Emma Nordbäck believes that anyone can find their passion through doctoral studies

Doctor of Science (Technology) Emma Nordbäck, whose doctoral degree will be conferred in the ceremonial conferment in June, found a way to combine technology and humanities and now studies virtual work methods.
Aalto University / Emma Nordbäck / photo: Iiro Immonen

Postdoctoral Researcher Emma Nordbäck, what has your study path been like?

I started my studies in the Helsinki University of Technology in 2005, in the programme that at the time was called Telecommunications Systems. In those days, I saw myself as a very technical person. However, I realised pretty soon that I was not as technical as I had thought.

Soon after this realisation I discovered the field of User-Centered Telecommunications Systems which focuses on ways to produce user-friendly technology. As a minor subject, I chose work psychology. When I started working on my master’s thesis, I wondered how I could combine technology and human sciences. I started doing research on virtual teams, i.e. teams that do long-distance collaboration and communicate with each other by using technology. Eventually I became so excited about the topic, that I decided to continue my studies. I started my postgraduate studies in autumn 2012 and received my doctorate in October 2018. My dissertation focused on shared leadership in virtual teams.

What are you working on now?

I will probably never be able to leave Otaniemi! Currently I am in charge of the FITech online version of the International Design Business Management programme of the School of Business. We started the pilot project on the programme’s online version last autumn and now I am teaching three online courses for students from all over Finland.

What type of research do you do?

I work as a postdoctoral researcher which means that in addition to teaching I do research at the School of Business’ Department of Management Studies. I still study virtual work methods: the ways in which people can collaborate despite distances by using technology and the effects technology has on people and cooperation. Artificial intelligence is becoming an increasingly integral part of work, and I am planning on studying teams that incorporate artificial intelligence. In addition, I am interested in self-managing organizations: what happens when hierarchy is removed and leadership can happen naturally.

Why do you recommend doctoral studies?

I have benefited from my doctoral studies a lot. I have learned to be entrepreneurial, to acquire funding and to cooperate with businesses and other partners. In addition, I have been able to develop my skills in independent work and in managing several concurrent projects.

My postgraduate studies have not followed the most conventional path. Many of the students who are now starting their postgraduate studies receive funding for a few years which they have to target to their dissertation research. I started working on different research projects as soon as my doctoral studies began and I even studied topics that were different from my dissertation topic. This meant that I had to manage working on multiple projects already at a very early stage. This way of working reflects the current times. Work is more fragmented and therefore it is important to learn to manage several projects at the same time. I believe that this skill will be beneficial in any job I will have.

I think that anyone can find their passion through doctoral studies. However, I do not recommend them to everyone. You should be interested in an academic career even a little bit to take on doctoral studies. For me, doctoral studies have provided a wide network of people from around the world. Now I also consider myself more as an expert of my field.This is something I will carry with me into the future, regardless of whether I continue my career in the academic world or elsewhere.

Lastly: I recommend doctoral studies also for those, who are interested in studying a topic in more depth or studying something different from their master’s degree studies. I think that doctoral studies are an extremely good way to gain a deeper understanding of a new topic and to create your personal study path. When you are working on your research, lessons learned will stick with you for a lifetime compared to participating in courses and reading books.


The next Ceremonial Conferment of Doctoral Degrees in Technology will be held at Dipoli during the Ceremony Week in June 2019. This year the distinguished academic event will be hosted by the School of Electrical Engineering.

The Ceremonial Conferment of Doctoral and Master's Degrees in Arts, Design and Architecture at Aalto University will take place on 13 June 2019.

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