Creative Sustainability

CS Thesis work in progress: Growing a leg to my T

Creative Sustainability design student Salla Lahtinen shares her personal insights about finding one's own interests and developing competencies.
CS Thesis work in progress: Growing a leg to my T. Copyright Salla Lahtinen.
Beginning of the first year. Photo: Salla Lahtinen

Looking back to her first year in CS, Salla Lahtinen remembers struggling with a big issue: What will my core professional skills be after all this? As CS is a multidisciplinary master's programme with a strong focus on learning by working in groups, the key take-aways of the first year for her were experiences of collaborating in multidisciplinary teams. Despite always feeling as if she had a way to contribute to the groups, Lahtinen was not sure what deeper knowledge and core skills she could personally bring to the teams she was working with.

The struggle first started to unravel when Lahtinen got the opportunity to start an internship at D-mat Ltd in spring 2019. In D-mat, she suddenly was sitting at the same table with environmental scientists, physicists and service designers. With the experiences from the first year, working in this multidisciplinary environment felt natural to her. The second unraveling began when Lahtinen started her thesis – a deeper dive into one topic. She was offered a thesis topic among other theses commissioned by Aalto’s ORSI group which focuses on the consumer's choice in the transition toward an eco-welfare state. Lahtinen had the opportunity to decide the scope of the topic herself. The brief was to make an overview of Finnish online footprint calculators, and after familiarising herself with a large number of thesis works dealing with the same topic as well as a few key journals, she found the right scope and research method. Lahtinen’s goal at the moment is to use grounded theory guidelines for providing answers to the following questions: 1) What calculators have been created by Finnish organizations? and 2) What kind of characteristics do these calculators have? Currently, Lahtinen is finalising the online search of the calculators, and preparing the coding process in Atlas ti.

Presentations in SPSD course during the academic year 2018–2019.
Presentations in SPSD course during the academic year 2018–2019.

When discussing her learning path, Lahtinen concludes: “The whole thesis process basically has been learning what I should be knowing… But despite the common and at times deep obstacles, my experience by far has been positive. I am learning what making research is about, and at the same time the study I’ve made has been directly applicable to my work at D-mat. It was a good decision to narrow down the topic drastically, instead of taking a wide perspective, since I actually simply need to know what kinds of calculators are out there – the company I work for makes these calculators.”

After all, Lahtinen's big struggle was contemplation on what kind of professional she will become. "I think I have been an every-job-person, a T-person whose top of the T is broad but the leg is very, very short. The leg of my own T is now getting longer and as the subject area interests me, it will be easier to dive deeper after all the learnings of the thesis. I don’t mind being a generalist, but knowledge gives me confidence.”

Lahtinen continues by saying that based on her own journey, she would always recommend choosing a thesis topic which allows the student to learn what s/he needs to or wants to learn more about. One might need knowledge or skills to be better at what they are doing right now, or aim to direct their professional path by learning skills they want to use. Knowing what one needs to or wants to know is not that simple, and for Lahtinen for example, things somehow slowly took place by themselves as one thing led to another. "These opportunities I've had have helped to clarify that sustainability of everyday life is a topic that I want to learn more about. I had this interest before starting at D-mat and working on my thesis, but to be honest I didn't really know how to go about with it. It was good to try different things and follow my instincts, even if it was sometimes frustrating."

In the end, Salla’s issue does not anymore seem such a big struggle. From now on, she can continue to thicken her T-leg.

Follow up

Later this year, we will see her overview of Finnish online footprint calculators, accompanied with a conclusion of what they are all about. To hear more about the work-in-progress thesis, please look into this ORSI event and follow Aalto Arts thesis presentations in Autumn. In September, Salla’s handprint will be visible at the Design for a Cooler Planet exhibition, where she is part of the “Susla - Your guide to a sustainable lifestyle” exhibition working group presenting the Susla app. Save the site already now,, this calculator will be published soon!

Behind the Thesis

Salla Lahtinen | LinkedInTwitter

  • Creative Sustainability, Design, graduating as a Master of Arts
  • Background in Visual Arts, Bachelor of Arts, Saimaa University of Applied Sciences
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