Laboratory work: silently tip-toeing in the midst of test tubes, the day passing wearing a white coat and rubber gloves, pouring liquid chemicals from one Petri dish to another. Santeri Marjamäki has spent the last few summers working at the laboratory of UPM Raflatac, a global supplier of label materials. The work did not exactly fit the expectations – but he was given a white coat!
Santeri majors in polymers and biomaterials in his studies of bio and material technology at Tampere University of Technology. For the last three summers he’s worked in the surface and background materials team at the UPM Raflatac laboratory in Tampere, Finland. Santeri’s interest in chemistry in high school pushed him towards studies in material technology, a hands-on version of chemistry.
Santeri got his summer job working with plastic surfaces at Raflatac after his second year of studies. He spent the previous summer working in production for a company manufacturing corrugated cardboard. “My experience of working in production was a big merit when applying for the job at UPM. The work I had done supported the tasks at Raflatac. It always pays off to accept all sorts of work. You never know how you are going to benefit from the experience. I also really liked working in production. I can imagine doing it later on as well, as manager perhaps.”
The university lessons springing into action at the laboratory
Flexible office hours are followed at the UPM Raflatac laboratory. The day can start anywhere between six and ten AM. “I’ve typically started my day at seven, the days seem really short that way, and I easily made it to my hobbies in the afternoon. All of the actual work happens in the laboratory. The samples are brought to me with information about what sort of tests need to be carried out. I do the testing according to the given parameters and prioritizing. I’ve had little to do with chemicals as most of the tests and measurements I do are mechanical. In this sense laboratory work was not what I expected, “says Santeri.
The laboratory space and equipment are shared with colleagues. “It’s quite easy to have a conversation while working. One can pretty much choose how much time one spends with colleagues. “
Some measurements have proven to be more challenging than others. One product sample might be tested in ten different temperatures. “When carrying out friction measurements for plastic the measuring surface has to be immaculately clean and the static friction exactly right for the measurements to be comparable. It is difficult to achieve these exact test settings and hard to say when the measurements are comparable and when they are not. It’s always irritating not to know for sure,” Santeri explains.
The reward is in achieving clear results – and seeing the latest innovations of the field. “At our university we have very little hands-on practice. It’s rewarding to notice the theory coming together with the practice at work. The glues used in manufacturing the label materials are polymer based. Knowing the science behind the raw material, I am often surprised at the functions achieved in etiquettes.”
When applying for summer jobs, it’s a good idea to apply to many places. When you already have some experience it is worthwhile to really think about what interests you the most and what company can offer you experience in that field. ”The most important thing is getting to know the company in question and the way it operates. Interesting summer jobs are a lot harder to come by after specializing. I used to send applications to all sorts of places in all industries, the metal and ceramic technology industries for example. Now, after specializing in polymers and biomaterials, there are a lot less options. In an ideal situation I would do my thesis for UPM Raflatac,” ponders Santeri.