Elisa’s blog

Stanford Summer International Honors Program 2015

I am a thirfrom_Hoover_tower (002)d year bioinformation technology major in the Aalto University School of Electrical Engineering. This summer I got an amazing opportunity to participate in Stanford Summer International Honors Program at Stanford University. Stanford has been ranked as one of the best engineering universities in the world so needless to say how excited I, as an engineering student, was about the summer.

It all started back in January and now that I think back it certainly was quite a process. Motivation letters, recommendation letters and group interviews before being chosen, visa applications, visa interviews and giving out finger prints at the US embassy after it. Especially the visa application process was quite an adventure. It certainly took a lot of time and patience but already after a couple of days at Stanford I knew it had all been worth it.

On the Friday of the Midsummer weekend other people left for their summer cottages, I took a plane some 8700 kilometres from home to a place I had never even visited before. Tactically we took flights that landed in the evening in order to get the jet lag better under control which turned out to be very much needed because of the hectic welcome weekend and the first study week that started right after it.

To make the welcome weekend less stressful it might have be a good idea to bring at least clean sheets and a towel from home. In Branner Hall, where all the Stanford Summer International Honors Program students were staying this year, the rooms literally had only the furniture and a mattress. Pillows, sheets, towels and a cover had to be brought or purchased by the students. The Stanford bookstore has an ok selection of dorm supplies but the prices are cheaper at Walmart which was a free shuttle ride away. Some people decided to get bikes which now thinking would have been a good idea. I didn’t feel it was much needed on campus even though my classes were quite far apart but it would have been a great way to get to the close town of Palo Alto or to go and explore San Francisco.

I had chosen to study four courses: Modern Statistics for Modern Biology, Data Mining and Analysis, Introduction to Statistical learning and Consulting Workshop. The first mentioned was an intensive course that lasted for the first three weeks and only had a final project after that. This special arrangement made my first weeks unbelievably busy but also very rewarding. I expected the studies to get less time-consuming after those weeks but that did not really hold true because I had chosen a couple more credits than many of the other students and had decided to dedicate to completing them with good grades.

One difference that I noticed in the teaching methods was that there were a lot more homework than I was used to having in Aalto. Teachers gave us a lot of exercises to hand in but after completing everything we did not need to do so much extra work to do well in the exam whereas in Aalto there are less if any exercises to hand in but students are expected to do a lot of independent work. The courses were really motivating and I was very happy with all of my choices. Some of the teachers were actually from the industries rather than universities: for example our data mining professor worked for Google. It was also interesting to hear about the research done at Stanford.

Google_bikesWe had a chance to participate in different talks and tours. One of the most interesting evenings was a dinner talk by a founder of Stanford’s virtual interaction laboratory that studies the use of virtual reality to modify human behaviour. Later on I also visited the lab and got to participate in the virtual reality demo which was an eye opening experience. The summer session took great care of us by organising free trips on almost every weekend. I only participated in one due to the lack of time.

One of the most important memories I took home with me was the people. Branner Hall really had a unique, international atmosphere. Living together and sharing lives for two months makes people close. We were probably all equally lost and confused at the beginning so we got knit together even tighter. For someone who has been living on their own for a few years, living in a dorm took a bit of getting used to because of the reduced privacy of sharing bathrooms and showers with the whole corridor and rooms with one or two people. Quite a few of the Aalto students had their own room but I was sharing mine. It was not literally sharing a room though but rather sharing a sink and entering through the other person’s room and sleeping separated by a door. However, it was a good experience and I don’t regret not getting my own room.

The_ovalI also got many great experiences during my free time. I got a chance to enjoy surfing, sea kayaking and hiking in a redwood forest. I also got to watch a game of American football without even knowing the rules and enjoyed the fireworks of 4th of July on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

The thing I remember the best about the summer session group is the great feeling of working together. Different people from different parts of the world, studying completely different fields came together and had something in common. It was incredible how easy it was to speak to people and have amazingly interesting conversations. I feel that the conversation we had late at night studying in the lounge of the dorm and elsewhere were at least as important a learning experience as the actual courses. I truly made friends for life. In the end it was really sad to say bye to everyone although I trust that we will stay in contact.

I am also very happy to answer any questions you may have e-mail: vappu.ryyppo (at) aalto.fi

Elisa Ryyppö