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.