Merja Teirikangas, VTT
"If you are interested in technology, mathematics and physics, then feel free to give it a try! And keep in mind that you can always change your field if your first choice didn't feel right".
What have you studied and how did you choose this option?
I was at music high school and thought music would be a career for me. However, while I was still in high school, I realised that I would lose the joy of music if I did it for a living. So I decided to pursue my other interest, electronics. I went to study for a degree in electronics and electrical engineering at the University of Oulu. This area of engineering seemed the most accessible and interesting, as my parents' jobs had left me with half-demolished radios and other electronics lying around my house all my childhood.
How did you become a researcher?
I worked in the microelectronics research unit at the university while I was still a student and stayed on after graduation to work there and complete my PhD in engineering. What attracted me to research work was the playfulness of testing and experimenting. My thesis allowed me to develop something of my own that no one else had ever done before. The thing that excites me about research is that I get to do something new that doesn't yet exist. Sometimes the end result is good, sometimes not. In research, the results can be bigger or smaller innovations, or they don't work at all and end up in the trash.
What is the best thing about your work?
I like the fact that I can search for information and develop new things based on it. The best part of my current job at VTT is that I get to put new ideas into practice.
Writing for publications would not be so much fun if I didn't get to work with my hands and put my visions into practice.
What have been the highlights and most important lessons of your career?
I have been involved in some really interesting projects. The most rewarding projects have been those where I have worked with companies to develop commercially viable products. I like the fact that I get to mentor students in the field and pass on knowledge. It was a really great feeling when the first postgraduate student I supervised was awarded a PhD. In my work, I have learned to tolerate the fact that not everything works out. I have also learned to ask for help and to bounce ideas off others. As a researcher, it's easy to curl up alone with your own research topic, even though you can get workable ideas from others.
What are your expectations for the future?
My research vision is to realise self-repairing structural electronics. This would allow us to develop more ecological electronics, so that when equipment breaks down, we don't always have to buy a new one. I believe that the way we work in the future will change, for example, as remote working becomes more common. The need to travel will be reduced and perhaps there will also be an effort to do things in one's own unit without being so dependent on others.
What greetings would you like to send to a young person considering a career choice?
Be brave and make your career choice based on your own interests, not on the expectations of your environment or the choices of others. Friends stay in your life, even if you go to study in a different field or in a completely different part of Finland. If you are interested in technology, mathematics and physics, then feel free to give it a try! And keep in mind that you can always change your field if your first choice didn't feel right. These days, careers are so long that you can change direction many times.
For whom is this a suitable career option?
A curious person! Someone who likes to dismantle equipment and see what's inside. A career as a scientist is for someone who is interested in why things happen or work in a certain way. They are interested in how things happen, and whether they can influence things to happen differently. Of course, an interest in mathematics is essential for someone working in electronics and engineering.