Career awareness expands understanding of opportunities in biological and environmental sciences

Many biology students may not realise the full extent of employment opportunities afforded by their expertise. Information gained from career monitoring offers an opportunity to remedy the situation.

Viivi Virtanen, senior lecturer in university pedagogy, and Riitta Savolainen, university lecturer, know that the evolving world of work is constantly creating new challenges for the development of university education.  Both of them are affiliated with the Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences, where the results of this autumn’s career monitoring survey are worth their weight in gold. The career monitoring surveys, which have been conducted for nearly ten years, have been used in the development of education in biology, for example, in the organisation of a career skills course.

 “We’ve been developing teaching for several years: we’ve transitioned from emphasising biological competence and academic skills to focusing also on career skills. For example, the Faculty’s career skills course has been one such tool,” explains Virtanen, who has worked at the Faculty for a decade.

 “With the degree reforms, career studies have become a five-credit unit in all fields. Thanks to the course, first- and second-year students can start collecting material for their academic portfolios during their first year of studies,” adds Savolainen, who is the director of the Bachelor’s Programme in Biology.

Savolainen and Virtanen, who work on teaching development, believe that graduates from the Faculty have significant skills which they could apply to many different kinds of duties. Despite this, students may only be searching for jobs that specifically mention biological competence in the requirements.

“This means that they don’t even apply for a wide variety of jobs, such as designer or other applied positions. The lack of a unified professional identity makes it difficult to articulate one’s skills in job-seeking,” states Virtanen.

Career monitoring surveys help develop education

The shortcomings in learning communication, group work and negotiation skills which were apparent in previous career monitoring surveys are also apparent in biological and environmental sciences.

“At least in terms of communication skills, this can be quite easily remedied. Similarly, group-work skills can be easily incorporated into many courses,” states Savolainen about the benefits of career monitoring surveys in the development of education.

Response rates are of course very important for the career monitoring surveys, and Virtanen and Savolainen would like more people to participate.

“We would be delighted if the response rates were higher,” Virtanen agrees.

Experiences of graduates help students craft the degree they want

Information on employment has been used in the creation of the courses in Bachelor’s programmes, particularly in the new expert studies included in the programmes. The information can also be presented at a very practical level.

“For example, I’ve shown Bachelor’s level students of biology graphs of the kinds of things our graduates have mentioned about their career. That may give students more ideas for planning their own degrees,” says Virtanen.

The name of the Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences itself reflects the broad range of its field. The Faculty’s programmes provide biologists with skills that are applicable for positions in the fields of the environment, health, food and sustainable development.

“Students may not have fully comprehended the opportunities they could seek out by applying for environmental expert positions in private sector companies,” Virtanen muses.

The frequency at which career monitoring is discussed is also significant for the support of career awareness. Often the main issue is just clear communication:

“It’s important that the results are presented and that the reports are openly available,” emphasises Savolainen.

Career monitoring of universities

Universities use career monitoring surveys to gather information about how graduates find employment and what kinds of skills employers are looking for.

The survey is conducted by the Aarresaari career services network of Finnish universities.

The current career monitoring survey covers graduates who completed a second-cycle degree or a Bachelor’s degree in pharmacy or kindergarten teaching in 2012 as well as doctoral graduates of 2014.

The survey results are used in study guidance, the development of education and teaching as well as in research on the career development of university graduates.

The answers will be processed confidentially and the results reported in a way that individual respondents cannot be identified. The career monitoring data is stored anonymised in an electronic format in the Finnish Social Sciences Data Archive.

Read the results of previous career monitoring surveys:       


Each response to the career monitoring survey counts

University of Helsinki 2012 Master’s graduates and 2014 doctoral graduates – Take the survey!

The national higher education career monitoring survey studies how satisfied recent graduates are with the beginning of their careers, the skills needed in employment as well as how well the degree and education correspond to the world of work.

Information about various career paths is very valuable for current students, as they ponder their studies and career potential.

The survey is confidential, and the responses are processed in a way that complies with the University’s general good information practices. We need all points of view and every response!

The survey will begin on 28 November. You will be sent instructions via mail, text message or email. We prefer responses in a digital format.