Ville-Pekka Niskanen’s story is no different from many other students finishing their upper secondary school studies. Niskanen did not have a clear idea about what to study before he ran into an interesting programme that was also significant for the future.
“When I started, the Master's Programme in Environmental Change and Global Sustainability was like the black sheep among the degree programmes focusing on biology, since it looks at the environment and environmental issues from the perspective of the humanities,” says Niskanen.
In recent years issues related to the environment and sustainability have gained wider social attention with ecological soundness having become a lifestyle of an increasing number of people. Consumers have become more informed and they want to make sustainable choices.
“Mere talk about sustainability and environmental matters has reached a point where something is actually done about the issues,” says Niskanen.
When applying to the Master's Programme in Environmental Change and Global Sustainability, students select one of the two study tracks in the programme. The Study Track in Environmental Change educates experts in natural sciences who understand the functioning of land and water ecosystems and are able to foster their sustainable use.
The Study Track in Global Sustainability, which Niskanen chose, educates experts in social sciences who understand the social, cultural and economic foundations of global sustainability challenges and are able to develop fair solutions from the perspectives of society and the environment.
“From the perspective of the future, it is crucial to train experts with varied competence and ability to apply what they have learnt. Merely reporting on the state of the world is not enough; we must also know how to correctly allocate our limited resources.”
Multidisciplinary nature of studies brings together knowledge
The programme, organised in collaboration with several faculties, has students coming from a wide variety of backgrounds from anthropology to aquatic sciences. Their varied knowledge is utilised in teaching, which emphasises cooperation.
“As students at a research university, we are strongly trained in conducting research. It is crucial to learn how to bring together the knowledge contributed by experts from various fields. Engaging in group work with people from various disciplines also develops your own thinking.”
In the teaching, the multidisciplinary nature of studies is evident in course structures. For example, one framework for studies is the planetary boundaries of world’s tolerance through which topics of a single course are studied.
One lecture may study climate change from the perspective of forest and land use, emissions, politics and consumption, while the next lecture may examine agriculture, food production and the nutrient cycle as well as problems caused by chemicalisation and the overuse of nutrients.
“Looking at things from as many perspectives as possible and as a whole, in particular, serves as the guiding light. Problems of sustainability science are not merely an environmental issue but touch on the whole of society.”
Future needs good decisions based on research
Niskanen is interested in a research career. The programme emphasises the philosophy of science and research methods as well as ways of acting and thinking as a researcher. It also provides the students with good prerequisites for expert positions.
“Even if I would not end up working as a researcher, what I have learned in the programme will come in handy in many other positions. It doesn’t matter if you work for the government, a municipality or a company, decisions related to sustainable development need to be based on research results and reports. The programme provides excellent prerequisites to apply knowledge.”
Niskanen is happy with his choice. Environmental and sustainable issues are not only a part of his job description, but they have also changed his lifestyle. Niskanen wants to make good decisions for the future.
“I couldn’t have made a better choice. Now is the time to find solutions to global environmental crises, such as climate change and the impoverishment of biodiversity. We have to halt the rise of injustice and inequality among humans so that the future is liveable for all. As long as there are people on Earth, they will have an effect on the environment and vice versa.”