Sampsa Laakso: Doctoral Students in University Community and Beyond

As I have been participating in Aallonhuiput Ry, the doctoral students association in Aalto, better part of a year now, several issues have come up. I have tried to define the balance of myself as a student and as a faculty member, and I have to say that doctoral students don’t fit too well to neither. When I first started my post graduate studies, first complications were with my former classmates which suddenly became my students. I tried to balance between the role of teacher and a fellow student with no remarkable success. After few years I managed to balance somewhere between control-freak slaver and easygoing TA with not too much interest in students learning.Nowadays I think that my reputation among students is more or less positive, even though the old stories are still inherited by new students. Even the learning results have gone up a bit.

Nevertheless,  I found myself not belonging to the student community anymore. Neither was I part of the faculty since I’m just lowly fixed-term TA-doctoral student. (TA = teaching assistant) With time, that role also has grown to the point that I have quite much faculty responsibilities and my own course as well. But in normal case, I would graduate in half a year, but since my TA-contract, my doctorate will wait atleast few years more. So the learning curve to fit myself somewhere between student and faculty, lasts usually longer than one has time for graduation.

One other thing I felt as a slap to my face was to lose all the student benefits. Especially the health- and dental care. Though healthcare is arranged for the students in working relationship to the Uni. Not for the students working part time in industry. But busses, food, trains, basically everything went up 100% since the student reduction is usually half of the market price. Ok, I can accept that too since I earn quite a more that when I were pre-grad. But still, even student housing is off-limits for doctoral students. That makes a huge hole to my budget especially in Capitol City area.

Aallonhuiput actually managed to get a small nod towards us from the Student Union of Aalto University, a note to the housing rules were added, that in such a case that there is a free apartment and there are no-one else in line for that apartment, then it is possible for doctoral students to apply to it. Funny thing was that even for that small change there was lots of resistance. But I give it to them, we make more money than they do. Our expenses are also much higher, and we tend to be also quite a lot older, many of my fellows with children add to them mix. One special group I would like to see to have at least some extra benefits are the international students. They have already come to Finland. The most frakkin’ expensive country in Northern hemisphere. (I know, Norwegians, shut up) So, at least for the internationals, housing would be nice handshake when they come here to add to the critical mass of top research where Aalto is aiming at.

But of the role of doctoral students; EUA and other organisations driving the Bologna process and the coming third cycle of it, have declared doctoral students to be professionals at the early stage of their career. Ok, I accept that, I’m pro. Hopefully someday the University management realizes that too. I have seen some attitudes towards students growing more and more hostile recently. I dunno if it’s the financial situation around western counties or what, but this should change. But let’s not go there. The point for this blog is to ponder the role of doctoral students in student community. Well, at least that hostility towards students brings pre-grads and doctoral students closer together. That is one point I’m hoping to make. There should be more collaboration in the interest representation in all of the levels of studentship. But to create at least some level of trust, there should be also some social connection. I’m hoping that someday, Aallonhuiput as an organization works together with AYY in good spirit. Post grads could play the role of mentors in not for the freshmen, but for newly appointed master’s students. We could work as middlemen between faculty and pre-grads. There are lots of possibilities. And I have to say that we’re really not that old we oft seem to be. We still like now and then to have a great student party, if our endless pile of work allows us. One always can pile that higher and deeper (PhD) as the old pun goes. One thing I believe to bring post grads closer to the student community is to formalize the membership of doctoral students in student union. Aallonhuiput would play a role of guilds in that sense, and that would bring us more members and better grounds for working as an association. What else, what do you think, how doctoral students should show around campus and outside of it?

Role of doctors in society and industry, well I don’t have too much to say about that, except that there are not too many positions for doctors outside of universities or fields of education. This is something that should be considered, and it has been, at least in European level, but situation in Finland is still quite vague. I don’t want to go there yet in my thoughts, so everyone in their own private minds can start thinking what are we going to do with the increasing number of doctors in Finland?

Originally posted in Production Technology and I

Sampsa Laakso is a doctoral candidate at Aalto University School of Engineering, more precisely at Production Technology, and a member of Aallonhuiput board (2012-2013). He is doing his D.Sc. in FEM simulations of metal cutting. He studies material modeling and especially material parameters acquisition to be incorporated to FEM analysis. He was born in Rovaniemi Lappland, and came to Otaniemi to study mechanical engineering in 2004. He graduated in 2009 and started his post graduate studies in 2010. He also work as an assistant at Production Tech.

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