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Donation funds a supportive doctoral school

A new, motivating and communal path towards a doctoral degree was realised thanks to a donation from the Land and Water Technology Foundation.
Members of the Water and Development research group from the left: Pekka Kinnunen, Maija Taka, Lauri Ahopelto, Amy Fallon, Olli Varis and Venla Niva. Photo: Nita Vera.

A doctoral research project is the sum of many things. The doctor-to-be must have the ability to grasp totalities, think critically and independently as well as master research methods, the literature and good scientific practices. They’ll need to apply their expertise in working life and have a healthy amount of perseverance.

Encouraging modes of operation

The Department of Built Environment’s Water and Development research group has launched new kinds of sustainable and encouraging modes of operation to doctoral training. The four-year scheme was started thanks to a €2 million donation granted by the Land and Water Technology Foundation.

The group researches topical water issues, the interaction between water and development as well as sustainable technologies. At present, its members include six doctoral candidates who started their doctoral research in 2017. They are being supervised by Professor Olli Varis and Assistant Professor Matti Kummu. Close support is provided by postdoctoral researcher Maija Taka, who acts as the project’s coordinator. The team also has an international steering group, which spars with them on both the content of research and their work practices.

Guidance and support are important

“Our idea is to form the process leading to a doctoral thesis into a path of personal development along which you can learn and discover new things,” says Olli Varis.

The project emphasises the significance of guidance, support and peer learning. The doctoral thesis process is systematic, and both parties make a commitment to progress the work.  
Doctoral candidate Venla Niva graduated with a Master’s in engineering last June, and is now busy researching slums and their standing between cities and the surrounding countryside.  

“I’m examining the linkages between water security and slumification, and what the administrative function can do to steer growth in a sustainable direction. The group is of great help in my work, we meet often are all in roughly the same stage of our doctoral research,” Niva says.

The responsible experts of the future

The doctoral students participating in the project will be polished into independent and competent researchers who will be prepared to enter working life also outside of academia.    

“Practical skills and the societal impact of research play an important role with us. Our aim is to educate the experts of the future, responsible water sector specialists and problem-solvers who are prepared to tackle the world’s major ¬challenges,” Olli Varis outlines.

The doctoral candidates of the Water and Development research group learn together, often considering their own research questions in cooperation with the other team members.

“Our model has proven to be very effective. It would be easy to apply in other disciplines as well,” says Professor Olli Varis.

giving.aalto.fi
The donations received by Aalto University are used to fund high-quality teaching and research. The minimum donation eligible for a tax deduction is €850. The university can also accept bequeathed donations.

This article is originally published in the Aalto University Magazine issue 21, January 2018. (issuu.com)

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