Pursuing a career as a medical physicist: Master’s Programme in Materials Research produces multi-skilled scientists

After graduating from the Master’s Programme in Materials Research at the University of Helsinki, Julia Viljanmaa continues her studies in a Doctoral programme to qualify as a medical physicist. In her current work at an X-ray laboratory, she combines the knowledge and skills she gained during her Master's studies.

Julia Viljanmaa initially became interested in working as a medical physicist during her first year as a meteorology student.

“I attended a session where various specialists told us how physics is applied in several fields. I became interested in medical physics and decided to change study tracks.”

The Department of Physics at the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Science offers Finland’s most diverse teaching programme in the physical sciences. The study tracks available share many elements, which means students can change tracks without wasting time. The teaching programme provides students with plenty of opportunities to tailor their degree based on their interests.

“Medical physics is one of the study tracks in the Master’s Programme in Materials Research, which is a genuinely multidisciplinary programme. I’m now using the knowledge and skills I gained during my studies in medical physics and materials physics in my job at an X-ray laboratory.”

Helsinki X-ray Laboratory of the University of Helsinki’s Division of Materials Science focuses on methods of materials research, such as X-ray imaging and X-ray spectroscopy. Medical physicists develop and apply medical technologies for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of illnesses.

Students in the Master’s Programme in Materials Sciences can specialise not only in medical physics but also in fields such as nanophysics and materials chemistry. The programme investigates the chemical and physical basis of new and existing materials as well as their synthetisation, processing, composition, structure, properties and performance. 

“Skilled professionals will continue to be in demand, as the field of physics is constantly evolving and new methods are being developed to help people.”

One of the developments in medical physics currently relates to increasingly precise imaging modalities.

Support and equal treatment

The Faculty of Science has invested in cooperation between teachers and students. The Master’s Programme in Materials Research engages students in laboratory work and offers numerous research topics.

“Staff understands that the supervision of students benefits everyone,” Viljanmaa says.

Most of the students of physical sciences are men, but Viljanmaa says she has never experienced gender discrimination. To the contrary, all students in the programme are treated equally.

“Women aren’t marginalised in the lab or elsewhere,” she notes.

The Faculty also invests in teacher-student cooperation by ensuring that no one is left alone to cope with the demanding studies.

“You just have to pluck up the courage to ask questions and you’re sure to get help,” Viljanmaa states.

Take the initiative to kick-start your career

The Kumpula Campus is the largest science hub in the Nordic countries. Students are encouraged to build up networks during their studies.

“Students can make important contacts as long as they take the initiative. Excelling in studies opens many doors in the world of work.”

Students can also gain professional experience by completing a traineeship or a commissioned thesis. Many graduates from the Master’s Programme in Materials Research continue to study in the Doctoral Programme in Materials Research and Nanosciences and end up working in research and industry. For Viljanmaa, completing her thesis at the Turku University Central Hospital gave her a close-up view of the work of a medical physicist.

“My Master’s thesis enabled me to work on precisely the things I want to concentrate on in the future. The thesis work was challenging, but it was rewarding to achieve results.”

Viljanmaa must still complete further training to qualify as a medical physicist. She has embarked on her doctoral studies at the Helsinki X-ray Laboratory.

“Although it sometimes feels as if nothing has changed since the Master’s programme because I’m continuing to work in a familiar environment at the University of Helsinki, I’ve actually learned a lot. I’m well-equipped to continue towards the qualification of a medical physicist.”