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! 🙂

Frans L

A weekend trip to Mammoth Lakes, California