A special place for a biologist

Glanville fritillary butterfly Photo:Tari Haahtela

Finland has a strong background in ecological research, and the Vikki Campus is the heart of it. After only a 20-minute bus ride from the city centre, you can find many research groups studying different aspects of ecology and evolutionary biology, from behavioural ecology, theoretical biology and population biology to conservation biology. These are a few of the many different options Viikki offers to students coming from abroad.

Academy Research Fellow Marjo Saastamoinen is leading a research group at the Metapopulation Research Centre. The group is researching how organisms in the wild cope with environmental variation and habitat fragmentation. Her research also helps to understand the effects of climate change and the underlying mechanisms which help organisms to cope with environmental stress.   

“Helsinki is an international place to do research, with interaction between many research groups. It is great that our campus is so international and that we have students and researchers from all over the world,” Saastamoinen says.

In the Metapopulation Research Centre, Marjo Saastamoinen continues the work of Academician Ilkka Hanski, recipient of the Crafoord Prize. His well-known ecological model system concerns a metapopulation in the Åland Islands which consists of a network of hundreds of local populations of the Glanville fritillary butterfly (Melitaea cinxia).

“This is an exciting time to study ecology because, for example, genomic tools give us new opportunities to understand the genetic mechanisms that shape the phenotypes we are working on,” Saastamoinen argues.

Assistant Professor Arild Husby has been working in Viikki for two years. He has been impressed by how well different research groups work together. He points out that the international Master’s Programme in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology is unique because it integrates research and teaching.

NN points out that a Master’s degree has value in itself through learning more about the environment we are living in and how the world works.

“The University of Helsinki is a highly ranked university, and a Master’s degree gives students a great advantage when applying for future jobs.”

The programme is diverse and multidisciplinary, and studying includes lectures, laboratory and computer training courses, interactive seminars, study tours and field courses.

“We do a lot of high quality research and employ that directly in teaching. Students get, for example, experience handling, analysing and recreating the genomic data we generate here, Husby continues”

The University of Helsinki has four biological stations for carrying out field research. According to Saastamoinen, field courses conducted at the biological stations and working there for a period create a good chemistry in the entire unit.

On the other hand, it is good to remember that the beautiful Viikki campus is perhaps the best place in Helsinki to take a walk in the forest or to go bird-watching.