Jonathan Gaddis is a master’s student from California, United States, who wants to use his expertise to help the world move towards a circular economy. Markku Kanninen is a professor of tropical silviculture at the University of Helsinki and an internationally renowned researcher in the field. He is also the Programme Director of the Master’s Programme in Forest Sciences.
Who is the Master’s Programme in Forest Sciences for?
Markku Kanninen: “It’s for a person who wants to study in one of the leading institutions in the field. In the latest teaching subject ranking, conducted in 2017 by Center for World University Rankings – CWUR, the Forest Sciences department at the University of Helsinki was ranked 4th best in the world. The programme covers a wide area of different topics. You can learn about climate change, sustainable use of forests, ecosystem services, management in the forest industry and more.
The programme has two study tracks: Forest Ecology and Management, and Forest Bioeconomy Business and Policy. You need to select one of the two tracks when applying. Both of the study tracks also include a variety of different subjects to specialise in. We help each student to design their own personal study plan based on their interests and goals.”
Jonathan Gaddis: “The nature of the studies is multidisciplinary, which means that there are a lot of topics to choose from. The programme allows you to design your studies yourself and there isn’t a specific profession that we are studying for. This means that in order to navigate the variety of courses and get what you want out of the programme you need to be very self-driven. However, this is also liberating and the programme suits anyone who wants to focus on a specific area of interest. In addition, there is room to touch on many different subjects from law to various social sciences.
I study on the Forest Bioeconomy Business and Policy study track. I chose the Master’s Programme in Forest Sciences at the University of Helsinki because of its flexibility. There are some mandatory courses and the master’s thesis, but you are free to choose most of your courses. I can design my degree according to my needs. After graduating, I would like to work in a company that promotes circular economy. Therefore I have been taking courses that include projects, business analysis and working with start-up ideas.”
What is it like to study in the Master’s Programme in Forest Sciences?
Kanninen: “One of the strengths of the University of Helsinki is that all of our teachers are researchers as well. This means that as a student of Forest Sciences, you are instructed by leading scientists in their fields. This is a rare feature at a university. In many cases, top researchers work in their own bubble and do not participate in teaching.
The programme offers the opportunity to participate in projects that make a real impact in the world. For example, the Forest Ecology and Management study track provides a course that includes a three-week field course in Laos. The students learn and carry out research on the relationship between the local livelihoods and forests and natural resources.”
Gaddis: “I have a bachelor’s degree in business administration, so the natural sciences side of the programme has been new to me. It has been fascinating to learn about climate change and business solutions that could help alleviate its effects. Many businesses try to create solutions for storing carbon and reducing emissions.
This is where the multidisciplinary nature of the Master’s Programme in Forest Sciences really shows. While many universities offer the option to study business or climate change as a phenomenon, it is rare that university courses bring these two topics together. Climate change creates exceptional and complex problems. It is important that we study it from multiple perspectives. It is great that the programme takes this into account.”
What kind of career opportunities does the programme open?
Kanninen: “The programme offers an abundance of opportunities. For example, you could work as a forest resource or sustainability specialist in an international organisation, or as a manager in a forestry company. Upon graduating from the programme, you will have professional competence in processes relating to land use, climate change, recreation, ecotourism and much more. It is possible to work in a wide array of different professions.”
Gaddis: “The programme gives you professional competence to pursue your career in the field of forestry, but also in other fields. In the Forest Bioeconomy Business and Policy study track, we also learn a lot about business and circular economy. On one course we had the opportunity to collaborate with several start-ups that had some sort of a communication problem. We had to come up with new ideas how to solve these problems and learned a lot about how start-ups work.
The skills I have learned over my studies helped me find a job even though I don’t have my master’s degree yet. I am now working part-time as a production specialist in a start-up called Swappie. They specialise in selling second-hand iPhones promoting the transition to circular economy. It is very topical in terms of university research and the society as a whole. I would love to stay with the company after graduating. I am also hoping to write my master’s thesis in collaboration with them. It’s great to have the opportunity to combine my studies with my job.”
How does the programme support international networking?
Gaddis: “The programme offers many opportunities for international activities. At the moment, I am participating in an interdisciplinary product development project, which is part of an international competition. Our team needs to design a product that is a hybrid between meat and a plant. We travelled to Germany and met a lot of people from other universities from different countries.
As the programme provides so many opportunities to do projects in collaboration with other faculties and universities, it is easy to gain connections in the field and beyond.”
Kanninen: ”We are an international community with strong connections to similar departments all around the world. If our students wish to do their practical training or final project abroad, they have the opportunity to do so. The Forest Sciences community is tight-knit and we know the right people to make international cooperation accessible for students.”
What is it like to study and live in Helsinki?
Gaddis: “I have lived in Finland for seven years already. I originally moved here because my wife – girlfriend at the time – is from Finland. I enjoy the calm of the Finnish culture. The people in the programme are really nice and supportive. As a student, you are given a lot of responsibility for your own studies. I enjoy the independence.
On my free time, I like to go on hiking trips and spend time in nature. I have visited the national parks nearby multiple times. It’s amazing how much beautiful nature there is near Helsinki. Just an hour away, you find long peninsulas that stretch out to the sea. I have also ventured to more far-off places like Lapland. I love to go berry-picking in the summer. I’m trying to learn more about mushrooms so I could pick them in the autumn. I have become very Finnish!”