How can plants help us cope with global challenges?
Life on Earth depends on solar energy captured by plants - they are the base of most food webs and underpin the functioning of all major ecosystems. Plants release the oxygen we breathe. They convert solar energy into chemical energy, providing us with food, fibres, renewable energy sources, and raw materials for many industries. Plants do not carry out these processes in isolation. They interact with other organisms and the physical and chemical environment, communicate and actively adjust to their circumstances. How do they do these things and how can we profit from understanding them? When you have graduated from the Master’s Program in Plant Biology at the University of Helsinki you will have the answers to these big questions, and more.
Goal of the programme
Life on Earth depends on solar energy captured by plants - they are the base of most food webs and underpin the functioning of all major ecosystems. Plants release the oxygen we breathe. They convert solar energy into chemical energy, providing us with food, fibres, renewable energy sources, and raw materials for many industries. Plants do not carry out these processes in isolation. They interact with other organisms and the physical and chemical environment, communicate and actively adjust to their circumstances. How do they do these things and how can we profit from understanding them? When you have graduated from the Master’s Program in Plant Biology you will have the answers to these big questions, and more, such as:
- How one plant cell develops into a complicated organism and how plant cells, tissues and organs communicate with each other
- How plants avoid, tolerate or defend themselves from external stress factors such as diseases, drought and excessive solar radiation
- How plants sense their environment and communicate with each other and with other organisms
- How plants, interacting with microbes, fungi and animals, maintain ecosystems and thus life
- How the genotypic, functional and morphological differences between plants allow them to thrive in vastly different habitats
You will also be able to:
- Understand how research in plant biology and biotechnology can contribute to plant breeding and production
- Plan, coordinate and execute high-quality basic and applied scientific research
- Have a good command of the scientific method and critically evaluate research across scientific disciplines
- Use the basic skills needed to expand your knowledge into other related fields and communicate with experts in those fields
- Act in working life as an expert and innovator in your field, supported by your language, communication and other transferable skills
- Be eligible for scientific post-graduate (doctoral) studies
After earning your degree, you can continue towards a PhD or move directly into a career. If you have a Bachelor’s degree in a field of biology from another Finnish university or from a foreign university anywhere in the world, you are welcome to apply for the Master’s programme in Plant Biology. Based on your previous studies we will evaluate the possible need for supplementary studies, which will be included in your degree.
Information on the languages of instruction
English is the main teaching language. Because the programme is multilingual, you can take your examinations, write your thesis and fulfil other programme requirements in English, Finnish or Swedish.
The Master’s Programme in Plant Biology is a joint programme of the Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences and the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, which ensures an exceptionally comprehensive curriculum. You will be able to study the diversity of wild and cultivated plants from the Arctic to the Tropics, as well as plant functions from the molecular to the ecosystem level.
The teaching is diverse, consisting of modern laboratory and computer courses, field courses, seminars and excursions. The curriculum is intertwined with research. You will be introduced to the research groups from the beginning of your studies, so you will become familiar with research methods as your studies progress. Much of the study material is on various learning platforms (such as Moodle), which allow distance learning. You will have a personal tutor who will help you tailor an individual study plan according to your requirements.
Within the programme you can choose among several optional study modules and focus on, for example:
- Plant biotechnology and breeding
- Molecular biology and genetics
- Regulation of growth, reproduction and differentiation of tissues
- Biological basis of crop yield
- Plant ecology and evolutionary biology
- Evolutionary history and systematics of plants and fungi
- Species identification
All modules are worth at least 15 credits. They are interlinked to ensure a coherent and balanced degree that allows you to obtain a broad perspective. Alternatively, you can focus on your primary research interest while acquiring the skills needed to follow your career goals on completion of your degree.
A translational perspective is emphasised in courses in which it is relevant. That will allow you to apply the acquired basic knowledge in problem-based research, bridging the gap between basic and applied research.
Selection of the study track
By choosing study modules you find interesting you will be able to deepen your expertise in particular areas of plant biology. Your degree can thus be tailored depending on your aspirations, whether you want to be a university researcher, entrepreneur, or environmental/agricultural consultant. You will also be free to pick individual courses from any module, without having to take all courses in it. However, each module is a coherent entity so we recommend that you take all of the courses in it.
The extent of the programme is 120 credits (ECTS), to be completed in two years of full-time studies. The degree consists of
- 80 credits of advanced studies (in plant biology), including Master’s thesis (30 credits)
- 40 credits of other studies from this programme or other programmes
The curriculum contains a personal study plan and it can contain career planning or transferable skill studies.
Students doing their BA and MA degrees apply for pedagogical studies in the BA stage of their studies. The possibility for students to apply for pedagogical studies in the MA stage of their studies will be decided on during the autumn term, 2017.
By completing your Master’s thesis (30 credits) you will show that
- You are capable of scientific thinking
- You are able to design and carry out experiments under supervision
- You are profoundly familiar with the topic of your thesis
- You are capable of effective written scientific communication
A Master’s thesis project usually consists of four distinct phases
- Design and planning of the study
- Gathering the data (field work and/or laboratory work and/or mathematical modelling)
- Analysing the data (validation/quality control, statistical analysis, plotting)
- Interpreting and discussing the results in the light of existing literature on the topic
Typically, the work is carried out in a research project in which you have a clearly defined and independent role. You must write the thesis yourself. Your work will be supervised by a person, such as a professor or a lecturer, who has a PhD in the same field of research and who knows the topic and the relevant courses well. Upon completing your Master’s project, you will understand how a research project proceeds, from planning the work to carrying it out and reporting the results.
With a Master’s degree in Plant Biology, you will have many potential career opportunities. You can work especially
- As a researcher and/or part-time teacher at universities or other institutions of higher education
- As a researcher in national and international institutions in the public and private sectors
- As an expert, civil servant, authority or PR officer in public administration
- In various positions in international organisations or enterprises engaged in bioeconomy
- As an entrepreneur in the biological or environmental sectors of business
In addition to the job prospects listed above, you will be eligible for doctoral studies in relevant doctoral programmes in Finland, Europe or anywhere in the world. For doctoral programmes at the University of Helsinki, please see item 12 below.
The international scope is a key benefit of the Plant Biology programme. You will be encouraged and helped to seek exchange possibilities in international student exchange programmes with cooperating universities. In this way, you will get new ideas, perspectives and personal contacts that may prove useful later in your working life or doctoral studies.
All of our research groups include numerous members from Europe and farther afield. Thus you will be doing research in an international community and will be able to improve your skills in foreign languages, especially English, which is of primary importance in working life today.
You can also tutor international students or act in the student’s subject association or Student’s Union and get valuable experience in international and multicultural communities.
Such a multifaceted programme is only possible through the joint efforts of various parties. Therefore the teaching and research are carried out in cooperation with the Institute of Biotechnology, Botany Unit of the Finnish Museum of Natural History, Natural Resources Institute in Finland, Plant Biotechnology Unit of the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Finnish Food Safety Authority EVIRA, and Boreal Plant Breeding Ltd. company. This ensures that you will have good prospects for jobs or apprenticeships. The experimental greenhouses and outdoor fields on the Viikki campus are also used for teaching purposes. The five field stations in Finland owned by the University of Helsinki are a valuable asset and the venues for numerous field courses. Of the stations, Tvärminne Zoological Station is located on the southern coast, Lammi Biological Station and Hyytiälä Forestry Field Station in the southern inland, and Värriö Subarctic Research Station and Kilpisjärvi Biological Station in Lapland, in the north of Finland. At the Taita Hills Research Station in Kenya, East Africa, you can have a completely different, once-in-a-lifetime learning experience.
All teaching is based on the latest scientific knowledge. Research in Plant Biology is advancing on many fronts. It operates from the molecular and cellular levels to the ecosystem level and covers both wild and cultivated plants. The main focus areas are regulation of plant development and differentiation of tissues and organs; crop yield and breeding of cultivated plants; stress responses; population ecology of fungal plant diseases; and evolution, ecology, genetics, genomics and biotechnology of plants and fungi. Studying Plant Biology will involve you in fascinating research projects looking for solutions to many current problems.
Viikki Plant Science Centre (ViPS) is a virtual, internationally recognised community of researchers based on the Viikki campus. It includes plant researchers working in different units and faculties within the campus. Its purpose is to advance and expedite cooperation in high-standard teaching and research. As a student, you will be part of the ViPS community through the courses, seminars, apprenticeships and degree work offered by the Master’s Programme in Plant Biology.
After graduating from the Master’s Programme you can apply for doctoral programmes in Finland or elsewhere. In Finland, the requirements for a doctoral degree are 40 credits plus a doctoral dissertation. Cooperation with Finnish and international institutions ensures excellent prospects for your successful doctoral studies. The primary doctoral programmes at the University of Helsinki in this area of research are
- DPPS Doctoral Programme in Plant Sciences;
- LUOVA Doctoral Programme in Wildlife Biology Research;
- AGFOREE Doctoral Program in Sustainable Use of Renewable Natural Resources;
Also relevant are
- DENVI Doctoral Program in Interdisciplinary Environmental Sciences;
- ILS Integrative Life Science Doctoral Programme;
For general information about the University of Helsinki doctoral programmes
Citizens of non-EU/EEA countries, who do not have a permanent residence status in the area and pursue their studies in English, are liable to pay tuition fees. You can check from FAQ at the Studyinfo website whether or not you are required to pay tuition fees.
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