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Alumni Emma Tarvainen.

Alumni story: Emma Tarvainen, Master's Degree Programme in General Toxicology

University of Eastern Finland really sweeps you into the world of toxicology in an intriguing way, says Emma Tarvainen, UEF Alumni.

It was a twist of fate that UEF alumni Emma Tarvainen noticed the Master’s Degree Programme in General Toxicology the day she did – a day before the application period closed for that year. She was surprised to find such a broad and quality toxicology program that included both EU level and international risk assessment legislation and a broad range of toxicology courses in the curriculum.

“While studying for my bachelor’s degree in Forensic Science at the University of South Wales, we had a course about toxicology. That was my first touch to toxicology, and I immediately knew I would love to study it more someday. Due to the unexpectedly fast schedule, I was in a bit of a rush to get all my application papers in on time, but luckily, I made it”, remembers Emma.

Emma was accepted into the master’s programme and packed her bags to move to Eastern Finland. The cozy and nature-filled environment combined to the tight-knit community surprised her in a positive way.

“I had no idea where Kuopio was when I applied. I had lived abroad for many years, and only the capital area of Finland was familiar to me. The mystic of the local Savonians took a while to sink in, but during my studies I truly learned to enjoy the city. I would have happily stayed in Kuopio if there had been more working options for me there”, tells Emma.

Inspiring lectures and a tight-knit community

From her studies, Emma remembers especially the inspiring lectures by Finnish and global experts in their respective fields. They gave a new point of view and glimpse of the real world in addition to the information and knowledge provided by the academic setting.

“You can see and sense that the teachers and professors are all very committed to the field. UEF really sweeps you into the world of toxicology in an intriguing way”, says Emma.

One difference Emma noticed compared to university studies in the UK was the smaller distance between teachers and students at UEF.

“In the UK university studies were much more formal. At UEF, all the teachers and students were easy to approach, and you never had to hesitate to ask if you needed help with something. I would describe the overall atmosphere as very warm and cozy – a good place to live and study”, remembers Emma.

Academics meet everyday life

For her master’s thesis, Emma researched the potential antidote candidates involving the tricyclic antidepressant amitriptyline. Her aim was to find out if the antidotes could be used in for example cases regarding poisoning or intoxication.

“I was interested in somehow combining toxicology with medicinal chemistry. It was also important for me to be able to link toxicology into something that’s used in everyday life”, tells Emma.

In addition to completing her thesis research, Emma was happy that her laboratory skills improved during the thesis project. She conducted laboratory testing on the binding affinity of different types of cyclodextrins to amitriptyline with the aim to research their effects on cell survival.

“I think it’s important to understand and know in practice how the laboratory phases in this work are carried out – even if your goal is not to work in a laboratory after you graduate. It gives a broader view to whatever work you are doing in the field”, reminds Emma.

Making a difference in the world

After her graduation in 2015, Emma accepted a global toxicologist position in a large international chemicals firm. She had big shoes to fill but felt that her education at UEF had given her a good base to succeed. She learned fast and later moved on to work for the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency (Tukes) with the EU chemicals and cosmetics legislations.

“My current work with the EU legislation is very rewarding as a toxicologist. It gives me the opportunity to really make a difference in the world. One of my career dreams is to be able to contribute to the protection of human health in a concrete way from a toxicological point of view. I believe many adverse effects can be minimized as we understand the roles of different substances better”, tells Emma.

Emma also continues to keep up her knowledge in the constantly changing field of toxicology. She believes the field is a great observation point for many global phenomenon. A master’s degree in toxicology offers a wide range of employment possibilities in Finland, Europe and worldwide.

“Toxicology is a very interdisciplinary and all-round field that combines chemistry, biology, medical science, legislation, and politics. While having many opportunities in the academic field, toxicology offers many avenues elsewhere, with broad applications. This is a great industry if you are interested in the effects of different substances, pharmaceuticals, microbes, or other similar things. Because of its versatility, you can mold your future profession around areas you are passionate about”, says Emma.

Toxicologist can choose to work in for example research facilities, as consultants or the government or pharmaceutical, chemical, or cosmetics companies.

“You don’t have to look far to find interesting international opportunities for work in this field – especially with UEF’s program including EU legislation in the curriculum. For example, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is located right here in Helsinki”, smiles Emma.