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Meet CHEM alumni Matti Sonck

At the Aalto University you can assemble your own kind of a cocktail
CHEM Alumni Matti Sonck

What do you do right now?

I work at Fortum on a biorefinery project called Bio2X. Its purpose is to build a biorefinery in Central Europe that utilises grain straw, i.e. agricultural side streams. We are currently in the pilot phase. My work focuses on technical research and product development of grain straw hemisellulose, the targeted end products being bio-based products e.g. for chemical industry. My work also includes cooperation with industrial partners and research institutes.  

How did you end up on this position?

I graduated in 2012 with a major in biotechnology. After completing my master's thesis at Fortum, I ended up with a permanent employment contract in the same house in the R&D unit. After a while, I took study leave for two years in Holland, where I started doing a doctoral thesis on innovation systems. My goal is to get my PhD in a couple of years. The biorefinery project is currently at a very interesting stage and my work is really inspiring.

Why did you study chemical engineering?

Prior to my master's degree in engineering, I had already completed a bachelor's degree in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Helsinki. After this, I studied biology for a year because I was interested in the subject. However, I thought a lot about what I really want to do for a living and concluded that it is easier to get a job and even choose a job by studying chemical engineering. In retrospect, I have been very pleased with the decision.

So, my own study path has not been straightforward, reflecting the fact that I have always been interested in many different things. In my current job, however, I need a wide range of skills: project management skills, leadership skills, knowledge of chemistry and natural sciences, and organisational skills.

What were the most important skills for working life that you gained from your studies?

A Master’s degree in technology provided readiness for systematic work. The great benefit of engineering training in working life is a systematic, constructive way of approaching problems. The studies also formed optimism that the problems, even the major global problems, could be solved. I studied biotechnology as a major, so the expertise in my own field is, of course, basis of everything. It has been important to find our own interesting field, which also has good prospects for the future. 

What would you like to say to students considering studying chemical engineering?

The master's degree in technology teaches you how to solve problems systematically and gives you skills that can be utilised in a wide range of tasks and organisations. The scientific and technical approach carries in many professions.

One of the most valuable experiences during the studies was, for example, taking exchange studies at University of Stockholm. Also, before I graduated, I was able to work as a trainee in Brazil for six months. It is worthwhile using such opportunities because international services are well organised at Aalto and I received good support and guidance for my decisions from my home university and the School of Chemical Engineering. At Aalto, it has been made easy to build your own kind of cocktail of studies. I remember my studies fondly!

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