Linus Schaaf, University of Lapland Alumni of the Year 2018, Ph.D. candidate at Digitalization | Smart Mobility at Volkswagen Group and SCRUM Master, explains his success with the mind-cleansing effect of studying in Lapland.
“I arrived to Rovaniemi at the best time – in the middle of the darkest and coldest winter in the beginning of January in 2012. I came here as an Erasmus student. It was pitch black, darkest time with tons of snow, and you thought being in the end of the world. It was actually really scary, especially going in to the airplane. It´s snowing outside, I thought, so they won´t fly, right? Yes, they still flew!"
Linus never planned to do a Master´s degree, not to mention a PhD, at University of Lapland of all places. It all just happened, he confesses. Lapland seems to happen to many people and with Linus we digged a little deeper into the twist and turns of his unique path from a media designer to the forefronts of service design development at University of Lapland and Volkswagen Group.
Linus did his bachelor´s degree in Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University (DHBW) where academic studies are integrated with workplace training. “It was demanding times, and I had this feeling of being stuck. I felt I needed to break out from the system, need a new import to my head, something completely different.” Amongst the Scandinavian design schools Linus was prospecting for exchange options, University of Lapland stood out as the most extreme option, up there in the north.
That choice turned out to be exactly what he needed. During his exchange, Linus did everything uniquely Arctic that he possibly could: ice-sculpting, fire- and snow sculpting, community-based art, building up an artic design show - and of course sauna. The unique settings and experiences in the University of Lapland bubble and the distance to everything familiar gave Linus - with his words - a chance to cleanse his mind. “In another cultural setting, you re-evaluate your thoughts. You have awesome nature around you, Finnish lifestyle, winter and summer and all of these full experiences. You are able to cleanse your mind because you have enough distance. That is the unique thing. It´s good for your state of mind.”
Lapland and the University made a lasting impression on him. The Finnish polar night (kaamos) ended up in his BA thesis, which was exhibition design about polar night. Linus also sailed through his studies smoothly despite - or even perhaps thank to – the harsh settings. “All the normal study struggles, fitting the studying and the private life worked out easily. Another big advantage was having many international people around you. At the courses, you have a kind of exclusiveness. The small teaching groups made the studying very interactive, almost like one to one teaching. You can ask the teachers anything. They want to assist you and help you with your struggles, and that is what they do really well! Even though the setting is tough – it just makes you stronger, what I really appreciate here.”
Straight after graduating from DHBW, Linus started working as a project manager in Germany. He had an interest to continue into master studies and his experiences with service design and SINCO-Lab at the University of Lapland - and a certain girl he had met - drew him back to Lapland. Linus wanted to dig deeper into Service Design, but money needed saving first.
Linus recommends master studies at the University of Lapland especially for those who already have practical knowledge from their field and their skill set together. “It´s actually the greatest combination what I think is possible. Here you are offered freedom to produce, especially in design, and to develop yourself.” Linus describes his immersion into master studies easy because of his previous, holistic and practical design studies. University of Lapland offered him the academic, methodological and process support he needed: “This is the academic part that developed and helped me. It´s still an ongoing process and will always be. It taught me to be much more structured in my thoughts and my working projects that I have.”
Linus has always been curious and open to new opportunities. Being outside traditional boxes can certainly help thinking outside one. Still, his multifaceted background didn’t really initially help him in securing an internship in a world-renowned company.
In the middle of his master studies, Linus noticed that Volkswagen is looking for service designers and he decided to apply. Process was long, because according to Linus, folks at Volkswagen didn’t really know what to do with him, this service oriented multi-talent writing his master thesis about sauna and studying in Finland. It required a lot of persistence, convincing and good old Finnish sisu to get a foot in the door. During the summer, in 2015, Linus resumed a longer internship, quickly finished his master´s thesis and started writing a research proposal for a PhD.
Playing in this unique playground
Topic of Schaaf´s dissertation is utilizing service design in the context of early stage innovation in the mobility sector. Its research on his work with The 10X Lab co-developed with the University of Lapland SINCO team for Volkswagen. Schaaf´s role in building the 10x lab to IT:City of Volkswagen in Wolfsburg has been pivotal. You can read more about the concept and the work at the 10xlab here.
Schaaf was nominated alumni of the year especially for his work in promoting collaboration between the industry and the university, and also for providing opportunities for the students. So far the collaboration has been rewarding, because students are driven – like himself:
“University of Lapland is this unique playground where you can play much further out. Sisu, even though it sounds a cliché, is also a strong part of it. If you are able to survive in -30 degrees, and still enjoy the path, all the dark and the light at the same time, then you can do it anywhere else also. It forms a strong mindset. It´s also what the colleagues (at Volkswagen) say, the students that we have (from University of Lapland), they are always strong, highly motivated people."
Linus Schaaf started his PhD studies in the fall 2015 and with a 3 year contract to both the University and the company he is in the height of writing phase to finish his PHD and prepare for the defense for the coming year.