Expectations vs. Reality in my Master’s thesis project
In October 2019 an interesting Master’s thesis position on “Investigating the microplastic amount and content in cruise ship wastewaters” was offered by Aalto University WAT and Evac Group. Evac provides water and waste management systems for marine, offshore, and building industries. The thesis research plan included visiting cruise ships and taking onboard wastewater samples, from which microplastic amount and content would have been analysed in the laboratories of Finnish Environment Institute as well as in SIB Labs in the University of Eastern Finland. Having previous working experience at Evac Group, I decided to apply to the thesis position and luckily, I was chosen as the thesis writer!
My thesis work started in February 2020 at the Water Lab. Having gained employee status at the Water Lab, I was granted access to the staff coffee room. It was quite fun to chat with other thesis writers, researchers and even professors on a regular basis. One discussion topic – the coronavirus – became increasingly interesting in coffee room chats, as February passed. It was not until the beginning of March that everybody started to realise that coronavirus might hit Finland too. Not too surprisingly, on March 16th the Finnish Government ordered remote studies and remote work in universities.
The pandemic affected my thesis too. It was uncertain whether international cruise ships would sail to Finland or not, so we decided to wait until May to see if we can continue with the original research plan. Essentially, between February and mid-May, I conducted a comprehensive literature review on microplastics and cruise ship wastewaters. It was not until the latter half of May that we decided to change the research plan completely. Ultimately, the chosen objective of the thesis was to estimate microplastic concentrations and loads in cruise ship grey waters through modelling. To reach this objective, I needed to gather data on ship microplastic sources as well as cruise ship wastewater flows, to create a computational tool, and to analyse the results of the tool.
Adapting to all the changes and uncertainty during my thesis process was very difficult. For example, working from home, not meeting my advisors or supervisor face to face after March, not even knowing whether I will land a job after graduation during a global pandemic, was demanding. In the end, my thesis was successful after changing the research plan, I landed a job, and I have been able to move on with life, even though the thesis period was difficult. The main lesson I learned during the thesis was that in specialist work, expectations differ from reality. Learning this has aided me to accept changes that inevitably occur in any project in working life.
I wish best of luck for all future and present thesis writers at WAT! I can share one piece of advice for thesis writers that my advisor Maria gave me: start writing as soon as possible! Not all text you write ends up in the final thesis, but that gives you material to work and refine later on.
My thesis can be found here.
By Oula Mikkola