What if a graduate programme would operate like a football team? 

Global water problems are not solved by toiling away alone. 

Professor Olli Varis and his colleagues have a plan: to teach water science doctoral candidates in a non-traditional manner. 

‘Our idea is that they would function a bit like a soccer team’, Varis says, and goes on to explain how the graduate programme began in 2017 with the support of a €2 million grant from the Land and Water Technology Foundation. 

Traditionally, doctoral candidates do their work very independently and receive coaching primarily from their own supervisors. For this doctoral programme, however, they recruited a six student team composed of people with skills that are different yet complementary to each other. The students receive support from a supervisor pool of professors and postdoctoral researchers, from one post-doctoral researcher in particular who serves as a coordinator for practical matters – and from each other. 

‘We encourage the students to teach each other and learn from each other. We collect, for example, all the models and codes that have been produced into a common data bank, which is then available to all’, Varis explains. 

Although the funding for the doctoral program comes from Finland, the doctoral candidates’ research subjects are global: cleanliness and sufficiency of water resources, the importance of water for the economy and economic development, and the relationship between water and urbanisation. 

‘Many environmental and social problems are related directly to water, because in most of the world water is an overused and scarce resource. Here in Finland, we have a huge amount of water expertise which we could more actively export’, Olli Varis believes. 

What kind of doctoral candidates would he like to see graduating from the school? 

‘Independent and technically skilled experts, that are able to grasp the big picture, lead projects – and also do things themselves. And I especially hope that they would share their expertise with others, and be brawny team players.’

About the Doctoral program in water science and technology

  • A pilot project funded by a €2 million grant from the Land and Water Technology Foundation. The five-year goal is to train 6 doctoral candidates and supervise 20 master’s theses. 
  • The project has n advisory board containing a representative from the funding body and experts from foreign and domestic universities and from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. 
  • The doctoral program emphasises skills for working life and the social impact of research. 
  • Working group: Professors Olli Varis and Matti Kummu, University Lecturer Marko Keskinen, Postdoctoral Researcher Maija Taka, Doctoral Candidates Lauri Ahopelto, Amy Fallon, Matias Heino, Marko Kallio, Pekka Kinnunen, Venla Niva and 20 master’s students.