Doctoral student Heidi Vähänikkilä: “I'm in love with the world of research.”


EBS doctoral student Heidi Vähänikkilä has a busy autumn semester ahead of her. In July, she and her family are travelling to Kuala Lumpur for six months, where she will participate in a research exchange at Taylor's University. 


While I was studying at a university of applied sciences, I didn’t even think to dream of doctoral studies,” says Vähänikkilä. She received both a vocational and higher education at Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences. She is currently working as a lecturer in the field of hospitality at Laurea, training future professionals in the hospitality and catering sector and in the field of event management. In addition, she participates in various development projects at Laurea. In the autumn of 2020, she started her doctoral studies at EBS.

Both the doctoral studies and the trip to Kuala Lumpur are the result of Vähänikkilä's open-minded attitude towards life. Estonian Business School's doctoral programme was recommended to Vähänikkilä by a colleague who also worked at Laurea and was studying for a doctorate at the time. At the same time as Vähänikkilä, two other colleagues from Laurea also started a doctoral programme at EBS. 


Life in Helsinki, university in Tallinn

Balancing work, studies and family life can be difficult. According to Vähänikkilä, she has always worked while studying, so this situation is not new for her. Currently, doctoral studies seem to provide an additional boost to work because they greatly increase her expertise. “I'm in love with the world of research,” says Vähänikkilä.


Vähänikkilä lives in the capital of Finland, but the campus of the Estonian Business School is located in Tallinn. Doctoral students study at the university intensively for two weeks in autumn and two in spring. In 2020, when Vähänikkilä started her studies, the courses were held online due to the COVID pandemic. It was a great feeling to finally be able to physically come to the university in 2021. Since then, going to university has become a refreshing change from everyday life. Time management has been easy as the dates of the intensive weeks are announced well in advance. In most cases, Finnish doctoral students decide to book travel and accommodation together. Although the courses can sometimes be very stressful, Vähänikkilä feels that the intensive weeks have been an opportunity for her, as a mother, to have her own time.


The doctoral thesis has practical value for companies in the field

The title of Vähänikkilä's doctoral thesis is “Market disruption and Rapid changes fuelling sustainable business model innovation in the Hospitality Field.” 
Her thesis was inspired by the COVID pandemic, when she began to pay attention to the changes in the management and innovation of organisations during the crisis. She became interested in what restaurant and tourism businesses could do to better cope with the changes. For Vähänikkilä, it is important that the doctoral thesis has practical value for companies in her field and that the new information obtained from it is important for them. Vähänikkilä plans to interview various entrepreneurs on the topic of their ability to change in Kuala Lumpur as well.


When asked if she is familiar with the phenomenon of PhD loneliness often mentioned in the context of doctoral studies, she answered that, although doctoral students do not directly form a research group, they support each other a lot. Other university students struggling with the same courses have instilled faith in her success. “If others can do it, so can I,” concludes Vähänikkilä. She also thinks that she has not felt lonely because the topic of her doctoral thesis is closely related to her own work, so it is natural that these topics are discussed among colleagues. Vähänikkilä is especially grateful for the support of other people and emphasises the importance of the support she receives from her family, fellow students and supervisors of her doctoral thesis.


Vähänikkilä's doctoral journey can be followed at

We wish Heidi Vähänikkilä success in her doctoral work and hope she has a memorable time in Malaysia!