Finding a job outside the research world as a PhD

During PhD studies, quite many of us spend time figuring, what will the working life be after graduation. What can you do to improve your chances outside the academia?

Krista has worked closely with the industry in TOHTOS project, which aimed to develop the working life relevance of doctoral training. After getting her own PhD, she went to project management and development work in university administration. She interviewed doctor alumni and several organizations that hire doctors to find out, how can you find a job outside academia.

What did the companies say, what are the most important skills for PhDs looking for a job outside academia?
  • Problem solving and analytical thinking
  • Presentation skills (written and oral)
  • Language skills (especially for the international students)
  • Marketing & financing
  • Ability to apply their research knowledge and skill to other areas
  • Wide expertise in your field
Is there something you can do during your PhD studies to increase your employability?
  • Do not be too narrowly focused with your interests. Try something new and experience!
  • Go abroad, if you have a chance.
  • Take another minor to learn new. It does not have to be connected to your main research interests.
  • Network! The more people you know, the easier it is for you to find a job. You will get to know different jobs and be aware, if there are new openings coming to the organizations of your interest.
  • Be great at what you are doing and develop those aspects, where you are weak at
How did Krista find her way to administration?
Kristiina Väänänen at her new job as a coordinator
  • I always liked to organize and coordinate things. Besides research, I found passion for digital communication and started learning that by doing. I joined a professional organization and worked as a board member, treasurer and secretary. I did a whole lot of career planning. After graduation, I got an opportunity to start developing doctoral education. Started it, loved it, and here I am. I had to learn a lot of new tools, to create several new courses to teach, and I got a possibility to work in a large project. Once the project was over, I was offered a new, interesting position, and I happily accepted it.
Is a PhD degree relevant to this type of work?
  • My everyday work is not at all connected to those areas, I was studying as a PhD student (ecotoxicology/biology). I am now focusing on international academic affairs and participating in several projects/processes to improve the international studies in our university. But I use quite a lot of my researcher’s skills in the job: I gather vast piles of information and compose understandable, clear and short reports out of them to support the decision-making. I use modeling software to test, what are the real-life consequences of different decisions. I present my work to different types of audiences, network a lot and learn new every day. I need to adapt fast, be fluent in English and understand different cultures. It also helps to understand digital communication and IT systems in my job. I am not doing research, but I am learning something new every day!

Text by Kristiina Väänänen

It is not okay to choose only one method in ecological risk assessment.

Are the metals causing adverse effects to the environment? In the ecological risk assessment of metals in lake sediment, you can choose several types of methods: chemistry, modeling, evaluating local biota or conducting laboratory toxicity tests. How many methods are enough to say for sure?

In our recent paper, authored by Krista et al., we faced this problem. We studied the Finnish lakes under the influence of metal mining and looked at the situation from several different views. In our earlier study, we started with analyzing metal concentrations – high in sediments, moderate in water. We analyzed the water and sediment chemistry – soft waters, high DOC, high seasonal variation in O2. Based on the chemistry and environmental quality guidelines, there seemed to be increased risk in those four study lakes.

In this current study, we included toxicity tests (L. variegatus, C. riparius, V. fischeri, L. stagnalis) to the picture, together with analysis of macroinvertebrate community structures and metal bioavailability & bioaccumulation studies. Bioavailability was studied with passive sampling (diffusive gradients in thin films) and bioaccumulation by collecting and analyzing body residues in chironomus larvae from the field.

Väänänen et al. 2019 (Science of the Total Environment 662:88–98)


And the results?
Chemistry and benthic organism community structure analyses showed risks in the most-polluted half of the studied lakes. Clear toxicity was seen some of the tests, but we assume low pH to be the reason of that in most of the cases. Metal body residues were not high enough to induce adverse effects and the bioavailability was not connected to observed toxicities.

  • What did we learn?
    Acidic sediments with high sulfide concentrations are tricky, when conducting toxicity studies. There were a bunch of adverse effects observed, but majority of them could be explained by the low pH (simplified: metals + sulfides + oxide -> hydrochloric acid -> drastically decreasing pH)
  • Different methods may lead to totally different results. Recommendation: Use several test methods to ensure the reliability of your results. Traditional sediment triad approach includes chemistry, toxicity and benthic organism structure. Since metal speciation and bioavailability are important aspects in toxicity, studies of them should be included.
  • Know your environment. It is easier to evaluate the situation, when you have all the information. One day, we will have enough data to build models for those parts of ecological risk assessment that are still missing. Then, all this knowledge can be transferred to administration and routine environmental monitoring.

Text by Kristiina Väänänen, picture by Jenny Makkonen

The 2nd IIES Graduate Students Forum at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

As a partner in the International Institute for Environmental Studies (IIES), the students of the University of Eastern Finland were given an opportunity to participate in the 2nd IIES Graduate Students Forum in Hong Kong. Our PhD student Timo participated in this forum that was held November 2-3, 2018 at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). The forum was conveniently scheduled right after the 11th Sino-French International Workshop on Contaminated Soil Remediation in Guangzhou, where Timo and another PhD student in our group, Bhabhishya participated at the end of October.

The topic of the Graduate Student Forum was water and soil contamination and remediation. For two days, graduate students from all over the world presented their research. Talks and discussions were also organized on the topics of writing a good scientific paper, how to get along with one’s supervisor and how to manage time during graduate studies and research.

Timo after receiving an award for his presentation performance

Timo represented our Ecotox group at the forum and gave a talk about his research topic “Environmental risks of chemicals in effluents discharged from municipal wastewater treatment plants”. Students who performed well in the forum were given awards for different achievements and Timo was awarded for his presentation skills in the forum!

The HKUST campus provided an outstanding arena for the forum. Located at Clear Water Bay, the surrounding landscape is one of the most beautiful in all of Hong Kong. The facilities at the university were also excellent. It is already a great privilege to get to participate to activities like the Graduate Student Forum but to have this kind of event in such an excellent location is truly a dream come true.

HKUST campus is a sight to behold

Timo was extremely happy with the experience of participating to the forum. Getting to know new people in our field, hearing different views from students around the world on graduate studies and getting to listen to the diversity of student presentation subjects, what more can a graduate student hope for! Our Ecotox group has been involved in many IIES activities before and Timo certainly hopes that more opportunities like this will arise in the future.

Text and photos: Timo Ilo

Agromining for contaminated soil remediation – the 11th Sino-French workshop

The University of Eastern Finland is one of the 17 partner universities of International Institute for Environmental Studies (IIES). Our Aquatic Ecotoxicology group has been involved in most of the scientific conferences organised/partnered by IIES. This time two of our PhD students (me and Timo) participated in LIA Ecoland Workshop 2018 held in Guangzhou, China from 29th October to 2nd November. The workshop, 11th Sino-French International Workshop on Contaminated Soil Remediation, was held at SunYat-sen University by ECOLAND. The joint lab ECOLAND, created in December 2015, is the outcome of a fruitful cooperation between two laboratories, the LSE of the University Of Lorraine (UL) and INRA and the LEPCRT of Sun Yat-sen University (SYSU), around pollution issues and remediation of soil and water. The LIA ECOLAND project is to help restore value to territories marked by persistent pollution, and to support the development of ecosystem services through the implementation of appropriate strategies for the management of polluted sites and soils. IIES covered the travel expenses plus the visa fee whereas the food and accommodation in Guangzhou was covered by SYSU.

Bhabishya and Timo at the workshop

The main objective of the workshop was to develop innovation for circular economy for abandoned secondary resources such as polluted soils, wastes and sediments. One of the focus was on Agromining and/or Phytomining. The main aim is to identify flora that can grow on polluted or abandoned mining sites for recovering the heavy metals from such sites. The heavy metals are then recovered from the biomass by bio-refinery. It was interesting to know about the use of plants for soil remediation as well as for metal mining. The workshop had 2 days of scientific exchange (presentations, posters) and 2 days of field trip. Unfortunately, none of our students had any poster or oral presentation for the workshop. However, it was nice for both of us to participate in such conference (This being first for both of our PhD students) and interact with researchers from other universities and research facilities. The participants were mostly Chinese and French (Obviously!) with few more from Europe, Asia and North America.

Apart from the presentations, the workshop also had 2 days of field trip. The first day of the field visit was to nearby city of Dongguan. There the participants visited a municipal waste treatment center operated by Canvest Environ Group Co. Ltd. An exhibition building next to the treatment plant had things made out of waste material for exhibition. On the second day of the visit, we were supposed to visit food waste treatment plant in Schenzen, China. However, there was a last minute change of plans and we went instead to China National Gene Bank close to Schenzen. Timo, however, had to go to Hong Kong on the same day to attend The 2nd Graduate Students Forum. So, he could not join us for the second day of the field visit (and he did not miss much). After the visit to the gene bank, we headed to a Hakka Museum nearby. Hakka are the subgroup of Han Chinese who migrated from North China to South and settled in Guangdong (where we were) and neighboring areas.

Municipal waste treatment plant operated by Canvest Environ Group Co. Ltd

Besides the workshop, there was not much to do as most of our time during the day was taken up by the workshop. However, I managed to have some free time on the last day of the trip and go to few places in Guangzhou. When in China, you have to eat and shop. Things are so cheap there. But the only problem was of the language. And, since everybody thought I was a Chinese (Because I am of Asian ethnicity from Nepal) my first words were “Not Chinese” in all the places I went for the whole week. The food was especially good (and no Potatoes for a week).

In all, the trip was a fruitful one. Hope we will have something to present in our next conference and maybe we will have some interested students in future working in agromining at our research group.

Bhabishya with horse made up of waste products

Text and photos: Bhabishya Gurung

Suomen Akatemian deadline lähestyy – oletko valmis?

On se aika vuodesta, jolloin tutkijat istuvat tietokoneidensa ääressä hakemassa rahoitusta tuleville vuosille. Meidän alalla kiihkein hakuaika on syys-lokakuussa. Säätiöiden hakuaikojen päätyttyä ei ehtinyt levätä, sillä Suomen Akatemian deadline häilyy jo nurkan takana.

Postdoc-tutkija Krista täyttää ensimmäistä kertaa tutkijatohtoreille asetetun liikkuvuusehdon (väitöksen jälkeen min. 6 kk työkokemusta muualla kuin siellä, missä väitöskirja on suoritettu). Tämä tarkoittaa sitä, että nyt on ensimmäinen mahdollisuus hakea omaa tutkimusrahoitusta Akatemiasta.


Miten käytännön työ on eronnut tähänastisesta säätiörahoituksen hakemisiesta:

    • Laajuus. Ei ole helppoa kirjoittaa 15 sivua tieteellisen tarkkaa asiaa niin, että teksti pysyy ymmärrettävänä, selkeänä, johdonmukaisena ja mielenkiintoisena.
    • Budjetti. Kolmivuotisen projektin budjetti on selvästi suurempi kuin aiemmissa hakemuksissani. Kokonaiskustannusmalli tuo myös omat kiemuransa budjetin suunnitteluun. Huolellinen budjetin valmistelu kannatti, talousosaajamme hyväksyi budjettini ensi yrittämällä.
    • Ajankäyttö. Tutkimussuunnitelman, budjetin ja liitteiden (kutsu ulkomaiselta yhteistyökumppanilta, CV, julkaisuluettelo, aineistonhallintosuunnitelma) valmistelu on hidasta. Onhan kaikki tiedostot nimetty oikein ja onko asiakirjojen asettelu ja kieliasu johdonmukaista?
    • Moniulotteisuus. Tutkimuksen ydinkysymysten lisäksi mietinnässä on kansainvälinen merkittävyys, uutuusarvo, merkitys tiedemaailman ulkopuolella, tasa-arvon ja kestävän kehityksen huomioiminen, omat ja yhteistyökumppaneiden valmiudet, tutkimuksen riskit, vaikutukset urakehitykseen, tieteen avoimuuden kehittäminen.


Hakemuksen kirjoittaminen onnistuu Kiinastakin!


Tämä ensimmäinen hakukierrokseni on opettanut jo paljon uutta! Kun tutkimussuunnitelmaa joutuu miettimään niin monesta näkökulmasta, kirkastuu tutkimuksen tarkoitus ja kulku itsellekin päivä päivältä paremmin.

Vielä on viikko aikaa hioa ja parantaa. Tsemppiä kaikille kanssahakijoille!

Teksti ja kuvat: Kristiina Väänänen

Reflections from the new field course ”Northern Ecosystems in a Changing Climate”

University of Eastern Finland offered a new field course at the Oulanka Research Station in Kuusamo this September in collaboration with University of Oulu. Timo, a new graduate student in our research group, took part in this week-long Northern Ecosystems in a Changing Climate – course.

The course aims to combine latest knowledge of the climate change to the special features of Northern ecosystems. The course was held at the Oulanka Research Station situated in the Oulanka National Park. Oulanka is a very special place as it is a hotspot of biodiversity in the region.

The research station provided excellent facilities for the course. Several lecturers from both universities gave interesting talks on different topics related to the focus of the course. Field portion of the course included a full day trip to Riisitunturi national park and several smaller outings to sites close to the research station. Both Oulanka and Riisitunturi national parks boast extremely beautiful scenery which cannot be fully appreciated through the camera-phone pictures Timo took during the course, although they do give a hint on what a visitor to these places can expect to see.

Downstream view from Kiutaköngäs waterfall at Oulanka National Park

From the ecotoxicological point of view the course was very inspiring. Learning about the special features of our ecosystems gives so much for understanding how different types of pollution can affect the nature. It is also always nice to hear what experts of their own fields have to say about the state of the environment from their viewpoint. This kind of knowledge can complement ecotoxicological research greatly!

Text and photos: Timo Ilo


A giant leap from academia to government

How would a biologist who has worked at academia and research throughout her whole career adapt to working in environmental governance? This sounds like a rather giant leap, but is it really so? Our post doc Kaisa was offered an opportunity to work at the North Karelian ELY Centre (Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment) for six months, beginning from August, and she happily accepted the challenge.

But what exactly are the ELY Centres, and what do they do?? The official website says that the ELY Centres are responsible for the regional implementation and development tasks of the central government. Finland has a total of 15 ELY Centres, which are tasked with promoting regional competitiveness, well-being and sustainable development and curbing climate change. Their three areas of responsibility are 1) Business and industry, labour force, competence and cultural activities, 2) Transport and infrastructure and 3) Environment and natural resources. The Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment (ELY Centres) promote regional development by managing the central government’s implementation and development tasks in the areas coming under them. Together with the six Regional State Administrative Agencies (Aluehallintovirasto, AVI, in Finnish) they function as the country’s regional state administrative authorities.

Kaisa has been positioned to the Environment and natural resources area (3) of responsibility, at the unit of nature and land use. Her core responsibility there is to write a new the plan of use and maintenance of Lake Pyhäjärvi, in Karelia Finland. The work requires collecting large amounts of information from many sources, co-operation with other authorities and local interest groups, and of course, planning and writing.

Well, Kaisa, what was the first impression after having started at the new job??

  • This is so easy to answer. The first impression was clear: I do not know anything about anything, and I will never be able to learn these things. Everything is new and completely different from what I have done before, EVEN though my PhD thesis had a clear connection with the environmental governance, and purpose to help the authorities in environmental monitoring and decision-making.
  • University education does not really give abilities for working for the government. In other words, did I spend all these years at the university for nothing??? Is research important for governmental decision-making after all? Why wasn’t I told that GIS is such an important tool for environmental workers?? Or that I should also know something about environmental law, which never really was any of my priorities at the university. Why oh WHY?
  • I am a researcher, what the hell am I doing here in this governmental office??? I used to have academic freedom, and now I am engaged to employee time tracking, and supposed to follow the “virastotyöaika”.
  • And my favorite office mates Krista and Kukka are far away now that I would need them most! I miss our coffee breaks, too.

Now after one month of working there, she has maybe changed her mind a little bit. Let’s hear it:

  • After all, I might know something. At least I know a lot of people who know about something when I do not. I have managed to create a large network of professionals around me during these years, and I know where to find information, when needed. I also know very well about what is going on in research on my field at the moment. I can write reports, I can find and separate the vital information among all the information of the world, which is huge. I get along with different people, and I can prioritize.
  • Even GIS can be learnt quite easily, and everything else, too. It just takes time, and goes slowly, step by step. Co-workers have been great, understanding and helpful. Every day I learn new things and the work itself goes more smoothly.
  • I could easily realize since the beginning, that biologists do work on a wide range of jobs, and research is only one of them. This work is a lot about planning, writing, managing many things and projects simultaneously. Isn’t this exactly what I have learnt at the university all these years? Time tracking is not so bad after all. Somehow all this pushes me to use the working hours more effectively.
  • Office mates here are great, too. And I have to admit that I come to work happily every morning – no matter how busy and intensive life has become recently. During our daily talks about work and beyond I have learnt so much.
  • Lunches are better here than at the university campus, and coffee is not so bad either.

Text and photos: Kaisa Figueiredo

6 reasons to gain international research experience

    1. Learn more. You can learn new research methods, use new instruments and find a whole new way of doing research.
    2. Boost your career. International research period will look good on your CV. At least in Finland, your research career path will be a bumpy one, id you do not have enough international experience.
    3. Get money for your research. Since it is not so easy to go abroad, there are fewer people after the money. Your chances of getting money are better!
    4. Networks, networks! You have a great opportunity to meet other researchers. It could lead to new, co-organized projects in the future.
    5. Superb transferable skills. What an opportunity to improve social skills, adaptivity, coordination skills, and so on.
    6. Language skills. If you are going to a country, where your native language is not widely spoken, you have a wonderful chance to improve your language skills. For us Finns, this part is easy, since there are no other countries where our language is spoken.

This topic was inspired by the current status of our research group. Our post doc researcher Krista just started her 6-month research period in Nanjing University, China. Her work will include environmental chemistry research in one of the top universities in China. The project is funded by Outi Savonlahti fund, International Institute for Environmental Studies, and Nanjing University.

Nanjing University, School of Environment


Text and photos: Kristiina Väänänen

How to improve PhD supervision?

Are you a great supervisor? Or are you a PhD student, who is excellent in getting all the supervision he/she needs? If not, read our tips for improving yourself!

University of Eastern Finland and TOHTOS project co-organized a seminar and a workshop for PhD students and their supervisors. Our aim was to find the best practices and tools for successful supervision. Here is a list of our results:

Tips for supervisors (by Sanna Vehviläinen)

  1. Get to know the problem to get it solved. The problem might be something else than it seems at the first glance.
  2. Let your student know that you are willing to help, have common rules for communication.
  3. Have informal discussions (coffee breaks, Happy Fridays).
  4. Make sure that you are aiming at the same goals. Establish a culture.
  5. Stimulate student’s thinking by feedback. Let the student process and understand.

Tips for PhD students

  1. Tell your goals, working style and communication style to your supervisor.
  2. Have goals and structure for all your meetings with your supervisor. Send information beforehand and make memos.
  3. Find your networks and meet your colleagues in informal settings.
  4. Balance your working life and free time.


Wish to read more tips and some research background on the subject?

Text by Kristiina Väänänen, pictures Pixabay (CC0)

UEF Ecotox goes SciFest® with science-oriented day care centre Pilke Loiste

Joensuu has been hosting the annual international science festival SciFest® already since 2007, bringing together thousands of school kids, high school students, and teachers to discover new experiences and learn about science, technology and the environment. SciFest takes place every spring and is free and open to everyone.  This year was a very special year, since for the first time in the history of SciFest, also early childhood education, Pilke Päiväkodit, was represented as an organizer of a workshop.

Early childhood educators of Pilke Loiste and Hepokatti ready to welcome the first visitors to the workshop.

In the neighborhood of Rantakylä, Joensuu, we have a science-oriented day care centre Pilke Loiste. The day care centre has been operating since August 2017, and has been an excellent addition to the educational diversity of Joensuu. The day care centre Pilke Loiste has initiated co-operation with the Science Park of Joensuu, KideScience and their superb teacher Niko Kyllönen, as well as Luma-keskus and some researchers at UEF. They even participated the Epic Challenge project earlier this year with great success and had a chance to meet astronaut Dr. Charles Camarda.

But what does this have to do with our Ecotox group, or this blog? Well, our post-doc researcher Kaisa obviously signed up her two children into Pilke Loiste already months before it was officially opened, and all this has been a huge success in terms of excellent early childhood education AND education in science. As a mother of two, and as a researcher, Kaisa has been in close co-operation with the day care centre since its early days, and SciFest did not really bring an exception to this either.

A research scientist and her preschool-aged son representing Pilke Loiste at SciFest 2018.

We started to the plan the workshop already months before the actual event. The idea was to combine science with arts in some way, as this was the specific theme of SciFest this year. We joined our forces with a music-oriented day care centre Pilke Hepokatti , located in the neighborhood of Noljakka, Joensuu. Since the target group of the workshop were children between 5-8 years, we wanted to bring some simple scientific experiments into the workshop.

The first experiment was to fill a balloon without blowing – using only vinegar and sodium bicarbonate, in order to make the children understand reactions between chemicals. Another experiment was about surface tension – how many water drops could a coin tolerate on its top before sinking from the water surface? Kaisa then came along with a third task to the workshop – creating a food chain/web together with the children, using special educational cards from WWF, meant for learning biological interactions between organisms. Additionally, on the first day of the festival the kids could also create their own music using iPads lead by the head of music-oriented day care centre Pilke Hepokatti.

Pupils from Kanervala school working on a food chain.

To give a better example of the biological diversity of the Finnish lakes and rivers, Kaisa brought some live organisms (water fleas, Oligochaete worms and Chironomids in real water/sediment) from our culture room to present to the kids. Surprisingly, most of the children had no clue about what a water flea was, or that there exists life also at the bottom sediments of our lakes and rivers. This definitely was a nice opportunity to introduce our aquatic research of UEF EnvBio and Ecotox to visitors of the workshop. We held the workshop during two days, from 9-12 both days, and approximately 60 visitors participated the workshop each day, added with some international groups from Iran and Germany, that were very interested in our workshop and the educational concept of Pilke Loiste in general. The feedback about our workshop was very positive overall.

I have been permitted to report now, that the next year 2019 Pilke Loiste will take part in SciFest again as a workshop organizer, and Pilke Loiste has also been invited to join the strategy group of SciFest, to make the event even better in the coming years. This definitely was a huge success, and an excellent opportunity to bring science-oriented education some publicity.

Laboratory organisms meet SciFest 2018.

Quick facts about SciFest 2018: More than 9000 participants, over 30 countries, and 70+ workshops. We will meet again next year in April 25-27, 2019!!

Text and photos: Kaisa Figueiredo

Due to restrictions in rights of publishing photos of other children, mostly Kaisa’s own kids appear in this blog post (with the kind permission of their mother).