From a cabin crew member to a chemical engineer

Mariina Tikka, who is completing a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering, started her studies in autumn 2020. For her major, Mariina chose bioproducts (biotuotteet in Finnish), which is one of the three options in the School of Chemical Engineering Finnish Bachelor's programme. Interested in natural sciences, especially biology, Mariina feels that she has found her place in the field of chemical engineering.
Mariina Tikka hymyilee kameralle, taustalla vihreä seinä.
Photo: Mariina Tikka

Mariina's path to becoming an Aalto University student has not been the most typical. She trained as a cabin crew member at Finnair before the start of the pandemic, but decided to change direction when the airports went silent in spring 2020.
"I had known for a long time that I wanted to do a university degree anyway. In March 2020, I was laid off and in May I took the entrance exams for chemical engineering. That gave me a couple of months to concentrate on my studies," says Mariina.
Mariina looked carefully at the different options for studying natural sciences. The final decision was based on the interesting courses offered by the School of Chemical Engineering. Mariina points out that chemical engineering can be a misleading term if you one is not familiar with the content of the studies. It is easy for applicants to think that the studies focus purely on chemistry and not necessarily understand in advance the diversity of the field.
"It wasn't until the first spring started that I realised this was the right place for me. I felt like this was really the field I wanted to study. The studies turned out to be even more interesting than I originally thought, especially when the bioproducts courses started."

Engineering still felt foreign in upper secondary school

In Mariina’s days at upper secondary school (lukio), a career in engineering had not even crossed her mind. The student counsellors offered her the options of medicine, law, or business. Mariina considered applying to medical school, but at no point did the idea seem like something she really wanted to do. 
"Aalto University seemed like a distant option and I thought that only some super smart people go there! It's actually surprising how little they told me about engineering in upper secondary school, considering the vast career opportunities it offers in Finland and how much of Finland's exports are chemical engineering products."
Compared to high school, studying at Aalto University is more independent and freer, which suits her well.
"For example, studying through calculations and group work is more concrete, whereas in upper secondary school it was more like sitting in class and listening. I've really enjoyed university studies because I learn best by trying things out for myself."

The studies turned out to be even more interesting than I originally thought, especially when the bioproducts courses started.

Mariina Tikka

The opportunity to make your degree look like you

Students can also choose minors from other Aalto schools. Mariina has a minor in bioinformaatioteknologia (Bioinformation Technology), a programme at the School of Electrical Engineering. When applying to Aalto, Mariina also considered majoring in Bio-IT. However, the courses seemed to involve a lot of coding, which was not one of her main interests.
"I had never even tried coding before and in upper secondary I thought I would never become a programmer. But it's actually been interesting. It has been fun to see how your ideas can change once you start studying and really get to explore different topics."
In addition to their major, chemical engineering students can tailor their studies effectively by the minors they choose. Joint programmes between the schools at Aalto increase the options even further. 
"I'm currently planning to apply for a Master's degree in Life Science Technologies, to develop hospital equipment, for example. My background as a Bioproducts and Bio-IT student would be useful in that."


Otaniemi has a close-knit and active student community

Although campus life has been significantly quieter than usual over the past two years, Mariina feels that she has become part of the Otaniemi student community.
"I really like the fact that we have a cohesive campus. It makes Otaniemi and Aalto unique compared to many other universities. The student culture and the student life, a certain spirit of working together, can be seen in Otaniemi."
Mariina says that despite the exceptional arrangements caused by the pandemic, her studies have gone well. Distance learning has gone smoothly, but she has missed the student events.
"Now that our guild room is finally open, it's been great to see other students. In general, the sense of community at Aalto has played a really important role in how much I’ve enjoyed my studies."

Chemical engineering towards a more sustainable world

Mariina has been actively involved in student activities. This year, she is a board member and study representative of Prosessiteekkarit, the student organisation of chemical engineering students at Aalto. She has also previously worked as a summer intern developing the Aalto Sisu system before its implementation. As Sisu advisors, students are involved in advising, communicating and instructing other students.
"I've liked our student organisation and have tried to be active since my freshman year. I knew pretty quickly that I wanted to be on the board because I wanted to make a difference for chemical engineering students. My biggest motivation as a study representative is to be able to oversee student interests and be involved in marketing the field of chemical engineering. Chemical engineering has a huge potential that is not yet fully utilised."

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