I sometimes find it difficult to define my task description as a research assistant in bioprocess technology to those not familiar with the field. I could tell them that I am saving the world one microbe at a time. When described more precisely, bioprocess technology aims at producing substances beneficial to humans, such as enzymes and proteins, with the help of different organisms. In practice, I work with microbes.
My work duties vary greatly, which makes the fermentation hall an interesting place to work at. Some of my workdays are spent doing very meticulous laboratory work, such as protein assay, but, every now and then, I get to put on overalls and take part in filtering hundreds of litres of fermentation solution from the pilot fermenter. In other words, at VTT I can easily combine the world of research and industrial scale production.
Detours gave boost for pursing the research area of my dreams
My path to exploring the natural sciences went through a few detours. I worked in the restaurant business for a long time and graduated as Bachelor of Hospitality Management in 2013. Even though I enjoyed working with people and the hectic nature of work, I felt something was missing. Therefore, I decided to submit an application to take up studies again; in the coming autumn, I will graduate as Master of Science in Biotechnology and Chemical Engineering. I am very happy that I had the courage to pursue a new profession and grateful that, in Finland, it has been made possible for people to change their careers.
During my studies, I dreamt about working with research, but only now I understand how much I love it. In other words, for me, having a summer job in a research organisation was a dream come true. I already started working at VTT last December as a diploma worker. Over these seven months I have learnt a huge number of new things about bioprocess technology and doing research. My thesis is about making butyric acid out of food industry waste flows using fermentation technology. Utilising waste flows for the manufacture of butyric acid would be desirable from the environmental point of view, because it helps us shift away from using fossil fuels, while developing new ways of utilising waste.
The joy of learning new things
In my work, I am motivated by the joy of learning new things. In other words, versatile and changing work duties keep my interest high. And I do not mind having flexible working hours at all, as, to a late riser like me, they are like winning the lottery. In my opinion, however, the best thing about working at VTT is great colleagues who are very passionate about their work. I am very grateful that I have been given a chance to work under the guidance of the top specialists of VTT. I feel that the lessons learnt from them and the advice they have given me are priceless on my personal path towards becoming a specialist myself. And, more importantly, I have learnt to accept that it is part of research work that matters do not always go as planned, and, still, in this work careful planning is the starting point for everything.
Saying that my summer job is about saving the world may sound like pretentious exaggeration. It may be exaggeration, but that is exactly what we at VTT are trying to do – to build a better world. By developing new innovations and solutions, we are making efforts to create a more sustainable future and that, if anything, is something I can be proud of.
The author started as a thesis worker at VTT in December 2018 and continued his summer work as a research assistant in bioprocess technology and will graduate next fall as an engineer in biotechnology and chemical engineering from Metropolia University of Applied Sciences.