Career stories

Kati Miettunen, University of Turku

Professor, Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering

“You can't avoid making mistakes if you want to make a difference, but what matters is how you deal with them and what you learn from them.”

Kati Miettunen, Turun yliopisto

What have you studied and what influenced this choice back in the day?

I studied at Ressu high school and during that time my interest in especially mathematics and physics became stronger. Instead of basic sciences, I was more interested in concrete (technical) problems, such as energy issues. I also have a great passion for challenges. So, I chose to study Engineering Physics at the former Helsinki University of Technology, because I knew that I could specialize in future energy solutions.

How did you become a researcher?

During my studies, I worked as a research assistant in the New Energy Technologies group and was able to brainstorm research questions already then. I found it very meaningful and interesting, so I went straight on to post graduate studies after my master’s degree. The work was meaningful and there were plenty of interesting questions, so I went on to pursue a career as a researcher and am now a professor. On the other hand, you can think that I became interested in research when I was a kid and dreamt of becoming a chemist when I grew up. I got to try out all sorts of ideas at home and also fail.

What is the best thing about your job?

As a researcher you are never finished, and you can always evolve. There are an endless number of topics, and I still like to challenge myself. The independence of the work and the freedom to develop new research ideas is also very important to me. Being a researcher is very close to being an entrepreneur and I enjoy that aspect of it.

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

One of the key highlights of my career was getting this current professorship. I was able to start a new teaching and research field, materials engineering, at the University of Turku. Its success has been the result of many factors, starting with the fact that it took many good people to make it happen. When I got the job, I was very pleased that I already had a lot of experience for my age: creating new courses, hiring and managing people, creating strategic initiatives and even organizing events. Because I had done a lot, I had also made a lot of mistakes in the past, and fortunately for the community also learned from them. You can't avoid making mistakes if you want to make a difference, but what matters is how you deal with them and what you learn from them. It's also worth learning from other people's mistakes. ;)

What do you expect from the future?

The promotion of the materials engineering education and research has been a big and interesting challenge. I would like to continue to be involved in new challenges in the future to develop a better scientific community and teaching.

For whom is this a suitable career option?

A career in research requires an interest in both research and teaching. A research career is characterized by uncertainty, especially after a doctorate. On the other hand, there are opportunities for independence, wide variety of work and the chance to innovate.

What message would you like to send to a young person pondering their career?

It's worth doing something that interests you, that you're good at and that adds value. If something interests you, but you're not good at it, you'll be frustrated. If you're good at it, but you never get interested in it, you'll get bored. If it interests you and you're good at it, but nobody pays you for it, you're unlikely to be able to do it for long. Of the three, interest can often grow as you do it. Similarly, early in your career, the tasks are not always that great and some of the benefits of the work don't come until a little later in your career. If you agree to do jobs that others won't do or don't want to do, that's usually the quickest route to career progression.

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