Mirja Illikainen, University of Oulu
"If you want to change the world and make a real difference, engineering is a really good option".
What have you studied and how did you choose this option?
I have studied Process Engineering at the University of Oulu. I ended up doing it on the advice of a teacher. I was good at maths, physics and chemistry in high school. The teacher of these subjects told me about process engineering. I didn't really know anything about the field, but I thought I might as well give it a try and see if it was fun or not.
How did you become a professor of circular economy and materials science?
I enjoyed my studies and realised pretty quickly that research was my thing. As a third year student, I was offered a part-time research internship in the same unit that I now run. So I started my career as a researcher while I was still studying. When I realised that research was really fun, I stayed on at university after graduation to do my PhD. Since then, I have progressed to professor.
What is the best thing about your job?
The best thing about my job is making the world a better place, making the work feel meaningful. We develop materials that reduce carbon emissions and contribute to climate change. Another great thing about research is the joy of discovery. It's like being at the frontier of known and unknown knowledge. The fun is in discovering new things, and in doing things that no one has done before.
What have been the highlights and most important lessons of your career?
Along the way, I've learned that you can achieve great things if you do your best every day. About 10 years ago, I started a new area of research on materials for the circular economy. At that time, no one in Finland was doing this kind of research. Now our group is one of the biggest and best research groups in the world in this field.
What are your expectations for the future?
I expect many research groups to be created around circular economy and materials research, as there is a huge amount of research to be done. As a professor, you have the opportunity to influence the job description, which makes the future exciting. My own work became more varied at the beginning of the year when I took up the position of Dean of the Faculty of Engineering.
For whom is this a suitable career option?
This type of job is for someone who likes problem solving and making logical connections between things. I think it's an advantage to have an interest in science and a willingness to understand how the world works. There are many different types of people and qualities that are suited to this field.
What greetings would you like to send to a young person considering a career?
If you want to change the world and make a real difference, engineering is a really good option. Think with an open mind, studying and researching engineering is not boring at all!