Final exams for high school students begin on March 14. The next two weeks will be the grand finale of years of studying. Messages from friends. Cups of coffee. And at the same time, making one of life’s biggest decisions. Choosing what and where to study. For many in Finland, the application deadline is on March 30. To some, the decision is easy and straightforward. Others keep going back and forth until the last minute. But, without a doubt, it is a big decision that will steer lives and careers.
MEMORIES FROM SPRING OF 2021
I'm sitting in my home office. The pandemic has made many of us work from home. In the next room, my high schooler is studying for the final exam in mathematics. Luckily, at least the matriculation examinations can be held normally. The following year, the same thing happens again. Now, the firstborn has graduated and gone on to the next stage of studies, and it is now the youngest facing exams and choices ahead.
We can tell many different stories about our lives, but our memory often selects only a few to remember. I remember the big questions when preparing to make big decisions. What is my dream profession? What is important?
As parents, we face the enormous pressures and expectations of young people regarding their future. The meaning of work becomes a topic of discussion at the dinner table at home and at work — how each of us has opportunities to influence the future of our planet.
I was one of those young people who didn't know where to go to study. I remember browsing a thick yellow catalog from the University of Oulu. I know I just have to make a choice. Lots of options. Computer science. It sounded different and a bit foreign. There had been one IT course in high school, but I hadn't attended it.
Later in the summer, a letter for me was set up on the dining table. Dad anxiously waiting. I will be going to Oulu. My first job in the field was at the Government Computer Centre (VTKK). I think I got the job just for my perseverance. I was the only one who called the recruiter enough times. Today, I am on the CSC - IT Center for Science board. According to Wikipedia, CSC's operations began at VTKK in 1971 as a support unit for Finland's first central computer for universities. I wouldn't have guessed at the time. My field has certainly progressed tremendously since my student years. I have had the opportunity to be involved in many things, for example, in preparing FCAI - the Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence- and in acquiring Finland's first quantum computer.
VTT's Sustainable Products and Materials business area also studies digital technologies in industries. Future products and materials must be manufactured sustainably. Robotics, augmented reality, data utilization, and development of industrial processes. The area is diverse, challenging, and rapidly developing. Artificial intelligence and data analytics are applied to solve a global problem - burnout. Sustainable development also includes the well-being of employees and their support. The research work is diverse and cuts through different fields.
The results of the annual employee survey. I sit with headphones on and listen to the consultant's analysis of the situation. The content of the work once again emerges as the most important factor influencing employee engagement. I feel grateful for being able to do this work on research and innovation.
The next day, we will discuss recruitment. Our target is close to 400 new employees this year. The industry is also in dire need of educated, innovative, and motivated people in its ranks. As solutions, we discuss cooperation, training, and support for theses and dissertations. Finland must also attract experts from abroad. The only hope for a small country lies in collaboration and innovation. Through innovation, we will also save the world.
WINTER 2023 - “FORTUNE FAVOURS A PREPARED MIND”
At VTT's internal seminar, I am listening to a speech by VTT's Research Professor, Merja Penttilä. Academician of Science - no more than 16 are in Finland at a time. She talks about research, science, and collaboration. Challenges and solutions. Internationality. How the goal is to know and understand more. Create new solutions. Guide the young. We all listen quietly. Meaningful work with passion and emotion.
The following week, I read the news about a new research project. The project explores how methane in barn air could be captured and broken down into carbon dioxide. Methane emissions from milk production account for about 50% of the carbon footprint of milk in Finland. The aim is to find a new solution to support the fight against climate change. Significant challenges are tackled piece by piece. Doing research can be fun and different. In this case, a cheerful researcher and a curious cow peeking out of the barn. The researchers working on this are from VTT's industrial chemistry research area. Who could have imagined this in a high school chemistry class?
Jasmiina Palo (VTT) and a cow
Sustainability is a huge question. It is essential that each of us makes responsible choices for the globe. Food, clothing, transport, and energy. All of it matters. The most significant impact, however, would come if consumers only had good and even better options to choose from. To develop these solutions, we continue to need curious and educated young people.
Professor Penttilä’s slides included Luis Pasteur’s quote: ”Fortune favours a prepared mind.” I want to wish everyone courage for their final exams and decisions about the future. Be prepared and choose a meaningful path for your journey.