Monthly Archives: September 2015

Mikko at Stanford 2015

This report describes the key learnings and most touching experiences from my summer school in Stanford. The report begins with describing the context, i.e. the path to getting in to Stanford and what happened while there. After the introduction, the report focuses on describing the academic and extra-curricular activities what I experienced while there.


Path to Stanford
Having been interested in entrepreneurship before going to Stanford, I’d always wanted to experience the atmosphere there. Despite my high expectations, I had very little real knowledge on what would happen once in Stanford. To gain a better understanding prior to my departure to West coast, I asked several Stanford alumni from Aalto about the best tips about which courses to select, what to do while there etc.. Based on those advices I thought I had formed a solid understanding on what would happen. I couldn’t have, however, been more wrong – Stanford by far exceeded all my expectations in a positive way.

Based on discussions with Stanford alumni, I initially selected three courses: Interactive Management Science, Introduction to Decision Making and Technology Entrepreneurship. After the first week, all courses seemed really interesting and practical. I decided, though, to swap one of the courses, namely Introduction to Decision Making, as I wanted a bit more challenging courses while in Stanford. The course I chose instead was Data Mining, which ended up being both extremely interesting and insightful.

Interactive Management Science
The course combines basic mathematic theories to make management decisions. The course challenges the insight of using average as a key decision criteria, as average has several in-built flaws in real, rarely linear World. Course consisted a lot of Excel exercises, lectures and final project on the topic. Overall, the course gave me insight on how to communicate relatively complex topics in a way that is both not too complex to understand but is not merely an average of assumptions.

Data Mining
The course teaches basic methods on how to understand relationships between data attributes and predict future outcomes based on data. The focus of the course was especially, how to handle large datasets which consume a lot of computing power. The workload of the course was relatively high, but the course was also extremely rewarding. The lectures itself were well organized and the professor, working at Google, was able to provide us with practical insight on how the data mining is conducted in practice. I’d say this course was the most educational of my three courses.

Technology Entrepreneurship
The course gives exceptionally well-organized overview on entrepreneurship and the subtopics in its core. In practice, the course comprised several panel discussions with real entrepreneurs, VCs, lawyers etc., as well as top quality lectures from Tom Kosnik and Rebeca Hwang. A big part of the course was a practical project, where teams of 5 selected an idea, broke it to hypothesis and validated those hypothesis on real customers to find out whether the idea was worth pursuing or not. The course taught me more than I could have imagined and most importantly, gave me a real spark to learn more about entrepreneurship – hopefully by starting my own startup one day.


Extra-curricular activities
Being in the heart of Silicon Valley, Stanford provides unparalleled opportunities to explore life outside campus. I visited three companies, namely Google, Facebook and YouNoodle, to hear about how it is to work there and how they differ from Finnish companies. As a really brief summary of those visits, Silicon Valley corporate culture is extremely achievement-driven and meritocratic, and at the same time, organizations are really flat.

In addition to the aforementioned three academic courses, I participated in Silicon Valley Innovation Academy, 7 weeks long project focusing on design thinking and how to move from an idea to real startup concept. During the project, we had several workshops e.g. in understanding Silicon Valley mindset and how to do design thinking in practice. The experience was really helpful and the teamwork taught me a lot on working in a team with totally different strengths and capabilities.

The trip wasn’t of course only about academics. California has several places worth seeing and, thus, I spend my weekends mostly on travelling around the area. The trips I participated included but were not limited to Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, Napa Valley, Sausalito, San Francisco, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe… Furthermore, those trips and hangouts at the campus gave me several friendships which will surely last even after leaving Stanford.

– Mikko Rajala –


DH’s Stanford 2015

I’ve had the privilege of being one of the 6 Aalto/SSHIP students in the summer of 2015.
I am writing this mainly for candidates who’ve already secured a ticket to SSHIP and specifically about three aspects of the program that had not been covered by others. That said, those who consider applying to the program might find this post to be a vicarious entertainment.

I am aiming to discuss three things in detail: choosing courses, pulling A’s and making friends. As for other aspects of the program, you will want to consult the posts insightfully written by other students.

On choosing courses
The first principle of choosing courses at Stanford is this: you don’t choose. By that I mean you do not make a final decision prematurely.

Of course, you had to submit the course list when you applied to the program. However, considering the list final is suboptimal. Although it’s emotionally painful to sit with uncertainty, you need to wait out and see for yourself what the courses are like by actually attending them in the first week. There is practically no downside of “shopping around” multiple courses and deciding later. Whether you want or not, you will most likely end up changing one or two courses.

Instead of blindly assuming your first choices will turn out fine, make your own roster of courses to check out. All in all, bear in mind course descriptions can be deceptive.

In case you’re curious, I took the folowing two courses.
STATS202 Data Mining
MATH53 Ordinary Differential Equations

In my case, STATS 202 was not even on my roster initially and MATH53 won against two strong competitors despite being an underdog the whole time. How were the courses? Well, I can only say they were worth the time and efforts. You should really go to the first lectures and decide for yourself.

On getting A’s
First of all, don’t get stressed out about the grades. Admittedly it is hard to get an A from Stanford and even harder to get an A+ that does not exist at Aalto. You must have cared about your grades enough to secure a ticket to be a SSHIP student. And you might have formed preconception that the level of courses at Stanford may be higher than that of Aalto. I think it is true but the way you think it is.

I’ve found getting an A from Stanford more difficult for one reason.

First there are a lot more exercises and home assignments. The course staff simply give more work to do and since most courses evaluate your grades on an absolute scale, you must faithfully complete the assignments and submit them on time. Unless you’re taking a course that teaches something you already know very well, a decision of which I think is really poor, the amount of workload will not be a joke especially as the summer courses progress very fast as condensed versions of the regular-semester courses.

Unlike what I expected initially, the courses were not intrinsically more difficult. The students there may work harder on average than most students at Aalto, but it is certaintly a myth to believe all of the students there will be somehow waiting to outsmart you with a scornful smile.

All in all, if you happen to have decided to get good grades duing SSHIP, you just need to do all the homework and prepare for exams as you’ve done so far. All Aalto SSHIP students in my batch who put in decent amounts of efforts got excellent grades, so don’t worry too much. 🙂

On making friends
Branner, a dorm whre most SSHIP students and many others reside, is de facto the ground zero that will constitute the majority of your social experiences. There will be lots of gatherings and small trips for students at Branner that you can make a lot of friends with.

I can predict with a reasonably high confidence that you will have more than 30 new friends added on Facebook the first week and perhaps,

100 the first month. You will meet a lot of people and have a hard time remembering their names.

That being said, I challenge you to go further! Wouldn’t it be better, if you could find friends who share your passion and interests? To make that happen, you will need to take the initiative and gather people around a specific topic.

Here is what I did. As geeky as I can be, I am passionate about startups, web and mobile technologies and games. I used the Branner mailing list to look for folks interested in joining me for various hackathons and tech meetups. I ended up forming a team out of Branner residents and participated in two public hackathons during the summer.

Incidentally our team even won Pebble Watches from one of the hackathons.

On top of attending events, I infrequently organized informal Hack Nights and Game Nights at the conference room in the basement of Branner and put together a handful of geeky students for working on something cool and fun. Boy did we nerd out so much there.

The kind of friends you meet in such focused events can mean much more than just “we spent the summer together at Stanford”. Recall many students you will meet through SSHIP are nothing short of being exceptional. It will be a lot of fun to interact with people for things you are genuinely passionate about.

I’d like to extend my sincere gratitude to Aalto University for supporting me to have such learning experience and make great friends.

For those who took the time to read this post, please feel free to message me for any questions or to share your thoughts. You can drop a line at dhfromkorea[at]the_famous_google_mail_service.

Hilla’s SSIHP Summer 2015

I’m Hilla Kurki, a first year master student in Photography and one of the lucky six who got to attend Stanford Summer International Honors in 2015. In this report I describe my SSIHP experience from the point of view of an art student, highlight some of the most memorable moments and also shed light on the basic living conditions on campus. If you want to hear more, feel free to contact me on my Aalto email!

Stanford is not well known for its art department, nevertheless it does have one. I almost did not apply, because I somehow thought that SSIHP would only be for the other schools of Aalto, not ARTS. Luckily I confirmed from our department’s study coordinator that also students of fine arts can (and should) apply. In your application and motivation letter remember to explain how your course selections relate to your interests. This will also help you focus and to make the experience an actual part of your study plan. I also took the effort to contact one of my former professors for an additional recommendation letter. He ended up writing a one sentence recommendation, the sentence filling the whole page. I think it is only positive to let your personality show during the application process.

Most of the art courses offered during the summer are introductory ones, so for an art major there is really no point taking them. The courses under for example Communication, Psychology and History definitely offer a possibility to deepen one’s understanding and wander outside one’s comfort zone. When browsing through the courses and planning your picks, keep in mind that the courses vary each year and the actual course selection will be published later in spring. Two of my initial choices weren’t offered this summer and I had a hard time finding replacements.

Finally I ended up attending three courses, each worth 3 credits: Plein Air Drawing , Creative Industries: The Business of Popular Culture and Who Am I?: The Question of Self in Art, Literature and Philosophy . I was really satisfied with all of them. The warmth, enthusiasm and knowledge of all the professors was impressive. They are willing to meet students one on one during the office hours and almost always stayed after lectures for further discussions. The pace of the courses was demanding but also highly rewarding. The culture to give a lot of critique and feedback makes all the work worthwhile. The homework consisted of weekly readings, response papers and essays. I was pleasantly surprised that both the teachers in Creative Industries and Question of Self welcomed more creative approaches for the final papers . In the Creative Industries we also had guest lecturers, like Youtube’s Creative Manager and self-published authors, who really helped to understand the courses themes better.

I would highly recommend the Plein Air Drawing for even experienced art students. The teaching style made even the basic drawing exercises seem fresh. Our teacher made the effort to make every class unique and really encouraged everyone to loosen up their technique. We ended up drawing in the gym, on the stables, on the railway station, on a beach, in a cafe…

The Stanford premises have two great locations to find some masterpieces: the Cantor Art Museum and the Anderson Art Collection. They have individual works from artists such as Warhol, Pollock, Sugimoto, de Kooning, Rothko and Lawrence. Cantor also has a Rodin sculpture garden and the campus area is filled with sculptures from example one Andy Goldsworthy. San Francisco with all of its galleries is just an hour away. The Caltrain operates all day and the ticket costs only little over 7 dollars one way. I also got the chance to visit the San Francisco College of Art and talk with their students. So outside class there are endless opportunities to see inspiring things! Be sure to visit the Cactus Garden, the most beautiful spot on campus in my opinion.

I was the only art student in my dorm (and I actually managed to meet only two art majors throughout the whole summer). Interacting and living side by side with students from different departments was eye-opening. SSIHP is a chance to not just to get to know Stanford, but also gain insight of different universities around the globe through the other international students. This can be highly valuable for networking and when choosing a possible exchange school. Together we attended an ecological surf course, visited Los Angeles with the Indian students (the trip included listening to Bollywood musicals for the whole 5 hour drive), climbed a mountain in Lake Tahoe and partied side by side in the historical San Francisco Pride.

Every week is packed with different opportunities to visit different attraction all around Bay Area. The trips are organized by the RAs (room administrators) of the dorm and all expenses are paid. The studies demand a lot of time, so most weekends I just stayed on campus. If one dreams of seeing California more thoroughly, one should plan to stay an additional week or two in the States. I took two weeks after the official study period to get to explore California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada. The nearly 4500 km trip was packed with the most beautiful scenery in the world and some classic American road trip nostalgia, from shady motels to Bruce Springsteen songs blasting from the radio. Renting a car is cheap and you’ll find plenty of affordable roadside motels, so you don’t need to plan your road trip that much in advance. The same of course goes to the shorter weekend trips.

The hassle to get the visa is the only difficulty you should expect. That said, start the visa process as soon as possible. Once we reached campus everything went really naturally and hassle free. Three of the six Finnish students got a private room. Most of the shared rooms are also divided to two separate rooms with only a shared entrance and a sink. Our dorm, Branner Hall, was located really close to the Main Quad so I didn’t need a bike to get to class. The campus is quite peaceful and vast, with all the historical sights, a mall and park areas. The whole campus pretty much shuts down after 10pm, with few exceptions like Starbucks. I was really glad to find how easy it was for a vegetarian to find something to eat. The gyms and pool are also free to use!

All in all, during the summer I learned a lot and at the same time, a lot about myself. Highly recommend applying! The summer spent in Stanford was one of the best I’ll probably ever experience.

Best, Hilla