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Experts of the future are interested in research with concrete impact on people's lives

What is the secret for doing excellent research in future technology? How can research institutes find and hire the promising young researchers, who will become tomorrow's top experts, and how do young people find a suitable career and employer? The Finnish Geospatial Research Institute FGI does cutting-edge scientific research in future technologies. What do the FGI’s recruiters and this year's young summer interns have to say about this topic?

Text and photos by Project Coordinator Annukka Pekkarinen, Finnish Geospatial Research Institute FGI

Applied mathematics student Leevi Kaukone
Applied mathematics student Leevi Kaukonen is building a neural net capable of automatically identifying tree species.
Photo:
Annukka Pekkarinen / National Land Survey of Finland

Leevi Kaukonen is a student in the Department of Mathematics and Systems Analysis at the Aalto University. In May, he started at FGI as a summer intern to do his Bachelor's thesis. He heard about the job at a career event for students. At the event, FGI researchers presented the research that is being done at the institute, which sounded interesting and sensible. 'Basic research is important, but I'm particularly interested in doing research with a clear goal to find practical solutions and to directly facilitate human lives or activities', says Kaukonen.

Kaukonen is currently working with neural networks and algorithms in the smart point clouds and change analysis group. He is building an application that can reliably identify tree species from remote sensing data of forests. In practice, the neural network is trained by giving it a large number of data pictures of pine trees, for example, after which the algorithms should be able to identify pine trees among data containing other tree species as well. When a sufficient amount of data on various tree species has been fed to the neural network, it shouldfinally be able to reliably analyse and classify data on Finnish mixed forests, that is, to count the trees of each species.

Kaukonen thinks the job is interesting because the field of research is so new that there are no ready solutions. He is working under the supervision of experienced FGI researchers and got a few ideas and help when he was getting started, but now he can work and look for solutions within his research topic fairly independently. Kaukonen considers forests to be an interesting field of research because of questions related to the climate, for example, but his principal interests lie in algorithms and mathematics. 'I'm currently working with forests, but in principle neural networks can be trained to recognise anything, different kinds of cars for example', says Kaukonen. The young mathematician's career plans are not yet set in stone, and he is also not sure if he is going to become a researcher or work for a corporate employer. 'That's why it's good to get this chance of a summer internship to see what a scientific researcher's job is like', says Kaukonen.

'We are happy to recruit young students and show them what a researcher's job is like', says Juha Hyyppä, department director of remote sensing at FGI. 'We want to give young students an opportunity to do challenging and important research and development under guidance of our senior researchers. We also give a considerable amount of freedom to do the work, because this way the young people get the chance to see their own potential and some of them are inspired to continue in the field. This way, we also get completely new breakthroughs', he continues. The flagship UNITE, which is financed by the Academy of Finland, is a centre of competence in high-class research consisting of leading experts in forestry, artificial intelligence, gamification, and industry and supports science-based decision-making in Finnish forest management.

An interdisciplinary approach requires the bold and open-minded combination of expertise in different disciplines. At the FGI's department of remote sensing and photogrammetry, UNITE is combining researchers' expertise in forestry between research groups. The autonomic mapping, spectrophotogrammetry, as well as smart point clouds and change analysis groups have a lot of forestry competence and new technologies that are suitable for forestry research, now collected in one UNITE flagship.

Heli Honkanen, the UNITE impact manager believes that the flagship brand will make research an attractive option for young skilled people: 'Research projects with a social impact and the opportunity to develop completely new solutions to challenging problems increase the motivation of students to work for us. Research performed at UNITE is utilised by businesses in the field, and some of our skilled employees go on to work for corporate organisations. We also encourage our employees to start their own businesses.' Honkanen agrees with Hyyppä concerning the advantages of recruiting young researchers: 'Recently, we participated in a student guild career workshop, where students could talk about job opportunities directly with our researchers. Both parties have found these encounters to be interesting, and we have received excellent applications as a result.’

Antti Regelin, summer intern at the FGI and a student of Automation and Control Engineering, also heard about FGI for the first time during a guild career event, and he is currently working with the optimisation of the camera systems of the agency's autonomous road mapping vehicle. Regelin moved from Rovaniemi to Southern Finland in 2018. While in the army, he became interested in drones and the technical field, which ultimately led to him applying to become a student at Aalto University. 'For myself and other students in this field, it's valuable to know that the sort of studies we are doing are useful for doing research at the FGI', Regelin says.

Student of Automation and Control Engineering Antti Regelin with FGI's autonomous road mapping car.
Antti Regelin, student of Automation and Control Engineering, works on the camera systems installed on the FGI's autonomous road mapping car. 

An intriguing list of the institute's partners as well as the achievements in research during the last few years of the Centre of Excellence in Laser Scanning Research impressed the young student: 'I thought that most of the top research into the development of sensors, for example, is mainly done abroad, and I was perhaps a bit surprised that a part of the developmental research of sensor technology of such a high quality can be done in Finland', says Regelin. Doing top research at FGI does not feel any different from ordinary daily life: it has been pleasant to be at work, with a relaxed atmosphere and no constant stress. 'However, when the achievements of the institute are written down, it's obvious that internationally significant research is done here.'

As a student, Regelin has also worked for the corporate sector, and he now wanted to see what research looked like in the public sector. He thinks it is valuable that research data, which is significant for society, is provided by public institutions to be directly used by the government, commercial actors, and the public – by the society as a whole in a genuine way. 'The research questions at the FGI are based on real life and existing societal challenges. It seems sensible to use public money and work contributions to attempt to solve these challenges through research', says Regelin. He thinks that employing summer interns at the institute is a positive thing: 'To ensure the continuation of top research, the future researchers must be given the chance to try their wings doing real, significant research.'

Are you interested in an internship with us? More information about the department of Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry. More information is available from Impact Manager Heli Honkanen (firstname.lastname@nls.fi)

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