From MSc to PhD – how the process goes at UEF! Part 2.

Public examination

Public examination, or defense, starts always precisely at noon. Rather strict dress code is taken into consideration. Audience enters to the auditorium at 12, and fifteen minutes later, the PhD candidate walks in, together with the custos and the opponent. The examination begins with lectio praecursia, a short introductory lecture about the topic of the dissertation.  After that, the opponent gives a short introduction into the topic. Custos, sitting between the candidate and the opponent, has an important role in the defense: he opens the public examination and is responsible that everything goes by the protocol. Also, he has to make sure that the opponent and candidate do not end up in a fight. During the examination, the opponent makes questions to the candidate – sometimes very easy ones, sometimes rather difficult. The candidate’s task is to answer to the questions as well as he/she can, and to have interactive conversation upon the topic with the opponent.

Some tough questions in Krista’s public examination.

Finally, after opponent’s final statement, the custos closes the examination. But before that, the doctoral candidate must turn to the audience to ask, if someone has something to say against the thesis. Usually no one raises the hand. In case someone does,  the PhD candidate should politely invite him/her to the karonkka party later in the evening (and the person making the question should politely reject the invitation). Duration of the public examination is normally 2-3 hours, but in the official rules, the opponent can spend up to 5 hours for examining the thesis. After examination, the audience is invited for coffee and cake, or sparkling wine and snacks.  This is normally the moment, when the PhD candidate can breath freely for the first time!!

It is time for some snacs after the public defence.

Karonkka

Karonkka is a well-prepared dinner party in the honor of the opponent, usually held in a restaurant or ball room with a fancy dinner and appropriate drinks. The evening begins with a toast proposed by the PhD candidate, followed by a dinner. Later on, it is time for the speeches. The PhD candidate is  the first one to give a speech and thank everyone who have had a role in the process of thesis making, such as the opponent, custos, supervisors, colleagues, co-authors, friends and family. In this order. There is also an unwritten rule saying that everyone whose name has been mentioned in the speech, must give a speech too. Family members may, however, skip giving the speeches, if they wish. Toasts are proposed between every speech, and the PhD candidate must make sure that the opponent’s glass is never empty. At the same time it is good to take care that your opponent does not drink too much! (Yes, we have also experienced this).

Take enough time for your Karonkka preparations! Krista is preparing her decorations.

Degree certificate

Finally, after the public examination and karonkka are over, the opponent has two weeks to give his or her statement on the thesis and defense. The faculty board must accept the defense and decide on a note: accepted or accepted with honor, which approximately 5% of of the doctoral theses are awarded with. Only after this the candidate can apply for a degree certificate and call him/herself  a doctor.

Universities arrange conferment ceremonies every now and then, approximately once every 5 years. The next ceremony at UEF in Joensuu will take place in 2019. These are 3-day-long celebrations of appreciation for persons who have completed their doctoral degree. Participation is not compulsory, but at least in the past a doctor received a permission to use the doctoral hat (or sword in some faculties) only after being ”promoted” in a doctoral conferment ceremony.

Let us introduce our two newest doctors: Kaisa and Kristiina! (they do not yet have the fancy, doctoral hats) Congratulations!! Who shall be the next?

Kaisa and Krista got their doctorates!

 

Text and pictures by Kaisa Figueiredo and Kristiina Väänänen

 

From MSc to PhD – how the process goes at UEF! Part 1.

Every university and institution has its own requirements and procedures for the PhD thesis, defense and everything related to it, beginning from the process of applying for a PhD student position. From time to time we hear experiences from our neighboring countries through colleagues and co-workers. There are many differences between the processes, but also, many similarities. One thing in common is the thesis. Every PhD student must write a thesis, and have a public examination upon the thesis.

We have already written many posts about the daily life of a PhD student, so we will not go into details in this post. You can read more for example here, here and here. From now on we will concentrate on what happens, once the thesis is about to be ready.

Checking the layout practices from the previously printed PhD theses.

The process of thesis making

In natural sciences at UEF, a PhD thesis consists of 3-5 scientific articles, of which at least two must have been peer-reviewed and published (or at least accepted for publication) before public examination. The PhD thesis includes a thorough summary, where the most important findings of the articles have been summed up, to make a readable context that makes sense. At UEF, all PhD students are in a Doctoral School, consisting of 15 different doctoral programmes. Most of the biology students, Kaisa and Kristiina included, have made their thesis and studies at the doctoral programme of environmental physics, health and biology. The doctoral school and  programmes offer courses, and in some cases also grants for PhD students.

It is hard work to get data for you PhD thesis! Sampling campaign in Lake Junttiselkä.

Preparing for the pre-evaluation and public examination

When the thesis is ready, the main supervisor (in co-operation with the faculty officers) proposes two pre-examiners for the thesis manuscript. Not just anyone can act as a pre-examiner, because there are many requirements for one: Must be an experienced scientist, preferably a professor or at least an adjunct professor (we call it ”dosentti” here in Finland). Also, the pre-examiner is not supposed to have any co-operation with the PhD candidate, not reside at the same department or even the same university. Preferably, at least one of the pre-examiners should from a foreign country.  The pre-examiners are given two months for examining the thesis before they need to give a statement for accepting it or not. In some cases, the pre-examiners provide useful tips for improving the quality of thesis, which should be taken into consideration before sending the thesis to press. Since at least two of the articles of the PhD thesis have already been peer-reviewed and accepted, and also the supervisors have proofread and accepted the thesis for pre-examination, the statement is positive in most of the cases. But the process in still important for maintaining the quality of the theses.

The dean gives a permission for defense (väitöslupa) only after two positive statements from the pre-examiners. Then, the thesis goes to language revision and finally to press (Grano at UEF). This process might take up to two weeks, or even longer, if the first draft does not come out in a perfect shape. The printed books get delivered to the candidate before defense, and one copy must be delivered to the library at least 10 days before the defense. Also, a publishing agreement must be written with the UEF library. The library officers offer the key words and classification number for the thesis. This must all be done before sending the thesis to press. A press release must be prepared too, following the instructions of the communications and media relations department.

Also, a proposal for opponent and custos must be made in advance for the faculty. However, this cannot be done before the permission of defense has been obtained.

Remember also:

  • Do not forget to send invitations!
  • Official photo must be taken at a local photographer in advance!
  • Agreement on the dresscode together with custos and opponent.
  • Check the availability and reserve the auditorium in advance, otherwise you will not have options!

What to expect for your defence day? Stay tuned for part 2!

Text: Kaisa Figueiredo

Photos: Kaisa Figueiredo and Kristiina Väänänen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SETAC went to Brazil

Whenever we ecotoxicologists have something to present to the big audience, we participate the meetings organized by the society of environmental toxicology and chemistry SETAC.  The mission of the society is to support the development of principles and practices for protection, enhancement and management of sustainable environmental quality and ecosystem integrity. Additionally, SETAC promotes the advancement and application of scientific research related to contaminants and other stressors in the environment, education in the environmental sciences, and the use of science in environmental policy and decision-making. The society also provides a forum where scientists, managers, and other professionals exchange information and ideas for the development and use of multidisciplinary scientific principles and practices leading to sustainable environmental quality.

SETAC audience discussing microplastic pollution in Santos, Brazil.

Annual meetings of SETAC take place annually or biennially in different geographical regions, and our group members mostly participate the European and North American annual meetings held every year, as was the case also in 2016 and 2017. SETAC Latin America organized a biennial meeting in September 2017, and I had an opportunity to participate such an event for the first time. My previous SETAC experiences were from three North American meetings, so I thought I could somehow imagine what to expect. But after all, the experience was far beyond that I could ever have imagined beforehand.

SETAC Latin America 12th Biennial Meeting is about to start.

Whereas the North American and European SETAC meetings have about 2000-3000 participants yearly, SETAC Latin America 12th Biennial Meeting this year gathered just about 500 participants. Altogether 17 countries were represented, and a few participants, like myself, came across the ocean from Europe and Asia – me being the only one representative from UEF and the whole Finland. The conference was held in Santos, a coastal city in São Paulo state in Brazil. Everything was smaller and simpler compared to the NA and European meetings – more intimate and informal somehow. In my opinion it was easier to meet new people, get to know them, and talk about science and beyond. Just the fact that I came from Finland, already created an interesting base for various discussions during the sessions, lunch breaks or just in an elevator going from the 1st floor up to the 5th. I got so much courage and confidence about myself by traveling alone and being forced to integrate to the community beginning from the inaugural session. I did not know anyone from there before traveling, but when I came back, I had many new friends and experiences to take home. Who knows, maybe we will have some co-operation with our Brazilian colleagues in the future!?

Definitely not the worst place in the world to attend a scientific conference!

This was the first time ever that I participated in a conference with three official languages: English, Spanish and Portuguese. Most Latin Americans gave their presentations in their own language, mostly in Portuguese, naturally, because the conference was held in Brazil where most of the participants came from. Fortunately I could understand all three languages, but I felt pity for the North American, European and Asian participants who could only follow the slides, which in most cases were in English though. Q&A part was a mixture of all three.  Extremely confusing, but interesting. The actual conference days consisted of platform presentations in the morning, lectures and round table discussions in the afternoon, and poster sessions at 6-8 pm. Lunch breaks were long and gave a nice opportunity to have a little runaway to the beachfront closeby before the next session.

Poster session of the 2nd conference day.

My impression was that the hot topics in ecotoxicology in Latin America are the effects of pesticides to the environment (agriculture is strong in LA) and topics related to pollution of the ocean. Metals and nanomaterials are only now making its way to the Latin American field of ecotoxicology, whereas in Europe and North America they have been a hot topic already for several years. I took with me two posters from Finland, one about my own research about PCB bioaccumulation and passive samplers, and another of Kukka’s and mine, about joint effects of traditional xenobiotics and nanoparticles on aquatic species. The poster session was a success: many interesting dialogues I had, and many new friends I made. This was also the first time that I could present something in my second best language: Portuguese. Everything went better than I excepted, and next time in SETAC Latin America Biennial Meeting, which will be held in 2019, in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, I will definitely encourage myself to have a platform presentation in that language, too. This experience was a wonderful experience as a researcher and gave an interesting insight into ecotoxicology in Latin America. This was also a prefect getaway from my daily routines in order start preparing for my PhD defense, which was about to follow soon after coming back home.

Me and my posters.

The conference trip was financed by Unipid FinCEAL+ program for international mobility between Finland, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), financed by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture. The great adventure has also been documented on Instagram and Twitter @uef_ecotox.

Text and photos by Kaisa Figueiredo

 

 

 

A strong relationship with Joensuu

Moi,

This is Joan, a Spaniard environmental scientist ,who was born some years ago in a very small village called Moixent, located in the southwestern part (the warmest area) of València, Spain. My experience in Joensuu goes back more than 5 years, when in September 2012 I landed in Helsinki after being accepted as an exchange student for the whole academic year at the University of Eastern Finland. I still remember that long journey: Moixent-Madrid-Oslo-Helsinki-Joensuu. Yes, it took more than 24 hours to arrive to my new apartment, located firstly in Tikkarinne, and later on in Karjamäentie.

Enjoying the Midsummer night at Kevo Subartic Research Station, Lapland

New city, new people, new food, new culture, new language… and of course first time studying for part of my Bachelor’s in English (quite challenging at the beginning I must admit). Back then, I took a couple of courses in aquatic ecosystems taught by Dr. Jarkko Akkanen, who without knowing then, would later become the supervisor of my Master’s thesis. Furthermore, in one of the courses, I had the pleasure of meeting Sebastian; but, I will talk about him soon.

I hardly realized it, and May 2013 arrived.  31st of May, the time to pack, to say “see you soon” to a lot of wonderful people…It was the time to start another 24 hours’ journey back to my hometown (drama, drama), but keeping in mind just one thing: I will be back in Joensuu, sooner or later!

The last academic year of my Bachelor’s started in September 2013.  As you can imagine, half of my heart was left in this amazing city; quite close to the Russian border, and surrounded by lakes and hectares of forest where you can enjoy the Northern lights. Just one mission on my mind: get my Bachelor’s diploma as soon as possible and apply for a Master Programme at the University of Eastern Finland.

Northern lights, revontulet in finnish at Joensuu’s sky

I didn’t tell anyone (not even my parents), and in May 2015 I got a letter at home: “Dear Joan, it is my pleasure to inform you that you have been accepted in a 2 years Master Programme in Environmental Science at UEF”. Yeah, August was the month to pack again, apply for a new flat and look for the fastest way to get to Joensuu. This time it took 10 hours, not bad at all (you learn from your experiences)!

The academic year started in September, and I was fully ready to meet old and new friends, learn as much as possible, and enjoy every single day of this opportunity. First year of the Master was complete, and at this point, it was the moment to choose the topic of my thesis. After being trained in different research groups, I made a decision: “I want to do the thesis in the Aquatic Ecotoxicology Group”.

So, after some informal meetings with Jarkko and Sebastian (yes, the guy that I met in 2012, became my second supervisor), we got a topic: “improved application system for activated carbon based sediment remediation”.  Briefly, we are evaluating the efficiency of granular activated carbon vs. carbon pellets to verify which one has better remediation capability (PCB bioaccumulation) by causing fewer unfriendly effects on the aquatic community (Lumbriculus variegatus has been used as toxicity test organisms). In the laboratory I had the chance to meet the other colleagues of the group: Marja, Kukka, Kaisa, Kristiina, Bhabishya, Victor and Eric. I have to thank you all for being such a great group of people and for all the help (specially, in making you some space at the office by taking boxes)!

PCB bioaccumulation (left); growth and reproduction (right) test set up

Experiments were finished by the Ilosaarirock 2017 weekend and currently I’m in process to write the thesis. Nowadays, this process is being done in Denmark, where I moved at the beginning of January 2018 for a four months’ internship on microplastics remediation at the Nordcee Institute, University of Southern Denmark.

Don’t think I have forgotten you, because Joensuu and the Ecotox Group is each single day in my mind, and I will do my best to be back in town and continue my career with the group! Thanks all of you for accepting and for giving me all the knowledge in Aquatic Ecotoxicology!

Have a nice Spring,

Joan

Text and photos by Joan Carreres

An adventure in Joensuu

On the 14th of March in 2017 I left Valencia with 30 degrees, nervous but excited, because I knew that an amazing experience was starting. I arrived in Helsinki, and after some delay I landed in Joensuu, where it was full of snow and 50 degrees lower than when I took off. Someone that I didn’t met before was waiting (some hour more because the delay) for me at the airport, Sebastian, who took me to my new home. I couldn’t get in this house if Kaisa hadn’t taken the keys at Joensuun Elli student housing office.

Landing on the snow at Joensuu airport.

Next day, the experience at the UEF started. Kaisa picked me up, and before arriving to my new office and getting to know my new colleagues, Kaisa went with me to do some bureaucracy. We arrived, and after showing me the laboratories, she introduced me to Kukka, Kristiina, Joan and Bhabishya – all colleagues from the research group. It was time for a coffee for me but lunch for the Finnish people. After this, we made a tour for some high school students  that came to visit the laboratories.  Next day was the time to meet the supervisor, Jarkko. It was a nice meeting where we started to plan our experiments.

Me in the laboratory teaching some new techniques to a student (not high school though).

Caffeine and salicylic acid were the compounds that at the end we decided to use for our experiments. Daphnia magna and Lumbriculus variegatus being our test animals. We started acute toxicity test with interesting results. After these good results, we planned to start chronic toxicity tests with Daphnia magna but these were a bit longer that we thought because there were not enough neonates. Some weeks later, the experiments started with the first generation, followed by the second one. The third generation I could not finish, because my time in Joensuu was over. Kukka and Kaisa took care of the rest of the experiment (thank you once again).

However, not everything was just laboratory in Joensuu. I started practicing some sports (and I am not taking in consideration the rides to the centre by bike). How can I forget the spinning class with Alex (the first and the last one) or the body pump lessons with Kaisa, where I confess the first time I was afraid but then I liked it. The Finnish Conference in Environmental Science was also nice, where I had two posters and one oral communication. I spent lot of evenings with friends I met in Joensuu in JetSet bar, drinking some beers, playing board games and talking about life, something that I loved. In July, it was amazing the Ilosaarirock festival where I was volunteer and I could enjoy one of my favourite bands, Imagine Dragons. If I have the chance, I would love to come back once again to the festival.

My very first but definitely not the last BodyPump class!

August arrived, I had not realized it, and there was not snow anymore. Finally I went to Koli, a beautiful National Park with my lab colleagues, my friends, and I fell in love with those amazing landscapes.  The day arrived, 21st of that month, Kaisa picked me up as lot of days during these five months. But this time our destination wasn’t the university for working or hunting Easter eggs, we stopped at the train station. I loaded the suitcases, full of new knowledge, amazing experience and friends while we made the last pictures. The adventure arrived to the end but feeling that I will be back to this city called Joensuu.

At Koli National Park with Lake Pielinen behind.

Thank you for bringing to me this amazing opportunity.

 

Text by Eric Carmona Martinez.

Photos by Eric Carmona Martinez and Kaisa Figueiredo.