Career stories

Mari Lundström, Aalto University

Assistant professor, Metallurgy

"Don't underestimate your skills and believe in yourself - no school or course is too difficult if you are enthusiastic about it. Welcome to join us and make a difference!".

Mari Lundström

What have you studied and why?

I studied metallurgy at the Helsinki University of Technology (TKK). Today it is taught at the Department of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering at Aalto University. The choice of field of study was a coincidence. I was looking at job advertisements and there seemed to be jobs available for engineers. I found out where to study engineering, even though I didn't know exactly what engineers did. I applied to the University of Technology and chose a department that sounded interesting and where I had a reasonable chance of getting in. When I was offered several places, the choice was decided by the additional material I received from the Technical University of Applied Sciences, which told me about the Guild of Materials and Metallurgy, the Teekkari Scouts and the Teekkari Sailing Club, among other things. I thought, "You're probably not alone in that."

How did you become a researcher?

My first job was at an university, where I stayed straight on as a postgraduate student. I didn't intend to become a researcher, but I was interested in metallurgy: process innovation, design and development. During my postgraduate studies, I moved to work in industry. There it was great to see the plans materialise in the form of a new plant or facility. I had no intention of going back from industry to university either, but one morning coffee at Aalto changed my mind. My dissertation supervisor told me about an open professorship and asked if I was going to apply. I hadn't thought about it, but that's how it started. I thought that I might not be selected because I had seven years' experience in industry without an academic career. I only had a few publications apart from my PhD publications, and a few patents in industry. On the other hand, if I was selected, I would be the best person for the job!

What is the best thing about your job?

What I like about my job is the variety, the enthusiasm, the opportunity to do non-routine things, the chance to make a difference, the wide network of collaborators and the countless situations and opportunities that you would not otherwise have the chance to get involved in.

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

Of the many highlights of my career, the first competitive, big funding awards, such as the Academy of Finland's NoWaste project, stand out the most. It is based on an innovation my colleague and I jointly developed to selectively and efficiently recover very low concentrations of precious metals from process solutions.
I am currently leading the EUR 22 million BATCircle ecosystem. It has achieved a lot of good things in national research and development, and this has been complemented by a position in the European Union, in the Presidency of BatteriesEurope. From there, it has the opportunity to influence the whole European strategy on battery raw materials and recycling.
I was also invited to be a keynote speaker at the most important European conference in our field (European Metallurgical Conference, EMC2019), on the subject of battery recycling. I see major scientific publications and awards as important highlights, as well as the graduation of my first PhD students.
The highlights are also when a graduate engineer I have trained tells me that the course I taught was the best in the whole graduate engineering education. At the same time, I can watch students move into industry and see the work they have done start to bear fruit for society.
The most important lessons are freedom of mind, compassion, openness and looking over the hills and gorges to where you can't see. The important thing is to do what you are passionate about and what you want to do, whether it is mathematics, dance, language learning or metallurgy. Getting to the top takes a lot of practice and hours of work. At best, it happens unnoticed when you are passionate about what you are passionate about.

What do you expect from the future?

What I expect from the future is freedom of mind - freedom to explore interesting things, to invent and develop, to innovate. I expect new students - I hope that more young people will recognise metal recycling, metallurgical processes as a future field. For example, who else can make it possible to recycle batteries for electric cars than those with a PhD in metallurgy? After all, there is no way of making this world and all the new products work without metallurgy and metallurgists. Of course, I also look forward to career progression - from assistant professor to professor.

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

Learning is not just about courses and coordinated activities. You young people can be top professionals in fields such as communication, coding or crafts without any formal training. Don't underestimate your skills and believe in yourself - no school or course is too difficult if you are enthusiastic about it.
Welcome to join us and make a difference! We've got a great bunch of people here. There have always been women in metallurgy and good opportunities to progress to where you want to be. There are opportunities to make a difference in areas such as improving metallurgical processes, better recycling and recovering metals that are not yet being recovered. The world needs metals. Electric cars and mobile phones are full of metals and someone needs to know not only how to make them, but also how to recycle them. That's where Finnish expertise at Aalto is among the best in Europe, and it's good to be part of the team building a better future!

For whom is this a suitable career option?

Certain engineering traits are helpful, such as logic, an interest in chemistry or mathematics, an ability to grasp the big picture, a can-do attitude and a twinkle in the eye. At the same time, I believe that if you have the desire to learn, you can become a great metallurgist, metal recycling and processing professional with a wide range of backgrounds. What is important in a researcher's profession is attitude: you need to be humble and ambitious at the same time. Humility is not just about doing the work, it is also about constantly learning from your own work and the work of others. When others are sure that there are no solutions, it is good to be ambitious and persistent. This is something you can learn as you get older. You don't have to be a workaholic at a young age to become a researcher.

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