Stanford experience by Heli Julkunen

This summer I had a wonderful opportunity to take part in Stanford Summer International Honors Program as one of the Aalto University’s representatives. At the beginning of the summer, I had just graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Bioinformation Technology from the School of Electrical Engineering and was thus considered as a graduate student at Stanford. Currently I am starting the first year of my Master’s studies in Life Science Technologies with a major in Complex Systems. In this report I will tell you about my summer experiences in Stanford, covering academics, campus life and extra-curricular activities.


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Academics

At the time of applying for the scholarship, I was planning to focus my Stanford studies on data science and IT related courses since these suited my interests and studies well. These are also fields in which the Summer Session has a great selection of courses in. In addition, Stanford being well known for its relationship to Silicon Valley, I also wanted to utilize the opportunity of being at Stanford and experience the entrepreneurial atmosphere there. I ended up taking three courses: Data Mining and Analysis, Technology Entrepreneurship and Leading Trends in Information Technology. These are popular courses that also several previous Aalto students have taken – I will next share my insights on them.

Data Mining and Analysis (STATS 202)

This was an introductory level course to data analysis and machine learning, covering different regression and classification algorithms as well as methods for evaluating the performance of the models. The professor Rajan Patel had a lot of industrial experience of working for e.g. Google and hence, he also provided interesting insights to the data mining processes of companies. This course had the highest workload of all the three courses that I had: there were homework sets due every other week and in the end students could choose between a final project and an exam. I chose to do the project, which made the last couple of weeks extremely busy but also taught me a lot.

Technology Entrepreneurship (ENGR 145)

This course provided an introduction to entrepreneurship by teaching about different phases of building a startup. The course included guest lectures of several aspects of entrepreneurship, such as design thinking, hiring a team and understanding legal viewpoints. As a part of the course, we formed teams and performed an opportunity analysis project for a startup idea. Another assignment during the course was writing a personal business plan, covering critical decisions regarding our personal and career life and developing practical strategies for our personal journey. Overall, I found this course and the lectures given by experts of different fields very inspiring and motivating.

Leading Trends in Information Technology (MS&E 238)

This course focused on new technologies and trends in IT, such as cloud computing, big data and artificial intelligence. There were guest lectures each week given by entrepreneurs, analysts and IT executives introducing broad range of aspects. This was one of my favorite courses and provided in-depth insights to the topics that are currently shaping the IT business without going too much into technical details.

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Campus life and extra-curricular activities

Living on campus was a major part of the whole Stanford experience and this year all the IHP students got assigned to Lagunita Court. All the Aalto students got their own rooms, but some of the other students shared their room with one or two people. Living in the same dorm made it easy to spend time with other students and really tied the IHP community together. Otherwise Stanford also offers great surroundings with picturesquely beautiful campus and a lot of opportunities for exercising with gyms and pools nearby.

Even though some of the courses were quite a lot of work, I also had time to travel and explore the surrounding areas. There were extra-curricular activities and trips organized by the Summer Session almost every weekend, but I participated only in a few of those: soccer game on the 4th of July weekend and trips to California Academy of Sciences and Computer History Museum. We also got to make some self-organized excursions, including a visit to the Nordic Innovation House in Palo Alto as well as three companies: Google, Facebook and Nest.

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To explore more of California, we organized a lot of weekend trips ourselves – during the summer I got to visit places such as Santa Cruz, Napa Valley, Yosemite and Lake Tahoe. These trips were one of my favorite part of the summer and I got many memorable experiences and friendships out of those. I would also recommend anyone to stay in the US after the program –  I stayed there for three weeks and had many unforgettable adventures from surfing in Malibu to eating tacos in Mexico and enjoying views over the Grand Canyon.

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The summer was definitely one of the highlights of my life and I enjoyed every minute of it. The inspiring atmosphere and community at Stanford is incredible and something you cannot experience in Finland. The mindset I had in Stanford is also something that I wish to further sustain. Spending the summer at Stanford is an experience that I would not trade for anything and I want to express my gratitude to Aalto for providing me with this amazing opportunity. For anyone considering applying, I would recommend just going for it!

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I will be happy to answer any questions you may have via email: heli.julkunen@aalto.fi.

Heli Julkunen

School of Electrical Engineering