Developing Doctoral Studies in Aalto, pt.1

This blog entry gathers few different steps taken lately in Aalto University, to improve and further develop doctoral education.

Throughout the last few years one member of Aallonhuiput board has been participating into the meetings of Aalto Doctoral Education Management Team (Tohtorikoulutuksen johtoryhmä). We have been trying to be active to look after post-graduate students’ interests, and to push improvements in relation to supervision and management of doctoral studies at Aalto.

The current work is based on learnings gathered in the collaboration of the executive team and the doctoral programmes from different schools, and on results from a collaborative workshop last fall. This spring the work goes further in a form of a plan for further developments in doctoral education at Aalto. We will revisit this topic in later posts as things develop.

Developing Doctoral Studies – a workshop in Dipoli 3.10.2013

Last October (on 3.10. – again the schedule for this report has been severely suppressed by author’s on-going doctoral studies) Aallonhuiput was participating to a workshop for developing doctoral education in Aalto. We had three representatives there, myself Tatu Marttila, our head Ilkka Hannula, and board member Eeva-Lotta Apajalahti. The event took place at Dipoli in Otaniemi.

The participants were heads of doctoral programs and vice deans responsible of doctoral education (one each from each school), planners and some of us doctoral students. There was quite good representation from every school. The main topics were to look at the current status of doctoral education in Aalto, to discuss of future funding and budgeting plans, and also to see if there would be new ways to share best practices between schools and to improve co-operation.

The vice president of Aalto University and the head of doctoral education, professor Ilkka Niemelä started by going through some facts of our existing doctoral programs. As you are probably aware, the doctoral education in Aalto is organized by its six schools, through their doctoral programs that all have specific directors and staff. One main development has been to differentiate full-time and part-time students (min. 80% of working time to doctoral research for a full-timer), and this has led to the identification of around 1300+ full-time students of 3200+ doctoral students in total in Aalto.

To us Aallonhuiput, who currently still have only 300+ members this is also an indicator that we still need to be more active in promoting our activities to promote the common agenda for better post-graduate studies in Aalto.

Statement by Aallonhuiput

After facts by given by the vice dean Ilkka Niemelä, we had our opening statement representing the post-graduates’ opinions. The main things we wanted to bring in to the discussions were:

  1. Expectations from Aalto?
  2. Support and supervision
  3. Visibility and communication
  4. More resources to bring forward the post-graduate perspectives!

See our slides – Finnish only, sorry

Status reports by Aalto schools

This presentation was then followed by brief status reports by each six doctoral programs, by the respective representatives: Professor Kari Laasonen (CHEM), professor Lauri Savioja (SCI; representing professor Tapio Ala-Nissilä), planner Pia Sivenius (ARTS; representing professor Päivi Hovi-Wasastjerna), professor Kirsi-Kanerva Virrantaus (ENG), professor Janne Tienari representing (BIZ) ja professor Antero Arkkio (ELEC).

The main themes emerging were:

  1. More emphasis on (and more established) student-supervisor relationship:
    * New “agreement” form (In Finnish & English in Aalto Inside) between doctoral student and his/her supervisor
    -> How well is this system that was introduced last Spring now in practice?
    -> Are students aware? Are supervisors aware?
  2. Communication with doctoral students
    * Information online (e.g. Aalto Inside & Aalto Into)
    * Follow-up of progress; Personal study plan?
  3. Specific studies on writing, researcher tools and so forth:
    * Are the studies coordinated so that there is synergy of common interests?
    * Is there enough shared resources and coordination?
  4. Follow-up

Small group activities

The main work was then taken further in three smaller groups that had shared topics for discussion:

  • Identifying shared interest areas for development
  • Defining the shared goals
  • Plan future initiatives
  • Prepare development plan for doctoral studies in Aalto

Below are some bullets from the topics that were brought up in the small group discussions:

Group 1 (I was in this one so there are more notions here):

  • Shared page for doctoral courses, perhaps grouped around certain themes (through selection and with structure) – these could be for example academic writing, (scientific) methods, ethics, professional practice, entrepreneurship and so forth…
  • Funding – different practices (e.g. 4 years, 1+3 years, 1+1 year and so on + projects!)
  • More emphasis on student-supervisor relationship
  • Better communication and visibility when communicating with doctoral students – improving information on Aalto Into pages? (see:

Group 2:

  • How to improve supervision – through communication with students and with new professors -> Pushing agreement for supervision further (In Finnish & English in Aalto Inside)
  • Follow-up? Is this coordinated enough and is mere statistical data sufficient?
  • To really meet 4-year schedule in graduation the research plan must be clear from the beginning and closely tight to existing professors’ interests – but does this narrow the possible topics, scientific freedom, and new research openings?

Group 3:

  • Internationality and international recruitment – co-operation between schools’ international studies units
  • Equal quality in supervision for every student – emphasis on new professors to make them aware of needs and offerings
  • More information on career services

Concluding thoughts

Vice president Ilkka Niemelä then drew some of the topics together. The following issues were seen of fundamental value to pursue further:

  • Supervision and agreement that describes it should be promoted further – especially for newer/younger professors -> aiming to more established mentoring structure.
  • Collecting potential shared studies into one web page, perhaps under certain general themes (like “writing”, “methods” and potentially many more)
  • Career services and improving the future prospects and making them clearly visibility
  • There has to be strong cooperation with companies as well…

Continuing from this, there are our concluding thoughts as the representatives of doctoral students in Aalto:

  • Aalto has good efforts in the process – we need to push them further!
  • As a post-graduate student, remember to demand for better supervision if needed!
  • But seriously – quality vs. quantity…

Discussions continue in comments and (more preferably) in Facebook… We’ll continue to write on this topic during this spring!

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