Doctor’s career path: Assistant Professor Mikko Hänninen

In my opinion, personal learning and development are more important than course grades or assignments.
Assistant Professor Mikko Hänninen
‘As Aalto University has a very good reputation, especially in Europe, the position of doctors graduating from Aalto is principally excellent,’ Mikko Hänninen says.

You graduated with a Master of Science in Economics and Business Administration degree in 2016. Was it obvious for you that you wanted to continue your studies in a Business and Economics doctoral programme?

At the end of my master’s studies, I had developed an interest towards the retail sector and had already gathered some experience in research as a research assistant at the Department of Marketing. When the Department of Marketing received an interesting project funded by Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation (nowadays Business Finland), I was asked whether I was interested in working at Aalto as a project researcher. Later on, this project turned into the topic of my doctoral dissertation.

I had no doubts about entering the world of academia, and a doctoral degree became an obvious goal for me thereafter. I started as a full-time researcher at the Aalto University School of Business in February 2016, one month before I graduated with a Master of Science in Economics and Business Administration.

What do you consider the best aspect of doctoral studies at the School of Business? And is there something that needs improving?

In my opinion, the best thing about doctoral studies at the School of Business is that everyone is given the freedom to build the degree package they need to foster their dissertation project. This may involve a exchange period at a foreign university, international course modules or postgraduate studies offered by the department.

60 credits may sound like a lot of studies, especially right after completing the bachelor’s and master’s degrees. However, one should understand that the purpose of the courses is to support the student’s dissertation project and help them build the skills required during a career in academia. Personal learning and development are more important than course grades or assignments. At the same time, of course, some of the joint study modules offered by the School of Business are very important as they enable doctoral students to also network with doctoral students from other departments. Moreover, I consider the joint studies an important and rewarding part of postgraduate studies.

The only thing in need of improvement is that the doctoral programme, similarly to many other Finnish degree programmes, still suffers from slightly excessive bureaucracy. From time to time, this may cause headaches when applying for the programme or when graduating. For example, if the application periods for the programme had been slightly more flexible I probably could have started my official postgraduate studies already a year earlier. Fortunately, some changes to this have been planned and will be implemented in the near future, hopefully enabling potential students to start the programme more quickly and flexibly. In the end, unfortunately the number of promising young researchers is not too high.

Did you attend seminars and conferences abroad during your doctoral studies?

I attended numerous seminars and conferences in Europe, Asia and North America during and before my doctoral studies. These have been very important opportunities in my career not only in terms of increasing the visibility of my own research but also in terms of networking. I started building a large network in my field quite quickly, and it was relatively easy to find the conferences that were the most essential for academics in my field of specialisation. For example, I have regularly participated in the annual retail research seminar organised by the University of Oxford.

For me, smaller workshops and seminars have been remarkably more memorable than “mega” conferences such as the Academy of Management events that have thousands of participants. This is because the smaller seminars and workshops enable more close networking and discussions with the leading researchers in a given field. For example, the workshop organised by the Organization Studies Journal in Greece in May 2019 was particularly an excellent and highly memorable event. However, I have enjoyed all the conferences and seminars I have been to.  

Did you complete courses at foreign universities during your doctoral studies? If yes, did you apply for funding?

During my doctoral studies, I completed a few courses abroad at universities, such as the Stockholm School of Economics and the University of Oxford. The week I spent at the Stockholm School of Economics was especially a very rewarding one. I made many good friends among the participants, and I actually still keep regularly in touch with a few of them, including, a few ongoing research projects. I received funding for the courses from the Department of Marketing and from a externally funded research project in which I used to work. If I had completed more courses abroad, I could have applied for funding from the HSE Support Foundation, for example. In general, the costs of the courses are very reasonable, and accommodation or meals may be included in the price or be available at a good discount. In both Stockholm and Oxford, I stayed at the universities’ executive education campuses, which had excellent facilities.

How long did your doctoral studies take?

My doctoral studies at the School of Business started officially in August 2017, and I defended my doctoral dissertation in spring 2020. Thus, in theory, I completed my doctoral studies very quickly. I also spent a couple of months on paternity leave during my studies. However, I had already completed some doctoral studies and started to write my first research articles before I officially participated in the doctoral programme. In that sense, my path in the doctoral programme is slightly different than normal.

Doctoral studies require approximately four years of full-time work when taking into account the time that the various stages of the process inevitably take. For example, it always takes a few months from submitting a dissertation for preliminary examination to the actual public examination of the doctoral dissertation.

Did you find employment the way that you had hoped after your doctoral studies?

Yes. I started to actively apply for jobs in the academia shortly before submitting my doctoral dissertation for preliminary examination. I received a great deal of support for the job search from my international network and my colleagues at the Department of Marketing as many of them had recently been on the job market. As Aalto University has a very good reputation, especially in Europe, the position of doctors graduating from Aalto is principally excellent.

I am thrilled about my transition to the University of Nottingham which is one of the leading universities in the UK. There my work will focus specifically on research and education in the field of retail and retail operations management. However, I am confident that my bond to Aalto will continue to remain strong in the future.

Doctoral programmes

Doctoral programmes of Aalto prepare to become highly qualified researchers and experts in most demanding positions. Doctoral education is carried out in a unique multidisciplinary international scientific community.

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