Career stories

Heidi Piili, University of Turku

Senior research scientist

"Believe in your dreams, be prepared to work for them and trust your inner voice. "Missteps" are not wasted time, because you always learn something new".

Heidi Piili

What have you studied and how did you choose this option?

I was given a chemistry set by my mother in 5th grade and chemistry studies in one way or another were clear as day from then on. After a busy summer of studying for my abi exams in 1995, I applied to study chemical engineering as the university option would have required some extra study. I decided to start studying chemical engineering at LUT. Moving to Lappeenranta was also my first visit to the city. At first, I also considered changing to another university, but getting to know the spirit of LUT made me reluctant to change.

I later specialised in paper technology and in my diploma thesis in 2002 I learned about cutting paper with a laser beam. The lasers took over and after my Master's degree in 2003 I stayed on to do postgraduate studies in laser processing. Towards the end of my postgraduate studies in 2009, I visited a company specialising in 3D printing of metals and the laser fascination was replaced by a passion for 3D printing. By the way, metal 3D printing uses a laser beam! At that stage, my dissertation was so far advanced that I didn't change the subject, even though I thought about it for a long time.

How did you become a professor of mechanical engineering?

After my PhD in 2013, I continued my research and teaching work on 3D printing, or in professional terms, additive manufacturing. In 2017, I also did a year-long rotation in industry. While my path may not have been the most typical, it has been comforting to discover that moving from one research topic to another, and even from one engineering field to another, is possible albeit challenging. However, certain basics, such as natural-mathematical logic, are universal. During my year working in industry, I discovered that people from diverse backgrounds work there too, and that alongside the skills already acquired, the desire to learn new things is at least as important. In other words, learning does not end in the last year of study, but continues in one form or another throughout life. Alongside my other work, I also obtained a professional teaching qualification in 2015.

I worked for a long time as a researcher and associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the laser machining and additive manufacturing research group. When the professor who led the group moved to another position in February 2020, I was appointed to that professorship.

What is the best thing about your job?

The best part of my job is meeting people and being on the lookout to see new technologies being introduced. Although 3D printing technologies were developed in the 1980s, they are only now maturing into an industrially viable option. Teaching also gives me a lot and seeing students succeed is rewarding. The best moments of a career are certainly to be found in seeing students develop and grow.

What have been the highlights and most important lessons of your career?

The single highlight of my career is the moment in February 2013 when I was able to hold in my hand a 3D-printed 24-carat gold piece. It was mind-blowing! Student success is also always a highlight. The most important lessons learned along the way are to believe in yourself and trust your own inner voice and intuition. Of course, you have to be prepared to work hard, but knowing that your work is important and meaningful helps you to keep going.

What are your expectations for the future?

My wildest dream is to have the best 3D research centre in Finland and a master's programme in 3D printing and additive manufacturing at LUT. On the other hand, I have noticed that wild dreams and pipe dreams tend to come true, although they require work and time. Realism combined with pink dreams and hard work is the key to making dreams come true.

What greetings would you like to send to a young person considering a career choice?

Believe in your dreams, be prepared to work for them and trust your inner voice. "Missteps" are not wasted time, because you always learn something new. Don't stare too much at age and time limits - life has time. Mistakes are not failures, they are learning opportunities. Also, why not go on a student exchange before graduation?

For whom is this a suitable career option?

Anyone with an interest in the subject is suitable. You need to be interested and willing to work, but it's not rocket science. Engineering is also perfect for women, there's nothing strange about that at all. You can see some very interesting things in laser beams!

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