From Unknown Territory to Academic Success: Navigating Mechanical Engineering at LUT
As many international students, Suraj was blissfully unaware of Santa’s Nordic home country before he started looking for opportunities to study abroad. For the ambitious Indian student, it was a mechanical engineering programme that put Finland and LUT on the map, opened unexpected career paths and set him up for academic success as a doctor of mechanical engineering.
The initial spark – finding passion in mechanical engineering
“I was sure I wanted to design machines – it is something I had observed my father do since I was a child.”
When Suraj was considering different universities across Europe, it was the curriculum of LUT’s mechanical engineering programme that turned out the deciding factor to accept the study place offered to him.
In the very first lesson, at eight o’clock in the morning, Professor Aki Mikkola added fire to the fuel: an already interesting subject presented in a dynamic way sparked something in Suraj. Inspired by his professor’s passion, the student approached him after the lesson and proposed a project. “This is the subject. This is what I want to pursue in life.”
Eight years and a master’s and a doctoral degree later, they now work together as esteemed colleagues. It was the programme that attracted Suraj in the first place, but to make him stay and pursue his doctorate here, it took a lot more.
New ways of learning in the Land of the Curious
When Suraj started his master’s programme on the other side of the world, everything seemed upside down. According to him, in the best way possible when it comes to the way of teaching:
“What I found interesting here was the continuous evaluation – in India, we focused only on the final exam, and there was a lot of pressure on it. It was new to me that there is coursework to complete every week. The continuous homework, assignments and group projects keep you on track.”
On top of the different evaluation methods, the focus on teamwork as preparation for the working world impressed him.
“If you go to an industry, you work as a team and you will find members with different priorities and from different backgrounds. That's how life works, right? And that's exactly how LUT teaches and what it prepares you for.”
Committing to yourself – you cannot be half a doctor
In regard to his future plans, Suraj had always envisioned himself stepping into the family line of entrepreneurs and working in industry. During a shared project in the context of a summer job, Suraj had left a lasting impression on Professor Aki Mikkola, who changed that trajectory and proposed pursuing a doctoral degree.
Even though Suraj felt the weight of the academic title and did not take the decision lightly, he enjoyed Finland and the Finnish work culture. He liked having full self-agency and not being micromanaged.
Green light, challenge accepted.
And a challenge it was – Suraj openly admits to the struggles of entirely self-directed research and the rollercoaster of emotions it brings. After a year and a half , Suraj reached his breaking point. About to give up, a simple decision ended up keeping him going: fully committing to himself, trusting the process and following a disciplined daily routine.
It’s exactly what he advises students to do when they approach him with questions about doctoral studies: “You cannot be half a doctor. You can be either a doctor or not a doctor. So, to be a full doctor, you need to commit to yourself. The moment you have doctor in front of your name, people expect more of you. That’s a huge responsibility.”
Old field, new tricks – different ways of approaching and utilising academic research
A trailblazer mentality is part of LUT’s DNA, and Suraj personifies it. When he started teaching, he found a new way not only to engage existing students but to explain mechanical engineering principles to interested English-speakers across the world: a YouTube channel that has gathered 1,960 followers to date.
When asked what’s next for him, he smiles and reveals his dream of having a company of his own. He wishes to connect his research with a family tradition of entrepreneurship: “Research is always future-oriented: Those problems might not exist in the present, but they might five years from now. Then, you already have the solution for companies to implement for commercial use. Very soon, we are going to form a startup company, a spin-off from the university.”
What started as the decision to navigate unknown territory – a master’s programme in mechanical engineering – turned into a transformative career at LUT for Suraj : a doctorate and a startup idea. It’s a great example of how following your curiosity will always lead you to unexpected places you wouldn’t have dreamed of.