by Melinda Söderström
Level: Undergraduate (Bachelor’s Degree)
University: University of Helsinki
Length: 3 years
Location: Helsinki, Finland
Language: Finnish, Swedish
The course is held primarily in Finnish. Some of the courses are available in Swedish and a few are held in Swedish only. The course consists of basic courses that are mandatory for all and one specific module of choice. Everyone must also take three courses from other modules. There are seven modules in total:
- Agroecology – focuses on the ecology and sustainability of food production.
- Aquatic sciences – focuses on different aquatic ecosystems and human impacts on them.
- Ecosystems and society – focuses on large-scale environmental issues and urbanization.
- Urban environment – focuses on the ecosystems and ecological issues in urban environments.
- Soil and environmental sciences – focuses on soil and the processes within it as a resource and its relationship with the hydrosphere and atmosphere.
- Environmental microbiology – focuses on microbes and microbiological processes.
- Environmental technology in agriculture – focuses on sustainable food production.
The three-year programme also includes a separate unit of choice (which in practice means a minor) and writing a bachelor’s thesis.
- What did you like most about the course?
The flexibility and wide range of possibilities. Because of how many different modules there are to choose from, you can really make your degree your own. I chose Ecosystems and Society, so my degree and expertise will end up being different from someone who studies Aquatic Sciences, for example. There are also options to choose from within the modules and you can freely pick whatever minor you wish so I don’t think there will be two people with the exact same degrees.
- What did you do before this course? Are there any specific requirements to being able to apply to and take this course?
Before this course I completed the Finnish Matriculation exam and then had a gap year wondering where to continue next. There are two main routes to get admitted – either through your matriculation exam grades or through an admission exam. I got my place with an admission exam but recently there has been a change where fewer people are getting in with the admission exam and more people with the matriculation exam. It is nevertheless possible to get in without having perfect grades or a matriculation exam at all (this is especially important for people who have previously studied at a vocational school and therefore don’t have one). There are also a few other routes, like through the Open University, but these are less common.
- What sort of work are you doing (e.g. more group work/more individual work; more project-based work/more essay writing etc.)?
It depends a lot on the specific module and course. I have some courses with only lectures and exams, others with lots of discussions and group assignments. Generally, I’ve noticed that the further I get into the degree, the smaller the groups are and the more there is discussion and interactive work. This could be very different for people in different modules though – I’ve done no lab work for example while some modules have lots of lab courses. There are also field courses available which I’m also planning to take.
- Is there anything you would change about the course?
Some of the courses can have overlapping themes and I’ve even had the exact same lecture on two different courses so it can get a little repetitive. On the other hand, most of the time those themes are important to learn thoroughly so it isn’t just a negative thing. Overall, I’ve been really happy with the course.
- Why did you choose this course over other courses you may have been considering?
I’ve always had a wide range of interests and had a hard time choosing between different fields of study – in addition to environmental sciences I applied to a biology, a theology and a literature degree. At the time I considered biology my first choice and was a bit disappointed that I wasn’t admitted to study it but in retrospect I am much more at home in environmental sciences and I truly believe it was the right choice for me. I love being able to study both the scientific and the social side of sustainability and environmental issues in my module and I find everything I learn to be valuable and meaningful which also motivates me to study.
6. What is life at this university like?
The University of Helsinki has four different campuses around the city and the faculty of biological and environmental studies is located in Viikki. There isn’t campus living in the same way I assume there to be in the UK and US for example but there is affordable housing available for students near the campus. The student organizations are active, holding parties, excursions, sports clubs and other events. Finnish student life specialities include sitz parties (originally from Sweden but nowadays a big part of Finnish student culture too) with a seated meal, singing and toasting, and wearing special student overalls. The colour of the overalls is determined by where and what you study, and they are decorated by often humorous patches you can buy at student events.
- What are you planning on doing after you’ve graduated/what are you currently doing if you have graduated? What are typical jobs graduates do after completing the course?
I am planning on continuing to a Master’s programme, most likely staying at the University of Helsinki. The Environmental Change and Global Sustainability -programme (available in English!) would be my top choice at the moment.
Melinda is a second-year student studying Environmental Sciences at the University of Helsinki with a minor in geography. The focus in her studies is on society and ecosystems. She is primarily interested in sustainable cities but also in the relationship between society and nature as a whole and how the two influence each other.