Let’s take a Finnish example of postgraduate education process…
A way of becoming “a working student”
In Finnish educational system postgraduate doctoral studies related to research can be also concidered as a full-time work. A combination of three elements such as a work, study and research makes the learning process quite complicated and demanding. But the outcome of studies is worth of it: a successful PhD continues his/her work either in a specified industry or in an academic field.
Steps of the admission process
Generally the admission process starts from an applicant’s initiative who completes the following steps:
1. An applicant chooses and defines a university to apply;
2. He/she makes a research about this university and finds relevant faculties;
3. He/she distantly gets to know professors, becomes familiar with their interests and field of studies by examining their publications;
4. Then he/she examines obtained information: whether it matches with applicant’s own interests;
5. Finally, an applicant should answer questions:
a) How do I find a supervisor?
b) Where do I find a scholarship/a grant?
So what about funding?
I had an opportunity to meet and talk to the Head of Study Affairs at LUT Graduate School, Sari Damstén who has explained a PhD application process from the inside.
“As for funding, the situation has been changed. Previously, there were national doctoral programmes which received funding from the Academy of Finland. These networks were able to offer funded positions for some doctoral students to apply. Today universities are responsible for funding the previously granted network positions of their students with the budget money and allocate money for new positions as well. The economic situation is tight at the moment” says Sari Damstén.
If a university has some finance to hire PhD students it opens available research positions on its website. Earlier such practice wasn’t a common practice in Finland but nowadays due to the transformation of national PhD programmes to the university ones, universities’ graduate schools have begun announcing open positions more often.
Verification of international degrees
Sari Damstén says, “Most of international degrees are recognized in Finland, i.e. they allow applying for doctoral studies but in some cases depending on the content of the degree extra prerequisite courses may be required.”
More information about an application process and eligibility criteria can be found at the Center of International Mobility website.
PhD: full time work vs full time studies
Anna Shcherbacheva, a PhD student from Faculty of Mathematics, LUT comments, “It’s still partly studying: you are obliged to pass some courses of your own choice. You can even take courses from world-famous Princeton and Stanford universities (for more details see Coursera web page). Some advanced positions in R&D compartments require doctoral degree as a must. And I need to notice that the level of salaries in R&D is drastically higher than average salaries.
I highly appreciate an opportunity to get my doctoral degree while being young. This is an outstanding experience elder people often can’t afford due to variety of reasons: economic issues (they concentrate on earning more and achieving career goals), having children (takes much of one’s time and requires additional money) and losing brain flexibility (it’s much harder to extend your knowledge and invent a brand-new ideas when you’re getting elder).”
PhD is also a research work. You are officially employed (at least, it’s a case of Finland) and responsible for your work. Sometimes you collaborate with professionals from other fields: for instance, I have background in math and I’m building a mathematical model of disease spread while my colleagues specialize in biology. So I’m forced to extend my own scope of knowledge.
As a PhD student you travel all over the world to participate in conferences and to work on shared publications. PhD is a specific work experience, not exactly the same as being employed in industrial company. The main issue of doctoral studies is whether you are really able to produce a complete and sustainable piece of work? Are you able to take your responsibilities? The doctoral degree is more like a driving license: it confirms that you are capable of making things done!”
Are chances equal for everyone?
I guess that everywhere, and in Finland too, people tend to hire people whom they can trust to. In previous posts I already mentioned that Finnish values are a hardworking attitude and a timed delivery. It’s quite hard to find those candidates who will not only start their PhD studies but also complete it on time. That’s why Master’s thesis students who have already recommended themselves as good candidates have more chances to be employed when they are interested in PhD education.
For me a way to complete PhD studies doesn’t seem an easy way. But I’m planning to make it and go through this hard process of getting a PhD degree. It’s goingto be very interesting at least !