Civil engineering Day Speech

(This article mainly reviews the studies in Aalto and work after graduation)

Civil engineering day is annual alumni gathering to know what is happening in the program. An opportunity to discuss master’s programmes in Building Technology and in Geoengineering, their present and future, and to meet the students and colleagues. The target group of the event is partners of the Department of Civil Engineering and the Bachelor’s students at the School of Engineering.

I know today’s program should be in Finnish, but I can only give this speech in English, I still haven’t given up on Finnish language, but it seems that Finnish language almost gave up on me.

First of all, thanks to the invitation from Prof Puttonen and Prof Hostikka, I am really humble, honored and happy today to share my story, my thoughts and my journey in the program.

In the beginning of this speech, allow me to shortly introduce myself. I am Yiwei, graduated from the building technology program last year. During my years in the industry, my main focus is the structural calculation and structural analysis. I have the luck to be involved in the structural design of very well-known Finnish projects like Keskustakirjasto Oodi, Tripla as well as many large international projects.


The primary reason I agreed to give a speech today is that I liked the program and enjoyed studying here most of time.

The diversity of the program gives all kinds of prospect career path for the students.  The program has wide range of disciplines: structural engineering, building physics, construction management, fire engineering, bridge design, renovation, building information modelling, materials science, mechanics, foundations, geoscience and underground structures etc.

For most people, university is the only time to study in a systematic way. I had a clear focus on structural engineering during my studies. I am fond of the learning system which includes academic approach and practical matters. The common way of the courses: in the lecture sessions, Professors gave very academic background. In exercise sessions, the people from industry taught us how to solve real life problems.

In the lectures, I don’t blindly follow steel, concrete, prestressed concrete, composite, timber or FEM formulas but to understand where the formulas come from. In the exercise, I learn how to apply the formulas as well as how to use softwares like comsol, matlab. All these courses form solid foundation for my work.



Despite all the previous bragging about myself or the fact I consider myself as a smart and hardworking person, I struggled in studying here as well. Some of the courses I struggled in the lecture sessions, some I struggled in the exercise sessions, the others I easily went through lecture and exercise sessions and struggled during the exam week.

Many nights, after a long working day, I try to open professor’s slides and soon start to doubt about my intelligence level, just like everyone else. In the professor’s slides, it usually wrote like: “therefore, we can obtain, this formula can be simplified as ….”  One thing I remember bothered me the most was some professors put words like obviously.  “Obviously”, then a formula of whole page long can be derived as a numerical answer. If my parents were not professional engineers, I would already doubted if I had any genetic problems of studying engineering because of this word obviously.  It took me hours of watching Youtube math video to understand why this is “obviously”.

I think motivation is so essential for everything. During my studies, I always set a general large goal and detailed smaller goals. And a reward system for myself when I reach certain goals I set for myself.  I really did spend numerous long nights studying here, but I honestly think no one is here to listen a nerdy-looking guy persuade you to study hard. However, this degree really takes tremendous work and substantial efforts. There are not many shortcuts or anything we could take it for granted. I do believe life is about choices. people need to make their own choices, the choices like what you are willing to sacrifice in order to get other things. It is not always easy to convince myself to go study when others go party, and there are certain periods of time I don’t want to study at all, but I tell myself, suffer now and live the rest of your life as Diplomi-insinööri. At the end of day, I am glad that my self-discipline and motivation helped me survived all this.


It helped me technically

After graduation, students typically worked with design, construction and research tasks in the field of building industry.  Because my current job is design-related and consultant job, the technical things I studied here are very much associated with my tasks and helped me quite much. I must admit I still sometimes go back to check the Professor lecture slides and examples nowadays.

When I was teaching assistant for some courses, many students asked me why they have to know this, it only took some clicks in the software at work. I think 5 weeks training can ensure us to get some results from software but the 5 years training here makes us know if our results are correct.

If we build our career as a building, the technical knowledge is the foundation. How good upper structures we can build in the career is very much related how robust our foundations established in the classrooms. At work, people hardly have time to systemically build knowledge base again.


I got many abilities trained for the future career

Aalto University doesn’t not only teach technical staff, but also train our soft skills on a daily basis.

As for me, the core competence of an engineer is about fast learning, lifelong studying and problem solving. It is very difficult to say the technical stuff I studied in university, hundreds of credits, will benefit me through the my 40-50 years of career, but the way I absorb knowledge, tackle the problems, cope with deadlines, review things over and over again for the exam, walk out of comfort zone for new challenges,  all of those will accompany the whole career of me.

It taught me to think in a critical way, solve problem in an academic and scientific approach, practice the ability of logical thinking. The engineering studies or exams are meant to help us capture the roots of issues and spot the nature of the problems.

When I am asked to write technical reports or design basis, it is just like a small simulation of thesis writing. We have a problem or task, find out what we know, check how this problem usually solved, come up with a way how to solve the problem, record the whole process in a clear logical way.

When I am asked to design something I am not totally familiar with, it is just like a repeat of study process here. When I can overcome 140 pages slides for a weekly lecture, I am able to find the right formulas from 100 pages of Eurocode.

When I am facing large workload and tight deadline, it is just like going through the exam week again. I have been practiced managing limited timetable and limited resourcing to deliver satisfactory outcomes.

Last not the least, Aalto University is a very fair place in my opinion, you put the efforts and you will see the results very directly. Your hard work will pay off.  You will find something you are good at and become more confident and interested in the subjects. Positive reflection on ourselves helps us establish a better and sustainable career.


Things may need improvement

I was asked to be also critical about the program. I would like to share some of my humble opinions.

The first thing I never get trained for public speaking in this program. So if this speech doesn’t go well, because the program used up all my time on calculating things than talking.

I heard we are lowing passing grades from 50% to 40%, and in many courses the exams are not mandatory anymore. Of course, each course has its own unique features. I know those professors who are critical with course standards are facing criticism or even complaints. Aalto University also faces the financial issues in the current system when students can not graduate.

As far as I am concerned, Aalto students are very talented and not subject to brittle failures. So, I hope that proper pressure shall be given, you can never utilize a material full capacity when you don’t apply enough stress.


Ending words

I sincerely hope the young students will choose the building technology or geoengineering program. It is also fine for me if none of you would like to choose the program, in that sense, we older graduates have to accept the reality that we will get more salary. But if you decide to choose the program, I am sure you will have a challenging and joyful journey, you will have a good time studying and researching, you will get the chances to become the forerunners in the industry when you graduate and make diverse contribution to the Finnish society during your future career.

In the end, I am really grateful for the education I received in Otaniemi and the possibilities this education has provided for me. I take this opportunity to thank all the professors, teachers, faculty working staff, and stakeholders of Aalto University. I wish everyone stays healthy and enjoy studying, researching or working. Thank you!

Yiwei Liu,
Building Technology

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