Alumni interviews - Agricultural Economics
MANY APPROACHES TO AGRICULTURE
When Antti Jaakkola was deciding where to study, his options were the University and forestry studies at a university of applied sciences. He picked Viikki and agricultural economics.
“I want to get to the very bottom of the issues that interest me, I'm not satisfied with easy answers. As my primary interests are nature and the economy, the choice was fairly obvious. On the Viikki Campus, I can easily combine studies in biology, agriculture, economics, agricultural policy and technology. As minor subjects, I can take anything from food and agrotechnology to management and communications,” Jaakkola explains.
After three full years of studies at the University, Jaakkola feels that studying at the University has met his expectations.
“The biggest surprise has been that as my studies progress, I find out more and more things I don’t know.”
Jaakkola finds the connection of economics with the environment interesting. After graduation, he hopes to work in the private sector in the agricultural or food trade or in procurement.
“The main goal in current agriculture is to find sensible and financially viable ways of transitioning to more environmentally friendly practices," Jaakkola muses.
“I completed my traineeship at the grain trade unit of Raisio Ltd, where I got to work on my Bachelor's thesis as part of their carbon footprint research. I may write my Master's thesis on the same topic.”
Raisio’s research efforts seek to calculate the farm-specific environmental indices for carbon emissions and power consumption. After that, he will try to set a monetary value to the index and investigate whether there is a correlation between the farm’s financial results and the environmental index.
During his first summer after starting his studies, Jaakkola worked at an experimental farm run by Lännen Tehtaat PLC for his agricultural traineeship and got to determine the harvest calendars for peas.
“As a Viikki student, it’s really easy to find a summer job in your field,” Jaakkola states.
Jaakkola spent much of the past year working at his subject-specific student organisation. Until the Christmas break, he served as the chair of the organisation for agricultural sciences students, Sampsa.
“It was like a year of studying leadership and communications,” Jaakkola describes his stint as chair, and states he would recommend working at a student organisation for everyone.
“Working at an organisation will give you more than important skills - you will also gain new friends and connections from different disciplines at the University and from the business world, too."
Student life at Viikki is active and community oriented. Jaakkola says that particularly students emigrating from outside Helsinki, with no established social circles here, will find it very easy to make new friends and discover things to do.
“If you’re looking for sports, there's a lot of activities, particularly ball games, and in terms of culture, there are guided wine and beer tastings, and we're currently planning a trip to see a play in Tallinn."
In addition to classic student parties, there are field trips and seminars arranged in cooperation with companies, organisations and associations in the agricultural and food industries.
“The best example of this is the annual trip to the provinces, which combines all of the above activities over three to four days in a different part of Finland every year.”
Viivi Wanhalinna was interested in all components of the food chain and wanted to find out more about them. In addition to academic pursuits, her studies at the University have yielded a job in London and a great deal of international experience.
“I had dreamed of becoming a riding teacher after upper secondary school, but I found myself at massage school. However, I was diagnosed with diabetes during my massage studies, and I became interested in nutrition and food products,” explains Viivi Wanhalinna.
Her cousin told her about the studies offered by the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, and she was particularly interested in the major subjects taught at Viikki.
“My major subject was food technology, and as minors I chose environmental economics in addition to the compulsory food chemistry part, since I am interested in the environment. I later completed Master’s level studies in agricultural policy,” she recounts.
Wanhalinna had no specific graduation schedule in mind. As she explains, “I wanted to study as much as I could about all the topics that I found interesting. In terms of grades, I just wanted to do my best. The Department of Economics had a good atmosphere, and it was always easy to find support for my studies.”
INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE OPENS DOORS
Wanhalinna has worked in many different sections of the food chain.
“I’ve completed several traineeships at the University, in addition to which I went on student exchange to Spain and to Rome to the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. I also had a summer job every year. I’ve worked in food production, in sales at food companies and at a food laboratory. I wrote my Master’s thesis for MTT Agrifood Research Finland,” she explains.
She's working as a food sector specialist at consultancy company (Atao Oy) developing food safety systems for food industry. She has also started her PhD studies relating to responsible investing and food sector. According to Wanhalinna, the University teaches its students to be better thinkers.
“I learned how to write well, how to plan goals and document everything. For example, I learned how to approach a problem and how to proceed.”
FOCUS ON LANGUAGE STUDIES
Wanhalinna encourages all students to study languages and to take advantage of the opportunity to go on a student exchange.
“Do study languages, they are always useful. It’s also a good idea to take advantage of all international exchange and traineeship opportunities. They are a great chance to see what is going on outside Finland or the University of Helsinki. And a shorter, six-month exchange shouldn't be too intimidating,” Wanhalinna says.
She also suggests that students participate in student organisations.
“It’s fun and the organisations offer a wide range of different events. Also take advantage of the University’s broad range of studies, also beyond your own discipline. It’s a good way to expand your horizons.”
Erik Lindroos studied agricultural economics as a major subject. In addition to a job, his degree gave him a good foundation for the future.
“I grew up on a farm, so it felt natural to apply for the Viikki Campus where the focus is on nature. I was also interested in economics, so agricultural economics seemed like a good fit,” Erik Lindroos says.
Lindroos studied his major subject, agricultural economics, at the Department of Economics. He took environmental economics as a minor subject.
“I was interested in environmental economics because I wanted to understand environmental issues better. They are essential for agricultural policy and often underpin all decisions,” he explains.
University studies provided Lindroos with the skills to grasp new things and to master broad issues. The University also taught him to commit to his work.
“My major subject studies in agricultural economics gave me a good foundation for understanding the basic requirements and operating environment of agriculture,” Lindroos states.
FRIENDS ARE AN IMPORTANT PART OF STUDENT LIFE
At the beginning of his studies, Lindroos focused on his cross-country skiing career, with a goal of completing 50 credits per year. After he stopped pursuing skiing, he started to accrue more credits.
“I planned my studies together with my friends, because it was easier to study in a group. I found the course information from the course catalogue, but more student guidance would have been helpful in planning my studies,” Lindroos muses.
Lindroos also places particular emphasis on student organisations.
“They are very important. You can make friends for life, and many of these friends will also become your colleagues. People learn better in conversation, and you get to hone your social skills,” Lindroos emphasises.
He also considers his sporting hobby, and the associated skill of winning and losing, as another asset.
“Sport helps you focus. This is useful in the professional world, where working under pressure and taking on criticism are essential skills,” Lindroos says.
THE DEGREE THAT BECAME A JOB
Lindroos is currently working at an American-German company which breeds and sells sugar beet seeds. He is based in Frankfurt.
“I’m responsible for the yield of the sugar beet varieties and their monitoring in twelve countries. I serve as the link between the American breeders and the market. My work involves travelling, official variety testing as well as meetings with industry representatives.”
His work requires good social skills and the ability to work under pressure.
“The most interesting thing about my work is that I get to see new places and people and to work internationally in agriculture. I appreciate the opportunity to work in an environment with high work morale where I can learn about agriculture and the agricultural trade in general,” Lindroos continues.
His skiing career meant Lindroos spent few summers working, but he still completed the traineeship for his degree at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. He has also worked at the central union of Swedish-speaking agricultural producers in Finland (SLC) and has served as the representative of a refinery company during his studies.
“I would not have my current job if I hadn’t gotten the degree I did, that’s for sure. My degree has also helped me meet my employer's expectations and provided the foundation for my whole career," Lindroos says.
JOY FROM STUDIES
Lindroos hopes that University studies will have a closer connection to the world of work in the future.
“Right now, conversational skills are a key career requirement - you must be able to make an argument and assert your opinion," he says.
However, Lindroos believes the main thing is to enjoy studying, and this is his advice for other students.
“Studying is a wonderful time. You get new perspectives on things from your studies. Put some real effort into your assignments and talk about them with other students. Ask older students for advice. It’s also a good idea to select a broad range of courses and to build your network. Work experience is also always useful.”
Sanna-Helena Fallenius swears by the benefits of cross-disciplinary, unique degrees. She built extensive professional networks during her studies, and has found interesting work thanks to them.
“I originally applied to study biology in addition to plant production sciences. However, I ultimately selected plant production sciences at the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, as Viikki is a more multidisciplinary environment and can provide more opportunities for employment,” says Sanna-Helena Fallenius.
Fallenius later switched majors, first to agricultural policy and then to agricultural economics.
“I’ve always been interested in the food industry, so I wanted to focus on agricultural economics," she explains.
INITIATIVE IN STUDIES IS KEY
Fallenius did not stress over her studies; she wanted them to progress at a natural pace.
“I did want good grades for my courses, and I thought I would graduate in five or six years," she remembers.
She believes it is particularly beneficial to let students take responsibility for their own studies.
“The atmosphere is great at the Department of Economics, especially in the discipline of agricultural policy, and the staff encourages the students to take responsibility for themselves. I think it’s very important to take initiative in your studies," says Fallenius.
SOLID COMPETENCE OPENS DOORS
Fallenius has worked as an aide for Member of Parliament Sirkka-Liisa Anttila and as a agricultural ombudsman at the Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners.
“I accrued an extraordinarily broad variety of work experience already during my studies. For example, I had a summer job at a bank, working in agricultural finance. I’ve also worked as a researcher,” she explains.
At the moment, Fallenius’s work at the European Parliament as an assistant for Riikka Manner deals with agricultural, environmental and forestry legislation.
“It’s been interesting to find out about the EU’s decision-making processes and legal system, as well as its various institutions. My previous and current work has given me a profound understanding of agricultural policy," she states.
Fallenius believes her studies have been very beneficial for both finding jobs and doing the work.
“Employers are interested in cross-disciplinary degrees, as they provide graduates with better skills to understand big, complex issues. Such skills are definitely an asset on the job market,” she says.
STUDIES ARE TRAINING IN CRITICAL THINKING
Fallenius believes that university studies teach students the theoretical underpinnings of the discipline and overall critical thinking skills.
“Students must be able to question and challenge issues. That way they can always stay one step ahead and participate actively in the developments around them.”
Fallenius also encourages students to participate in subject-specific student organisations.
“It is very important to build your networks during your studies. Knowing people is essential – I’ve landed all my jobs so far based on my personal connections. During my studies, I was involved in several organisations: in my subject-specific student organisation, the student nation, the Student Union and in my labour union. All the connections I made in these organisations have been useful,” she emphasises.
Another recommendation from Fallenius is to study langauges.
“Absolutely go on a student exchange, if you have any interest in it or in an international career. In addition to English, it’s a good idea to also study French, Spanish or another major global language. Make sure you get solid basic language skills at the University, because you will be able to practice these skills in your work."