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Alumna of the Year 2021 Reetta Kaila has built a career that lives up to her values

Reetta Kaila, D.Sc. (Tech.), has been selected as the Alumna of the Year 2021 of the School of Chemical Engineering. Kaila, who is the Director of Sustainable Fuels and Environment at Wärtsilä Energy, is on a mission to reduce emissions and create a sustainable society.
A portrait of Reetta Kaila from Wärtsilä looking off-camera
Photo: Wärtsilä

Reetta Kaila started her studies at the School of Chemical Engineering in 1997, initially majoring in biochemistry.

Biochemistry was a particularly popular subject at the time, attracting talented students interested in science. Kaila chose biochemistry because she did not want to become involved in the chemical industry, which she saw as problematic.

“In my third year of study, it dawned on me that it was actually more effective to be inside the industrial world and thereby contribute to reducing emissions, rather than criticising the industry from the outside. When I realised this, I changed my major to technical chemistry", says Kaila.

At the turn of the millennium, the world of chemical engineering was buzzing about the hydrogen society and the potential of fuel cells. Both Kaila's thesis and her doctoral dissertation, which she completed in 2008, focused on hydrogen production. She was also involved in a multi-year, heavily funded hydrogen production project of VTT and Wärtsilä.

After graduating from the School of Chemical Engineering, Kaila worked in the following years as a process engineer at Neste, and at VTT on biocomponent development and reuse of waste streams from the pulp and paper industry.

“In 2010, I applied for an open position at Wärtsilä, which was very closely related to my research work on hydrogen. I got the job and I am still on that path. The jobs have led to others and I have always been driven to new and exciting tasks”.

Listening to herself has led to an interesting career

Kaila says she has proceeded in her career partly by emotion, without a specific plan. Rather, her career has been built on choices that felt right at the time.

“For example, I have not thought that I should be in a certain place by a certain age. I have focused on making choices based on my core values. I have listened carefully to myself and that has led me forward".

Kaila encourages students to trust their own instincts and opinions. It's not always worth doing things in the conventional manner, but to consider whether things could be done better in a different way.

“For me, it has worked terribly well not to try to fulfil any particular role that I think others expect of me. I try to break old habits because they may not fit in with the new directions and ways of working that I am helping to develop”.

Kaila also advises students to find out what motivates them at work. For her, an important source of motivation is the continuous opportunity to learn and develop. She is constantly amassing educational material on new topics, and looking for alternatives to familiar practices.

“I trust that when I take a broad perspective on things, I will find interesting challenges to tackle. I need to continue to develop in my work, at least to better myself as a manager. And if I find that the job begins to feel too familiar and lacks potential for growth, I will probably look for a new direction”.

Warm memories of Otaniemi

Kaila lived and studied in Otaniemi for 10 years. In the early years of her studies, she served as a freshman captain and was involved in organising student events. The School of Chemical Engineering became an important place for her.

“I know all the corners! The School of Chemical Engineering was like coming home. I really liked Otaniemi and have lived all over the area”.

During her first years at university, Kaila was actively involved in student activities. The Otaniemi years have also left long-lasting friendships – the freshman year chemistry CanCan group and the 1999 freshman committee have both stayed in contact.

Among the staff of the School of Chemical Engineering, Kaila would like to particularly thank former Professor Outi Krause.

“Outi has been a pioneer and the first woman in many tech-related places, especially in catalysis and fuels, as well as in academia. I have been fortunate to have had as a role model someone who has courageously followed her own path. Outi has given me good advice and been a great role model”.

Intrinsic motivation is more important than a precise vision

According to Kaila, one's career direction does not have to be clear yet at the beginning of your studies. One can also do what she has done: proceed a step at a time, and see where that leads. However, she stresses the importance of intrinsic motivation:

"In today's working life, no one is going to pull you forward. It requires a strong will to proceed on any career path", says Kaila.

Kaila does not intend to plan the future too carefully. Her choices will continue to be based on her personal values and mission:

"I want to create a sustainable society and improve job satisfaction, as well as reduce emissions in the energy and transport sectors, for example through the circular economy. If I stay on that path, I think I will encounter interesting opportunities".

Who?

  • D.Sc. (Tech.) in Industrial Chemistry (2008)
  • Director of Sustainable Fuels and Environment at Wärtsilä Energy
  • Has previously worked as a process engineer at Neste, in biocomponent development and waste recycling of the pulp and paper industry at VTT, and at Wärtsilä as a specialist, product manager, sales representative for marine LNG (liquid natural gas/biogas) systems, and leader of the biogas technology and product development team
  • Leads a family life, fitting in exercise, audio books, renovating, decorating, and gardening. Interested in a wide range of subjects, particularly history, art and science research, all of which she will explore whenever she has the time
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