Category Archives: Meetings

Activities for development geographers

Welcome to plan some common activities for development geography students for the spring term. We could arrange together some film screenings, discussion sessions or reading groups. Come and share your ideas! We will meet at Monday 1st Feb at 12.00 at Kumpula Campus, near sofas. If you cannot come that time, but you are interested to join, you can send me an email, johanna.maliniemi@helsinkiXfi.

See you there!

Why are we development geographers?

Johanna Maliniemi

At the last meeting we ate gingerbread and discussed why we are development geographers. There were as many answers as there were students!

Being able to have an influence was one of the first answers.

Last meeting in Studying Development Geography-course

Last meeting in Studying Development Geography-course.

– When I was 18, I applied directly to study development geography, because I wanted to change the world, says Nina Miettinen.

Many of us wanted to change world to a better place, but we also discussed that it is a difficult work. Development is a complex issue. Politics, economy, environment and human rights are all interconnected and it is not simple to make the change you want to see.

– I want to be part of the positive change or at least not to harm, Soili Laurila corrects.

Johanna Hakanen thinks that when you know more, you are forced to do something, and you also know how to do it. Even if the work is complex it feels that it is important, as Sara Haapanen thinks that our study field can affect to people’s lives.

– In development geography real life and research come together, Lim Yew summarizes.

Development geography is a subject where you are free to concentrate on various issues, and this was seen as a benefit.

– You can concentrate on what you want, says Marija Launonen, who has familiarized with indigenous people’s rights.

The other way round you could say that you don’t need to concentrate: if you want to do research on various different issues, you are free to do so. The field is not boring and there are new things happening all the time.

– As geographers we know a lot about different places, and we are able to use our skills, says Tommi Lapio.

– And if we do not know, we know where we find answers, Amica Dristig continues.

We also discussed whether the term development geographer works best to define us. Heikki Rahikainen told that his interest has changed more towards international politics.

– I would even say I have an identity crisis with the disciplines, he says.

Others would still include Heikki’s interests in development or in regional studies. Rebecca Jones told also that she is actually majoring in human geography but she is interested in development issues. The field of development geography is multidisciplinary, so actually it has things in common with many other disciplines. Geography is our own tool but we share many common interests with i.e. development studies.

Also there is a common thing among all geographers which Amica notices.

– We like maps and travelling!

It is a great opportunity that we can do research and at the same time we are able to see new places and get new experiences. We are in a great position to learn about development, societies and environment not only in a computer lab or library but also on the field in different countries and different situations.


Career opportunities for development geographers

Johanna Maliniemi

I think most of us have decided to study Development Geography, because we had a desire to change the world a fairer, safer and equal place. Study years have passed fast, and Master’s students need to really consider how to try to fulfil their goals after graduating. Volunteer work is always nice, but with many thousands’ euros study loan, you also need to think the salary. Great news was heard in our 4th seminar: there are many options to combine these goals!

We had two visitors in our meeting, who inspired and encouraged us by sharing their own paths in development career. The first speaker was Outi Hakkarainen from Kepa, who works as an officer for advocacy and development policy. Kepa is the umbrella organisation for Finnish civil society organisations who work in field of development cooperation, and Hakkarainen has worked there more than 10 years. Her career path went through Latin America, as Hakkarainen went to Mexico after studying and worked there years with issues of democracy. After years in Latin America, she decided to work in Finland and got work at first in Stakes and later in Kepa. Hakkarainen has a long experience of field of civil society, which is also goal for many development geographers.

Image/ Tuija Pakkanen

Image/ Tuija Pakkanen

Our second guest was Tuija Pakkanen from WSP Finland, in which Pakkanen worked in an urban architecture unit as an urban analyst. She has also a lot experience working abroad, as she has been in the US, Nicaragua and Nepal. Pakkanen is a good example that it is not only NGO’s in which development minded people can work. She has been working for various private sector companies which deal with environment. After finishing her Master’s studies in development geography, she got one year contract in the US Forest Service in California. After the experience in the US she got a GIS and forestry related job in Arbonaut Ltd in Nepal funded by the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs bilateral development cooperation programme. Pakkanen worked couple of years in Nepal, but then she wanted to work in Finland and got work in WSP. She thinks that by working in private sector, you can also change the world because you can make the companies to work sustainable way. She has used GIS skills a lot in her work, but she told that you do not necessarily need to be expert of GIS to get the works but to have some experience and confidence that you are able to learn more. You will learn the skills while working anyway.

Activism was mentioned by both guests to be a good quality in job seeking. Hakkarainen tells that she has always participated in activism and encourages students to do so. Activism and volunteer work would be a great place to learn also while you are studying. There are many student associations and other organizations were students can participate. Either it doesn’t need to be just hobby kind of thing but Hakkarainen mentioned that she sees it as a life style. Other mentioned qualities in job seeking were flexibility, interest in political issues, teamwork, quick to learner, open and active mind.

Benefits of being a development geographer were discussed also, and one of the key quality is, that geographers understand the wide issues and sees the multidimensional causalities. The development geographer is a person who understand how environment, society, markets and politics have impacts to different levels of society and who knows what could be the actions to change system to more sustainable and fair.

Opportunities in University of Helsinki

Amica Dristig

There are more study possibilities for development geographers at our University than many could think of. At our third meeting we had the opportunity to get more familiar with them.

We met Heini Vihemäki from the Global South Network, a multidisciplinary network for research and education on development and international cooperation. She spoke about the possibility to choose Global South Studies as a minor. So what do you learn from having it as a minor? Well, you get diverse approaches to development coming from a variety of disciplines and themes, and this will improve professional capacities to work in different international environments. Check out more here: HUGS

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Development geographers tend to travel a lot and usually enjoy different cultures and new adventures, so what better way than to visit a new country? Raisa Asikainen came to tell more about student exchange opportunities outside the Erasmus programme, based on bilateral programmes that can be used by all students of the University of Helsinki. There aren’t many requirements for students wanting to apply. First, you need to have 60 ECTS credits, and then to show you have the language skills used in host country, e.g. Portuguese in Brazil and French in Madagascar. I have never heard of anyone regretting an exchange year and I hope I will get to go before I graduate. So, choose a continent and a country then look up the universities with exchange agreements and apply in time. More information here: Flamma

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We also heard of cooperation programmes where students can be involved. Marketta Vuola, who recently graduated in development geography, came to tell us about the Development Cooperation Committee of the Student Union of the University of Helsinki (HYY).  One of the development cooperation committees task is to raise awareness and discussion on global development issues among university students and any HYY member is welcome to join. They also have funded projects in Zambia and Bangladesh, which focus on improving reproductive health and quality of life for women and girls in Zambia. The new Bangladesh project is a people-led climate change resiliency program with focus on indigenous knowledge. They also have other activities you can check them here: Kehy


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Another graduate development geographer, Matias Andersson, introduced KEHMY RY, an association for development geographers. It’s basically our community! It’s quite small community but aims to support research in development geography and generate awareness on global development issues. The association organizes study trips, excursions and events. It also has its own magazine, Maapallo. Anyone can join by just paying a small fee. If this all sounds perfect then check them out at here

A Look at the Uses

Rebecca Jones

“What kind of professional skills can you get from studying Development Geography?” is a question I am often asked when I try and explain to people what courses I study as a Geographer. Well as it turns out there are numerous things that this area of study can be used for once you graduate and this week’s lecture summed up some of the opportunities perfectly. Various thematic focuses and methods – such as qualitative, quantitative and GIS methods – can be learnt and applied to different professions. For instance, GIS and remote sensing are examples of ways in which you can get involved in work revolving around Development Geography.


If anyone reading this doesn’t know what GIS is, it is an acronym for ‘Geographical Information System’ and is basically a system in which you can map spatial data. For instance, we can map land use and land cover changes, urban growth, and forest cover change which can all be combined to explore water management. Cool right? Remote sensing on the other hand is a way of scanning the earth via satellite or aircraft to gather information about it as in the adjacent image.

Geography is suddenly sounding pretty useful, right?


This lecture was such an eye opener for me, with guest speaker Mika Siljander shining a bright light onto this occupational path I hadn’t even considered. There’s so much environment and development work going on in Africa, like the TAITAWATER project in East Africa which utilises land use mapping in the form of Satellite images, airborne images and vector GIS in order to protect the environment



But you’re not restricted to this kind of imaging. Something I didn’t even know existed was laser scanner data that could make tree models to assess above ground biomass and carbon assessment. Just look how cool that is! Basically, laser scanning creates a 3D image of the environment and can be used to gather data that can aid in analysis and planning of projects.

Of course, these are only a couple of things that you can do with Geography. In truth there are numerous professions you can go into. So if you’re a Geographer don’t sit there worrying about what you can do once you graduate. Even if you aren’t all that interested in the GIS and imaging option don’t be disheartened because there are a lot of other opportunities out there for you!

Images: 1.Petri Pellikka, 2. Mika Siljander, 3. Vuokko Heikinheimo

Beginning of the meetings

Nina Miettinen

It would bepicture_1_devegeo nice to know who else studies development in this department…”

My friends keep asking me what I will do as a job. Well how do I know?”

I am worried about the current situation, I wonder will I even get a job.”

Does someone probably have similar interest as I do?”

These are some of the reasons that people mentioned for attending the course Studying Development Geography. This is exactly why it is time to start the blog of the development geographers (picture 1). It is about the time we strengthen our cooperation, as we don’t really know much about each other. We are actually surprisingly many in the campus but tend to get lost – we are quickly moving geographers after all.

The course will provide us a working space for the questions in our minds. The rest will depend on ourselves. Now it is the time for sharing thoughts and ideas, no matter how crazy they are! The first meeting was just a little dive to the world of development geography. During the rest of the meetings we have the chance to meet also some people who have already graduated from our department. Hopefully their stories will inspire us and give us motivation. Moreover, we will familiarize with different journals of development geography (can you believe that there is actually plenty of them), and discuss about the current topics of our field.


Sounds like a good plan, right? In the comments of this post, you can see who we are! There are various backgrounds and various interests but also a lot of things that we have in common! If you would like to, please introduce yourself even if you are not participating in the course. We would also like to invite everyone to join the meetings even though you are not participating in the course. Especially the meeting on November 25th about careers might interest many.

So here we go. Picture 2 shows what to do!