Throughout my studies, Forest-Based Industries (FBI) Day has ranked among the year’s top occasions. Interesting talks by leaders of the forest industry! A great opportunity to find temporary work, a topic for your master’s thesis, or even permanent employment! A dinner with free alcohol! And, what’s more, the Forest Products Engineers’ Association (formerly the Paper Engineers’ Association) foots the bill.
So it’s no wonder that yet again students from Aalto University flocked to the day’s events in large numbers, with roughly 120 Aalto students attending this year’s FBI Day, held in Espoo on January 25. At the same time, it is worrying, though, that no more than 230 or so students in all participated. This means that around half of the students present came from Aalto University! And they accounted for more than a third of the 300-plus who attended the day’s events! The strong turnout of Aalto University students is not explained by the location: after all, the situation was similar when FBI Day was held in Lappeenranta and in Tampere. The Forest Products Engineers’ Association pays for participants’ bus transportation, so attending doesn’t work out as any more expensive for people visiting from further afield.
I’m aware that the number of openings for studies in my field has been cut on the national level and that, simultaneously, study programs have undergone rebranding. At Aalto University, changes to the study program have served to increase the popularity of FBI Day. Whereas in the past only students studying wood-product and bioproduct engineering (about 30 students a year) could attend, now all the students accepted to the program in chemical, biochemical, and materials engineering (with an annual intake of about 150 students) are welcome. For the future of our sector, it’s a shame that study reforms at other universities in Finland have led to a decline in the number of students participating in the FBI Day events. It’s possible, and even likely, that at some point this trend will be reflected in the labor market.
In my role as Super-Techie, I’d like to do my bit to spur more students to turn up for FBI Day, since these annual gatherings offer something for everyone, from freshmen to more experienced engineers. To this end, I’ve put together a list of the insights that FBI Day events have provided me with at various stages of my studies.
When I was a freshman: “Wow! Where did all these companies come from, and what do they all do? Aren’t UPM and Stora Enso the only companies operating in our sector?”
Now, with more experience under my belt: “Let’s see, the pump manufacturer ProMinent is here for the first time.”
When I was a freshman: “Perhaps I’ll just have a chat with some of the older students and drop by a couple of companies’ stands.”
Now, with more experience under my belt: Networking still feels rather awkward. Therefore, I was pleased to find that the speakers this year included Karla Nieminen, a people-skills trainer and the founder of Jäänmurtajat Oy, who gave tips for better networking. One of the take-home messages I received from her talk is that Mickey Mouse, Santa Claus, and a neutral facial expression have something in common – they are all make-believe. Other people often perceive our “neutral expression” as something negative. What we think is neutral makes us look tired, angry, or bored. So just smile, and you’re then “good to go” for solid networking.
When I was a freshman: “Ah, so I can find that company’s temp-job positions on its Web site. Well, at least I’ve got 10 new pens.” And BillerudKorsnäs were giving out chocolate bars at its stand instead of candy.
Now, with more experience under my belt: At almost every stand is someone who can shed light on the opportunities offered by his or her company. Several interesting and more or less feasible ideas on companies where I could carry out the work for my thesis are thrown into the air, and various of my friends find new and useful information on potential summer jobs.
Communication with the speakers
When I was a freshman: Simply put, there was no communication. To ask a question, I would have had to raise my hand, stand up, and speak in front of the entire audience.
Now, with more experience under my belt: Any questions or comments could be submitted to an electronic message wall under the hashtag #fbi2017 via, for example, Twitter. With such a low threshold for communications, even newbies feel confident enough to ask questions. It all worked a treat until a comment on the Federal Bureau of Investigation by a U.S.-based user was shown on the wall, thanks to that hashtag, which was less than ideal in terms of uniqueness. Later on, the electronic wall also displayed messages from well-wishers to a couple celebrating their wedding in Africa, all with the tag #fbi2017. There’s a lesson to be learned by all event organizers: pick a unique hashtag.
The after-party and dinner
When I was a freshman: “Wow! This food is delish! And they serve free beer!? How many can I take while still getting away with it, and where’s the after-party?”
Now, with more experience under my belt: “The food is really good, again. I suppose I could wash it down with a single beer.”
[Photos © Veera Somerpalo]