programme in Agricultural Sciences is quite practical. You can mix and match courses, and design your own degree. But even if you end up specialising in a very select area, it doesn’t necessarily confine your career options.”

What kind of career opportunities does the programme open?

Hytönen: ”There are lots of different ones! Graduates from the programme work as researchers, as specialists in organisations, ministries and so on. Some of the bigger companies also hire people with a Master’s degree in agriculture. As technology is becoming more important, there will be a demand for people who understand automation and robotics in agriculture.”

“We need experts in agricultural sciences more than ever before because climate change poses a huge challenge for agriculture. Population growth increases the demand for more efficient food production. We need better horticultural plants and better technology in order to get a bigger harvest from a smaller land area. The smaller the area that agriculture needs, the more we can plant forests that work as a carbon sink. It’s all connected.”

What is it like to live and study in Helsinki?

Qin: “I came here first as an exchange student, and really enjoyed my studies because the quality of teaching was so good.”

“I also think that work-life balance is great in Finland. Although the University of Helsinki ranks very high in agricultural sciences, you have time to relax and there is a lot to do in Helsinki. I like to go to the cafés and the museums in the city centre with my friends – my favourite is the art museum Amos Rex. Even though Helsinki is a capital, it is very quiet and safe. It makes me feel comfortable living here.” 

What is the most inspiring aspect of studying agricultural sciences?

Qin: “I’ve really enjoyed studying agricultural sciences. The most inspiring is that it relates to everything in the world. Even if I can make only a small contribution to the field, it has the possibility of making life better for lots of people.”