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From the Dean: Match-making: society needs doctors

During the past twenty years, doctoral training in Finnish universities has increased threefold.

Currently 1700 PhDs graduate annually, more than half of them in the so-called science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) areas. The share of foreign-born graduates is in many areas close to a third. Doctoral training has become more professional and systematic, with better supervision and support in well-functioning research groups.  Doctoral training aims at combining scientific knowledge creation with generic skills in problem-solving, communication and teamwork. Doctoral students are perhaps the most important part of the research workforce at universities.

Even with today’s global academic labor market, it is obvious that the majority of graduating PhDs have to find employment outside academia, in industry, services or government. On one hand, this has implications to the practice of doctoral studies – to their content and length, and the requirements for the doctoral thesis.  On the other, more attention should be placed to helping fresh PhDs find opportunities in the society.  Unlike in such countries as  Sweden, Germany and Switzerland, the number of PhDs in industry is relatively low in Finland.

The Finnish industry needs strategic renewal, and the young PhDs are a valuable resource to make it happen.  We need to create a platform where fresh PhDs can bring their enthusiasm and creativity to meet the strategic needs of industry.  Companies often have to focus their attention to solving day-to-day  challenges, and can ill afford blue-sky exploration of ideas and foresight work. 

The idea is to  enable young PhDs to carry out basic research arising from companies’ strategic needs with funding from private foundations. This open, “academic” research phase would then be followed by a working period inside the companies (and funded by them). The foundations could form an “Industrial Post-Doc Pool”, similarly to the pool that already funds young post-docs’ research stays at universities abroad.  Match-making is the keyword: making PhDs aware of the societal and industrial challenges, and making companies realize the potential of the newly minted doctors.

Risto Nieminen
Dean, School of Science

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