Stanford experience by Emma Verkama

This incredibly inspiring summer was definitely one I will cherish and remember for the rest of my life. Studying at one of the most renowned universities in the world was a dream come true, and I returned home many beautiful memories and experiences richer. In this report, I will first cover the classes I took, and then give some insights into the life at Stanford.

By the beginning of this summer, I had just finished my second year studying bio- and chemical technology at Aalto University School of Chemical Engineering. Additionally, I had completed a minor in mathematics. About half a year earlier after stumbling on an article in Into about the Stanford Summer Session IHP, and consequently reading all of the previous blogposts, I was determined on applying, and carefully started preparing my application. I was overjoyed after finding out that I had been selected, and immediately started planning my summer.

Exploring the campus.

After spending a few days in San Francisco with the other Aalto students, it was finally time to settle into the dorm and start the classes. Due to my interest in mathematics (and lack of suitable chemical engineering classes), I finally decided on three classes from the statistics department; STATS 202 Data Mining and Analysis, STATS 216V Introduction to Statistical Learning and STATS 217 Introduction to Stochastic Processes I, each worth 3 units (which for me, was scaled to 5 ECTS). Together these courses qualified me for the Data Science intensive, which was a pleasant surprise and added bonus. I will now give reviews of the courses, hoping that they will be useful for future Aalto students.

STATS 202, Data Mining and Analysis

This introductory course in machine learning was a very enjoyable experience. I learned a great deal about topics I had no previous experience of, and I am positive that this course will benefit me greatly in the future. The interesting and insightful lectures, held twice a week, were held by Rajan Patel, who works at Google. Due to this, he was able to give us interesting examples and applications in the industry. I was also able to visit Google with the class, which was a special experience. The course had homework sets due every two weeks. The problem sets were quite easy and repetitive (especially in the beginning of the course), but large and therefore ended up consuming a lot of time. The exercises were mainly done in R, a language I had no previous experience of. This did not end up being a problem at all, and should not keep you from taking the course, as the exercises start out from the very basics. In addition to the homework sets, the course included a midterm and a final, both of which were quite enjoyable. The final could be replaced with a very interesting final project, which I unfortunately had to opt out of due to time constraints. I give this course a very strong recommendation.

STATS 216V, Introduction to Statistical Learning

Originally, I had picked another course instead, but ended up dropping it in favor of taking this amazing online course. I’m glad I did, as the course surprisingly ended up being my favorite one. Everything on this course was administered online, which didn’t end up taking away from the experience at all. The video lectures, taught by the authors of the extremely well written course book, were excellent. After each video lecture, there was a small quiz that ensured you had grasped the key concepts. Additionally, the course included a midterm, final, and homework sets due every two weeks. The topics in this course were mostly the same as in Data Mining, but were covered from a more mathematical point of view. This course also covered the entire book, whereas Data Mining ended up skipping key chapters in favor of discussing industrial applications. The more mathematical approach and proofs really helped me understand the topics and relate them to my earlier studies. I found the homework sets in this course a lot better designed, more rewarding and in general more enjoyable, compared to the Data Mining course. I feel like the two courses complemented each other very well. The added flexibility of the online classes ended up being a lifesaver due to the high workload of my third course, which I will discuss next.

STATS 217, Introduction to Stochastic Processes I

This very theoretical, yet interesting course consisted of lectures twice a week, weekly homework assignments, a midterm and a final exam. During the second week, I found out that this course was intended for graduate students in statistics, but ended up keeping it due to my interest in the topic. The enthusiastic German professor was skilled at giving lectures and gave interesting examples and remarks. However, due to the summer session being two weeks shorter than a regular quarter, the lectures in the end of the course ended up being terribly fast paced and rushed. This course was by far the most difficult and time consuming out of my courses, and its homework assignments ended up eating away almost all of my free-time, partly due to the fact that the assignments quite often seemed to be ahead of the lectures. I spent more time on this course than both of my other courses combined, which in the end was quite frustrating, as I was forced to miss a lot of social events in order to keep up with the workload. Both the midterm and final were rather stressful experiences, as they had significantly more problems than what I was used to. Though the very interesting applications of queuing theory discussed the last week of the course compensated for a lot, you should probably take the more practical course with the same name in Aalto instead, unless you truly are passionate about the subject.

Redwood forest, the Golden Gate bridge and School o Rock musical.

All Aalto students lived in the same dorm, Branner Hall. As most of the Branner rooms, my accommodation was a so-called two room double, where I had my own small room within the bigger room. Initially, I was quite nervous about living with a roommate, but I ended up having a lot of fun. The dining hall, Arrillaga, was right by Branner. Aalto provided us 14 meals in the dining hall every week, so I opted to have lunch and dinner at Arrillaga and made my own oatmeal every morning in the shared dorm kitchen. The Arrillaga food was very tasty (though repetitive), and I found myself satisfied each time despite my dietary restrictions.

Due to taking two high workload courses and one extremely high workload course, my free-time was rather limited. Still, I managed to go for a morning run or swim in the beautiful pool every morning. I really recommend utilizing the athletic facilities. Other highlights included the School of Rock musical in San Francisco, a trip to the Redwood forest and trip to Santa Cruz. The people I met at Stanford were incredible, and I ended up learning a lot about other cultures. Though the academics were amazing, it was the people who made this experience so beyond special. I would like to thank everybody who was a part of my summer, it was unforgettable.

A trip to the farmers’ market, the incredible swimming pool and exploring San Francisco.

Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to Aalto University for this amazing opportunity, and strongly encourage anyone interested to apply. Do not hesitate to contact me for anything related to the application process, the practicalities or whether you should take the stochastics course.

Emma Verkama

emma.verkama@aalto.fi

School of Chemical Engineering