Andres Tennus

Industrial doctoral student combines work and studies

The industrial doctorate offers a unique opportunity for companies, universities and doctoral students to work together. An excellent example of this is Jaan Vihalemm, an industrial doctoral student at the University of Tartu, who applies the results of his research at the company BiotaTec OÜ

Jaan Vihalemm
Jaan Vihalemm (author: Andres Tennus)

The industrial doctorate differs from traditional doctoral studies by offering students the opportunity to combine their studies with professional work in the private, public or third sector. "There is exactly enough learning, especially lectures and seminars, in the industrial doctorate. It is a good change from working in a company," said Vihalemm.

Vihalemm’s university studies have taken place at the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology. He is also currently working at BiotaTec, which uses microorganisms to extract rare metals from waste, or bioleaching, to recycle useful materials in a more environmentally friendly way. Vihalemm explores how to get rare metals from electronic waste, such as the printed circuit boards inside our computers, phones or home appliances.

The proposal to undertake the industrial doctorate was made to Vihalemm in his second working year by Priit Jõers, BiotaTec's Chief Scientific Officer and Associate Professor in General and Microbial Biochemistry at the University of Tartu. Vihalemm took the chance – he was offered an interesting project that fitted the topic of his doctoral thesis and aligned with the company's strategic goals, and offered an exciting job that he would not have to leave in the meantime for his doctoral studies.

Valuable cooperation for all involved

The industrial doctorate not only enriches the academic experience of the doctoral candidate, but also benefits the university and the partner organisation. Developing research-based products and services and upgrading the skills of specialists in partnership between the university and businesses gives companies a competitive edge in both local and international markets. 

Mikroorganismide säilituslahuse valmistamine BiotaTeci laboris
Jaan prepares a preservative solution for microorganisms (author: Mariana Tulf)

Priit Jõers, Vihalemm’s supervisor, also stressed the value of the industrial doctorate: it is an investment in talent and promotes collaboration between business and university. For example, during a practical course, students will be able to use BiotaTec’s 1000-litre reactors to explore the possibilities of growing microorganisms on an industrial pilot scale. Jõers believes that this is a great way to introduce students to careers in business and to enrich university education at a time when bioeconomy and industrial processes based on micro-organisms are increasingly common. "In order to avoid Estonia falling behind, people with PhDs and experience in applying these processes in industry are essential for the development of our economy," Jõers said.

Jaan Vihalemm is a good example of how the industrial doctorate is a significant step forward for both education and entrepreneurship: research and development does not take place only in a laboratory, but tackles real-life problems. Thanks to the industrial doctorate, we will see more and more research-based companies and entrepreneurial researchers in the future, and Estonia will become more internationally competitive.

Read the interview with Jaan Vihalemm (in Estonian) on the blog of the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology.

Listen to the interview with Jaan Vihalemm and Monika Tasa, Development Adviser at the Office of Academic Affairs at the University of Tartu, about the possibilities offered by the industrial doctorate on radio Kuku’s science show “Teadus teab” (in Estonian). 

Read more about the industrial doctorate.

Objectives of the industrial doctorate:

  • promoting university’s cooperation with businesses, public- and third-sector bodies;
  • enriching the university's doctoral studies and training top-level professionals to meet labour market needs;
  • increasing the applicability of research and its relevance to the needs of society;
  • increasing the share and capacity of R&D in businesses and institutions;
  • diversifying doctoral career paths and increasing the share of PhD-holders in companies and institutions.

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