Monthly Archives: September 2019

Stanford experience by Joakim Kattelus

My Stanford experience was not anything I had been planning or looking forward to for long. It was a few days before New Year’s Eve. I was in my second year of Chemical Engineering studies and was already actively looking for summer jobs when I happened to find my first mention of the Stanford IHP program in an informational email sent to CHEM students. I was intrigued, but I was also very late to the party, the application had been open for months and now the deadline for application was in only two weeks or so! So now followed a mad scramble where I quickly wrote up an application letter, filled in a form and contacted a lecturer I’d had a few courses with for a recommendation.

Despite this hurried start, everything fell into place and I was invited to an interview. Fortunately, the interview was not the stressful experience I had been expecting. We were interviewed in groups, so I already got to meet some of the other candidates. All the others at my interview session were from other Aalto schools, so I did not compete with them for my spot. The atmosphere was collaborative, not as competitive as I had feared. After the interview, I was not very confident that I had made a good impression. But time later, the good news followed: I was going to Stanford!

Campus life

My first impression of the Stanford campus was that I had walked into some kind of movie. The buildings were built in a classical style, resembling Greek temples. The grass was green and perfectly cut. And all this was framed by the California sun. The whole place felt unreal.

After arriving at the campus, we were led to our dorm, Branner hall, where most of the international students were going to be staying. There I met my roommate, as well as the other students. Living in a dorm with all the other IHP students was an interesting experience. On one hand, you met a lot of people from different cultures and could always go to the lounge to pretend to study while actually hanging out and chatting with people. There were a lot of great people in the IHP-program. I became friends with many of the other Nordic students, but also with people from all over the world: France, South Africa, Dubai, Greece, Pakistan, Australia… However, living like this also had a downside: it sometimes felt hard to find personal space or peace and quiet. My room was right next to the courtyard, so I could always hear the people partying and having fun at the balcony outside while I was trying to study.

Life at Stanford settled quickly into a comfortable routine. I woke up, went to breakfast, then to class. In the afternoon, I did homework, but I also had time to go for a run, play cards with my friends or play videogames in the dorm. In general, I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of free time. It really felt like I had time to enjoy the summer, and not just study all the time. With my friends, I went to Yosemite National Park over the weekend, visited the beach, went to San Francisco and played volleyball at campus. There were also lot of weekend activities offered as part of the International Honours Program, such as visits to museums or amusement parks.

As for academics, the difference to Aalto University was not as big as I had expected. The total course workload was about the same, with some courses being more time-consuming than others. The students were good, there were some very smart and competent people in all my classes. However, not everyone at Stanford or in the International Honours program was a genius with a perfect GPA. Every student was motivated, however, and that was enough. The biggest difference academically was in the professors and TA:s for the courses. They all were experts in their fields, very competent and motivated. Consequently, each class I took was on the same level as the very best classes I had taken at Aalto.

Below is a not-so-brief explanation of all three of my classes: why I took them and what I got out of them.

Applied Electrochemistry at the Micro- and Nanoscale

Whenever someone asked, I called this class “the Battery Course”. It was all about modern lithium ion batteries, both about the theory and principles by which their work and the current developments in the field. The professor called this an introductory course that barely scratched the surface, but it still felt robust to me. It definitely went further into battery chemistry than we had gone in my Chemical engineering undergraduate degree.

It is worth noting that the professor was an electrical engineer, with a lot of experience in the battery industry. While battery function is all about chemistry, this course was not intended for only chemists. The first weeks were repetition of basic chemical thermodynamics concepts that I was already familiar with, after this we very quickly moved on to new topics such as activation losses and mass transfer limitations. Surprisingly, instead of a final exam we did a final project with Quantum Mechanical calculations on the Stanford data cluster, which I had not expected reading the course description.

No prior information on these topics or battery chemistry was needed, I definitely recommend this course for anyone interested in energy storage or batteries, not just CHEM students. This was the course with the lightest workload I had at Stanford, but I still feel I learned a lot of things I can hopefully apply in my upcoming bachelor’s thesis.

As a final note, for some strange reason this course was found under “Mechanical Engineering” in the course list, not under “Chemistry”. So were courses like “Basics of molecular modelling” and “Combustion chemistry”. CHEM students looking for more advanced courses in your own field, remember to also look here! The courses listed under “Chemistry” were very basic. (Heh…)

Data Mining and Analysis

Someone once described this course to me as “really advanced curve-fitting”. This description is kind of accurate, the course was about using models from simple linear functions to more advanced machine learning algorithms like random forests and boosting to model, classify and make predictions from data.

Of the three courses I took, this one was the most challenging, but perhaps also the one I got the most out of. At some point while working with the course final project, I realised I really liked data mining and machine learning, to such a degree that I’ll probably try to make this subject into a second Minor of sorts. Data science and Machine learning are very useful tools in a variety of fields. While this was an introductory course, I still feel I got a lot of knowledge I can hopefully apply in the future.

There was also a more in-depth course called Machine Learning offered, that was about many of the same subjects. However, I got the impression that course was more difficult, mathematical and theoretical, while Data Mining and Analysis was more focused on applications. (There was a lot of programming in R or Python.) I’m glad I took the slightly easier, more practical course, since I still had plenty of coursework to do at Stanford.

Public speaking-Romancing the Room

This course came highly recommended by previous IHP-participants and I now completely understand why. The lecturer, Jim Wagstaffe, was an amazingly good lecturer and speaker, as can perhaps be expected for a public speaking class. Professor Wagstaffe is a practicing lawyer with a lot of high-stakes cases under his belt, which did bring a lot of credibility to what he was saying. Somehow, he almost managed to make our weekly lectures qualify as entertainment: despite the odd lecture hours (19-22 in the evening!) staying focused was anything but a struggle!

The course was about public speaking, with weekly lectures that included speeches by each student as well as some smaller workshops with oral exercises. The focus was on “Romancing the room”, that is, capturing and keeping your audience’s attention and making them like you and your message. During the course, we students had to give many kinds of speeches: personal stories, demonstrative speeches, persuasive speeches… No prior training or experience in public was required, at the start, some students were very shy and nervous, while some had more experience speaking in public. I feel everyone improved a lot. Personally, I feel I learned to manage my nervousness much better, got the importance of good eye contact drilled in me and learned a few tricks about speech writing.

Instead of a final exam, this course had a final dinner, where each student had to have a speech of a given type. Some did welcome or introductory speeches, some did toasts, some did roasts and some even did obituaries. I did a point-counterpoint entertainment speech with another student on whether stairs or elevators are better. The final dinner and the whole class in general was a really fun experience, due to the sense of community and all the great speeches we had. I still vividly remember several of the speeches: the one about the grandmother who turned away a young, lovesick John F. Kennedy, the one about how to make free money by arbitrage betting and the one about a terrifying first snowboarding lesson.

Final thoughts

In summary, studying at Stanford for the summer of 2019 was certainly an unforgettable experience. I learned a lot, both inside and outside the classroom. There were many new friends made and new experiences had, I had an amazing summer at Stanford.

However, at Stanford I also feel I discovered something about Aalto. Namely, that even compared to Stanford, my home University is a very good place to study. The material being taught is the same, the teaching methods are pretty much the same. The big difference was in the resources that come with being a top US university, right next to Silicon Valley. Many of the professors had some serious connections to the tech companies in the Valley, and this of course showed. But still, while the courses at Stanford were comparable to the very best courses I had at Aalto they were not necessarily better. And it might be that I am biased, but after the initial amazement I can honestly say I like the Otaniemi campus more than the one at Stanford. Otaniemi is right next to the student village, it is smaller and cosier with better study spaces, in my opinion.

One thing I noticed both Stanford and Aalto do well is by encouraging student collaboration. At both Stanford and Aalto, I’ve never felt I was competing with the others in class. However, it may be that the Stanford Summer Session is different in this regard. I have heard that especially post-graduate studies at Stanford can be very competitive. On the other hand, something Aalto could improve is the use of projects as a teaching tool. I have had project work at Aalto, but sometimes they felt like an afterthought or too narrow in scope. In contrast, the projects in Statistical learning and Applied Electrochemistry felt like good opportunities to apply the material that had been taught in the course.

And finally, I would like to comment on the perhaps most important difference between Aalto and Stanford: the price. Studying at Aalto is (almost) free, studying at Stanford is definitely not. Even just the summer program costs thousands of dollars. I had a stipend from Aalto University that paid the bills, but most other summers session students were paying for it themselves. This fact occasionally made me feel a bit guilty, but I also feel like this summer really made me appreciate the free education we have in Finland. Stanford was amazing, but so is Aalto. I am grateful that I have been given the opportunity to study at both.

If you have any questions about applying or studying at Stanford, feel free to reach out to me at joakim.kattelus@aalto.fi. If you are hesitating about applying for the Summer Session, do it! The experience is very much worth it.

Best,
Joakim

Stanford experience by Frans Lehmusvaara

In a nutshell, the summer was amazing. Stanford IHP gathered around 150 students from all over the world to study their favourite subjects. No one knew anyone beforehand, and everyone was living in the same residence hall for the whole summer. It formed a really pleasant atmosphere. There are already great blog posts about the application process, spare time, and tips and trick. So, I will focus more on the courses.

I’m a computer science undergraduate, and I took mainly CS classes during the summer. As you know, there are a lot of differences between subjects, so your courses might be completely differently organized if you study something else.

It’s easy to notice that Stanford has put a lot of effort into computer science. About half of the students of Stanford School of Engineering are studying computer science. The headquarters of the largest tech companies are located close to the university. Also, for instance, the founders of Google, WhatsApp and Instagram are all alumni of the university. So, Stanford is one of the best places to study computer science in the world. The classes were indeed great! But eventually, they didn’t differ much from Aalto.

During the first two weeks, we were allowed to swap classes freely. I tried seven different courses, in which I started to study CS221 Artificial Intelligence (4 units), STATS116 Theory of Probability (4 units) and ME334S HPC-AI Summer Seminar Series (1 unit). In total, it was 9 units, which equals to 14-15 ECTS credits.

The classes consisted of lectures and office hours. A typical course had around 4 hours of lecturing each week. The office hours were tutoring sessions where you could come to ask for help. The grading was based on an exam and homework. In other words, the courses were arranged like at Aalto. The content of the classes was a bit more theoretical. The most notable difference was that the workload was a lot greater. The amount of homework was at least double. (Note: one class was 4 units, which equals 6-7 ECTS credits. So, Stanford students have more work in each course, but they don’t have to take so many classes.)

The lecturers were, of course, great. The lecturers spoke clearly, were interactive etc. I could describe more preciously about the lecturer, but those are so specific to certain classes. The classes are changing all the time; therefore, the information might not be accurate for long.

Nevertheless, there were a couple of excellent practices that were common between multiple courses. So, here is the list of the teaching/study practices that I enjoyed most at Stanford:

  1. Notetaker stipend: The student, who is taking notes during lectures and shares them to everyone, receives a small stipend and an official diploma at the end of the course. This practice really encouraged students to help others.
  2. Piazza: Piazza is a free education platform where you can anonymously ask help from other students in your class. The platform reduced the workload of the course assistants! The students were encouraged to answer questions on Piazza by given extra points or diploma for those who helped others a lot.
  3. Study groups: Stanford encouraged students to form study groups. When returning an assignment, we were asked to write our name (of course) and also the names of the members of our unofficial study groups. The purpose of writing the study group was to remind us every week that studying together is an efficient way to learn. This practice sounds a minor thing, but it really encouraged students to study together.

I have to say; I would love to see those practices also at Aalto University! Testing and implementing those would be quite effortless. To summarize, the courses do not differ much between Aalto and Stanford. Nevertheless, small things make a huge difference.

And oh, one more thing! If you are interested in applying to the program, don’t hesitate to ask help with the application process! 🙂

Cheers,
Frans L
frans.lehmusvaara[at]aalto.fi

A weekend trip to Mammoth Lakes, California

Stanford experience by Sakari Huhtanen

When you are reading this, it is easier for you to understand my opinions on Stanford IHP if you have some basic knowledge of what I’ve done during my time at Aalto. I started studying energy and environmental technology at the School of Engineering in 2016. After my freshman year, I wanted to get involved in some activities that would be outside of the normal teekkari (technology student) bubble. By accident, I got to know people at Aaltoes and got sucked in organizing different events and programs with them. The year of 2018 I had the privilege to be on the board of Aaltoes and act as the Head of Kiuas startup accelerator. Seeing dozens of founders working on something they loved and were passionate about made me certain that one day I want to be like them. Stanford is the number one university when it comes to startups, which made it a no brainer for me to apply.

Scandi gang somewhere at Stanford before fountain hopping

Eight weeks at the heart of the Silicon Valley offered plenty of unforgettable moments and lessons. Both in the classroom and in the fountains. Before I applied, I read many blog posts about how the IHP program at Stanford had been a life-changing event and whatnot. This didn’t happen to me. Instead of this, my time at Stanford made me even more confident that I’m on the right path and the choices I have made are the right ones for me.

Before I start describing my summer more, let’s go through some of the things about the application process, from my point of view of course. I’m sure that you have heard this before when thinking whether to apply or not: You don’t need to have a perfect GPA. Don’t get me wrong, it does play a role, but it is only one part of the equation. What you need to have is the best overall package. My application had very strong reasoning why Stanford would help me and why it would make sense to send me there. My personal statement, story and recommendations were covering what my GPA was lacking. Magnificent GPA surely helps you, but you can have other reasons that make you stand out.

I enrolled in three courses: Technology Entrepreneurship, Energy Essentials and Effective Negotiation and Persuasion. I didn’t do any “course shopping”, even though it would’ve been probably a smart thing to do. I got pretty lucky since the courses which I chose were a great fit for me.

Technology Entrepreneurship and Energy Essentials were the main courses for me and these were the courses I invested most of my time in. Technology Entrepreneurship is probably the most popular course during the summer quarter, and you should be quick to enroll since more people are trying to enroll than there are spots. During these eight weeks, you get a chance to develop a startup idea with a group of 6 to 8 people. The staff has been there and done that and they are the best people to help your team forward. Visiting lecturers vary from mountain climbers to Tesla co-founders. It’s astonishing to see how extremely busy people are willing to sacrifice their time for students. Students have a chance to pitch their ideas during the first weeks, after that you can and should go and talk to people with the most interesting ideas. Don’t be too nice when waiting for your turn because the teams are formed very fast and you might end up with a project you don’t really care about. The best scenario is that you come up with your own idea and present it in a way that people want to join your team.

Our Technology Entrepreneurship team: Renewell after the final presentation

Energy Essentials is a great course and it gives you an overview of the energy policies, energy production and consumption in the US. Fracking, natural gas, LCOE, solar energy and the duck curve are the keywords. This course won’t be the most technical one. Instead, it gives you the tools to analyze the pros and cons of different energy sources on a bigger scale.  Coming from Europe oil and gas industry seems very outdated but in the US, it is present everywhere. One of the biggest learnings during my summer was that the O&G industry is not going anywhere soon, whether you like it or not.

When choosing your 3rd course which you most likely need to get 8 or 9 units I would highly recommend to choose a seminar course. I chose Effective Negotiation and Persuasion but I had a bit different expectations for the course than what it turned out to be. For the students that have gone through the Finnish school system, I don’t think that this course has that much new to offer.

One of the main reasons why Stanford and Silicon Valley are the hub for startups is that entrepreneurship and networks are present in every course. Whether it is an entrepreneurial course (Technology Entrepreneurship) or more hardskills focused (Energy Essentials, Effective Negotiation and Persuasion) these concepts won’t go unnoticed. In every course you hear how their alumni have founded this and that company and how you can get access to this wide network of the best professionals when you have completed this course. This fact promotes entrepreneurship everywhere and the best thing is that you barely notice it. It is everyday life and in a way nothing super special. Everyone is looking constantly for new ways to do business and/or make everyday life better.

The most valuable asset with any university program/degree is the people. You should keep that in mind when starting your studies at Stanford or Aalto. My piece of advice would be that don’t take 3 super hard courses that require your undivided attention 24/7. Try to be active especially during the first weeks and consciously break out of your inner circle. Many people find like-minded people who are usually from similar cultures during the first weeks, which is great! But you should pay attention to that and go outside of your comfort zone and meet people who might not have spent all of their lives in the Nordics.

All in all, summer at Stanford has been one of the best summers I’ve had. It was also probably the most intense period of my studies (so far). If you want to maximize your learnings and get kissed by the Californian sun at the same time, Stanford IHP is definitely the go-to place for you!

Yosemite is a must visit during the summer. The nature there is absolutely unique.

I want to thank Aalto for giving this great opportunity. The biggest thanks goes to all the new friends who I met during my time at Stanford. You made it a summer to remember!

Best,
Sakari

Stanford experience by Taika Nummi

So Stanford, huh? Yeah. You heard the rumors right, I was one of the lucky Aalto students that had a chance to spend their summer studying at one of the world’s most beautiful campuses in sunny California. So lets jump right in, wont we?  And I’ll answer the four most pressing questions that I often get from friends and strangers alike.

Warning: I will be blunt and straight forward.

1. “How on earth did you get into Stanford? Isn’t it like crazy hard to get in?”

I know the common mentality of people is not to apply if they feel like there isn’t a chance of getting in and I think that strongly applies to Stanford Summer Session – with the name Stanford bolded. The prestige of the school definitely scares people away and I hear a lot of people saying that they would have applied they had a poor GPA, bad CV and two few courses. What was the point in putting so much effort into an application if you weren’t even going to make it to the interview.

Let me tell you a little secret. At the time I was applying to Stanford my GPA was well below the average gpa of a business student at Aalto and I definitely was lagging behind on my studies. I wasn’t a finance student *cough cough* and I had very little working experience anywhere to display proudly on my CV. If this all had worked like a Finnish application process, I would not have been at Stanford this Summer.

Gladly for me the application process to Stanford was executed in an American fashion. This means that in addition to displaying your GPA and credits, you had to send in a CV, motivation letter and a recommendation letter from one professor or academic. After this they called you in for a group interview – which by the way was the most interesting and easygoing interview I have been in – and a week or so later you got to know the results.

So back to the question how I got in. I can not give you a direct answer, for that you would have to ask those choosing, but I think that at least these two factors played a major role:

a) I really really really wanted to go to Stanford. Stanford has always been a dream school for me. My aunt used to go there and she would bring us merchandise when we were kids. So I was pretty much brain washed into it. I even applied for a bachelors program after high school and ever since then have felt like I wanted a chance to know what it was like to be a student at Stanford.
b) I knew why I wanted to go and what I wanted to do there. Stanford Is one of the best universities in the field of Psychology and that is something that greatly interests me. Psychology is also a field closely related to management and I personally think organizations have a great responsibility and possibility to take and improve the mental health of its numerous individuals. I wanted to gain a broader knowledge of the field and get to talk to professors and researchers who had the latest information on these topics.

Of course this is only a guess, but I would advise anyone who is interested in applying to ask themselves why they want to go and what they want to gain from the experience. I would also advice you just to apply, because the intake criteria might see vague, but exactly therefore it might just as well be you they are looking for than anybody else.

2. “What courses did you take? And did you like them?”

The grant from Aalto covers the expenses of 8-9 Stanford credits (about 13-15 ECTS) for the Summer. I started my semester by enrolling in quite a few more and started off with a total of 23 Stanford credits: 5 courses in psychology, 1 in philosophy and 1 in Chinese language. Stanford has what they call an add or drop period which means you have two weeks to sit in on courses before the enrollment is final.

I’m really glad they had this system because it became clear very fast that a lot of the psychology and philosophy I had already covered in High School and it would have been a complete waste to stay in those classes. I ended up taking the courses Genes, Memes and Behavior and Accelerated First-Year Chinese.

Psychology – Genes, Memes and Behavior (3cr)
Key words: genes, memes, behavior, psychology, discussion, interdisciplinary, small group teaching, freedom, happiness, mental disorders

Even though the main reason behind coming to Stanford was to study psychology it was clear to me that the courses offered during the summer where first year courses and sitting in on them just for the sake of it would have been a waste. I ended up only enrolling in Genes, Memes and Behavior, not because it was more advanced than the other courses – but because it offered small group teaching. Unlike the other classes which where lecture based, this class only had seats for 10 people, which meant that the professor really ha time for us and discussions on the topics. This was great because we had the possibility to go more in depth in anything that we were interested in.

The course material was very broad and that I also perceived as a huge bonus because we were able to bring discussion to topics that were relevant and we enjoyed. In addition the professor was an amazing lecturer and he was willing to assist with anything – even things outside of the class room. He assisted me in finding the people, who were specialized in the topics I was interested in and I was even able to get an offer to work as a research assistant next summer at the department. Perks of choosing a class with a quota! I would recommend you to check that out!

Language Center – Accelerated First-Year Chinese (5cr)
Key words: language, Asian culture, pinyin, kanji, mandarin, food from panda express, you are never going to learn a language this fast (be prepared).

This course that raises most questions and eyebrows. Why did I end up studying Chinese at Stanford. Simple: I have always wanted to learn Chinese and there really is no better place than Stanford.

This. Is. The. Best. Course. I. Have. Had. In. University. Hands up. Never have I learnt a language as fast and with such ease. If you compare Stanford language education to the education we get back home – I hate to admit it but this is where the Stanford outshines Aalto by miles. The class only consisted of 6 participants and it was held daily in the mornings so we were immersed in the language for 1 hour and 15minutes every day and when I say immersed, I mean it.

From day one the teacher would mostly just speak Mandarin to us. This didn’t mean that it was just aimless ramble and we had no clue what she was speaking about. Every lesson was well planned out and she used gestures, pictures, animations and items to explain details to us. You quickly learnt to associate objects to words. Class time was used for making us speak and outside of class we had to learn characters and pinyin.

The class was really intensive and most of my days I spent working on Chinese because we had weekly oral tests and quizzes. But the hard work payed off, because after only 8 weeks I can read, speak and write over 150 characters – confidently. So rewarding!

All in all in my opinion classes at Stanford were much easier than classes back home at Aalto. Credits where much easier to obtain and I felt like I had a lot of time to do extra. This could also have been because a) it was a summer session, b) I wasn’t taking tech and science classes, c) I had less activities outside of school to distract me and d) I actually enjoyed what I was studying.

3. “What did you do during your spare time? Did you meet lots of cool people?”

This is the one where I will have to disappoint you: I studied. I made use of the great athletics facilities and the great food. But mostly, I studied.

And to be honest it was the thing I wanted to do. Last time I enjoyed studying this much was back in High School. Imagine waking up every morning and being excited to head to the library with a cup of coffee and just sit there and learn new things! After getting my work done, I would switch to reading some of the books on the libraries shelves. Never have I been in a library with such vast offering. How could I not have resisted staying in there and reading till closing time?

Yes, I talked to people but a lot of the time I felt like it was very much networking and getting to a deeper conversational level was almost impossible. I hate networking and I give up immediately if interaction even slightly feel like it. I actually thought it was funny how we all came from over 30 different countries but were so similar. It was really hard to find diversity of background in us as a group. Of course there were cultural differences but for example, we Aalto students where the only ones on scholarships, the rest had parents who could afford to send them to Stanford for the Summer.

The Summer program offered a lot of weekend activities and the international students planed a lot of trips and outings together. So if you are extroverted and like big groups of people there definitely is more for you in California than just studying and spending your time talking to researchers. It really all comes down to your mentality and what you want to take away from it. There is no right or wrong way of doing Stanford.

I did make one friend for life though. It is quite funny. Who would have thought that you would have to go all the way to California to meet and bond with an Aalto ARTS student? Heidi, if you are reading this: Thank you for being there for me.

4. “Would You do it again?”

My first reaction to this question is of course a big YES. And I mean obviously for me it is a no brainer. I had always wanted to experience Stanford. Now I know what it is and know what I am missing and what I am not. But under different circumstances I wouldn’t be too sure if I would. What I noticed at Stanford is that the quality of education back home is just unbelievably good. If I hadn’t gotten a fee waiver from Aalto, I would not have paid the amount of money for summer courses that are courses you can get back in high school in Finland.

This is not to say that the teaching at Stanford was poor. On the contrary, I feel that professors at Stanford where much more equipped to teach and obviously had more resources than back home. The problem just is that the quality of high school teaching in the States is so versatile that they have to offer very basic classes for undergraduates to let them catch up.

One is for sure. Stanford is really mostly just a university like Aalto. The undergrad students are intelligent but no more so than elsewhere. The difference is that it has a name and the name gives it more resources to put into research and this again attracts top-notch Professors and PhDs from around the globe. Yes – PhDs are a completely different story and I am seriously worried about the health of those PhD students at Stanford. But I guess that is a story for another time.

I just want to end this blog post by telling you all that Aalto is a great University and we are so lucky to be a part of its student body. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the Atlantic (well, actually it was because they watered the campus 24/7 and I didn’t witness a single cloudy day, but oh well…).

If you have any questions about applying to Stanford Summer Session, don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.surname(at)aalto.fi .

Yours,

Taika

Stanford experience by Konsta Holopainen

The summer at Stanford was great. The people were great, the food was great and not once did it rain. However, the single most valuable thing I learned there was to appreciate Aalto even more. Don’t worry, I’ll explain that statement more in the next section. Let’s dive straight in and start off with the academics.

I completed three courses at Stanford which in Aalto credits summed up to 13 credits.
The courses were:

  • Public speaking – Romancing the room (3 units, 5 ECST)
  • Data mining and analysis (3 units)
  • Effective negotiation and persuasion (1-2 units, 3 ECTS)

And what did I learn? The level of the tuition at Stanford varies a LOT!

The professor in public speaking course was without a doubt one of the best teachers I have ever had the pleasure to listen. Even though the sessions took place in Tuesday evenings from 7pm to 10pm, he was able to keep the class attentive until the end every night. It was actually quite solid entertainment.

The teacher of the data mining class was just OK. He knew he stuff but I felt that he was more of a doer than a teacher. The materials were good but pedagogically the lectures weren’t on the highest level. I honestly got more out of the book and exercises while studying by myself. ­

And the third . . . This course was not what I expected. It had the actual group classes for the first unit and the second optional unit was obtained through 1-on-1 meetings with a tutor. The group meetings with the teacher were subpar. At their best. The course name even did not really describe the content very well, as the “negotiation” part of the course contained one slideshow given by a local car salesman. What comes to the tutoring sessions, I was lucky and got the better out of the two tutors. Those sessions I actually enjoyed and learned a bunch.

My suggestions on these courses:

  • Public speaking; a big GO!
  • Data mining; not bad, but you can get the same by reading the book (http://faculty.marshall.usc.edu/gareth-james/ISL/) and doing the exercises. (Solutions can be found online)
  • Effective “negotiation” and persuasion; steer clear from this one

What would I do differently now? I would enroll onto a lot more courses initially and drop the ones that don’t float my boat. I would also try to do even more research on the courses beforehand, but still one might strike out. I was initially enrolled on five, but that clearly wasn’t enough. Go for more!

There was a couple more of interesting things that I learned during the first days of class.
First, the teachers at the Summer Session haven’t necessarily nothing to do with Stanford outside the Summer Session. Two out of my three teachers were there only for the summer, and for the first time.
Second, the level of the students in the classes ranges from high school to master’s students. This was not a problem in any way. Just a nice-to-know trivia.

Was it hard? I wouldn’t say so. I honestly feel like the courses at Aalto are a lot tougher. I didn’t have the heaviest courses there at Stanford, but if I compare the Data mining course for example to similar statistics courses in Aalto, the ones back home are substantially harder. There was a lot of work at Stanford, but it was not hard. The homework took its time, but it was mostly something easy and straightforward.

So worry not, there is time for some fun and games too! I mostly spent my free time doing sports and just hanging out with the other IHP students. If there is something that really was better at Stanford, it’s the facilities. There wasn’t really a sport that I couldn’t do there, and never was there a moment when we couldn’t find a place to hang out.

A quick Q&A to sum up my takes on the experience.

Knowing what it was, would I apply again? Yes!
Knowing what it was, would I apply for a second summer? No.
Would I want to study at Stanford full-time? I might.
Would I pay for it? No!
Should you apply? YES!

If you are still intimidated by Stanford or the other students there, you can just wipe that away with good conscious. Yes, it’s an old and prestigious school, but you have no reason to feel any lesser because of that. We Aalto students were the only ones there on scholarships, and (hopefully not sounding too arrogant) I can say that in some cases it showed. I sure wasn’t the smartest one there, but not once did I have to feel myself inferior to anybody.

And if you are intimidated by the application process, don’t let that stand as an obstacle either. Just put some work in it and see what happens. Even the application process itself was an experience. Just go for it!

Finally, I would like to thank Aalto for this summer, but more so, I would like to thank Aalto for the education I’m getting here for free. I truly feel that Aalto can withstand the comparison!

Cheers,
Konsta