In 2014 after graduating from Data Mining and Machine Learning from Aalto University, I was in between academia and industry. At one point, I loved the subject that I studied that time, on the other hand I was offered a position by newly opened Microsoft to do reporting-related job. At that time the position offered seemed attractive to me, but the environment with strict schedule and dress code did not seem the right for me.
What would you choose in this situation?
They say you need to select your PhD topic and research group as you select your partner that is by love and passion to the subject. In my case, I was certain in the subject, though my research group had only few people left. That meant that I needed to find collaborators outside. In fact, the situation was not perfect.
I understood that I need to find a deeper reasoning to convince myself to do either of the steps. It is the same as defining the vector and asking yourself “Why?” to be sure you are going in the right direction.
First, I understood that I need to enjoy the environment where I will be working. Large corporate world did not seem attractive to me that time since it the position was far away from being research oriented and contained pretty well defined direction to go. If that would be Microsoft research that would be completely another story.
Second, for a foreigner despite speaking finnish already, it feels more like home at the international university. I found the meaning of university to be this intermediate step in life that gives you time to integrate into the society by lots of interactions with people and by having the opportunity to take finnish courses. It is hard to imagine how many people one can meet at the large university and people are our best teachers. Besides, there is something special as well about foreign people who are open-minded and were ready to overcome their comfort zone to come abroad.
So during your PhD you can meet really good friends for life that in case you want to integrate into the society it is of crucial important. Friends are the one who make you feel more like at home. Believe me or not, but at the moment I feel already in Finland more than at home. Huge part of this comes from the bonds I established here.
So I decided to take a PhD as a school of life.
For me it means the following. I choose myself what I put into the meaning behind the PhD. That is very crucial point since it sets your attitude towards the process. For me it was the period of life, when I decided to study deeper the subject I loved. I clearly understood that Professorship is not my path, but being a Professional is my path. Both words have a prefix Pro meaning you take it seriously. I understood that I want to go deeper and that the subject really interests me. This period of life at the same time was the period of integration into the finnish society. For me that meant to continue taking finnish courses with my favorite teacher Seija Koski. It also meant to meet new people and grow as a person. During my PhD studies I even organized Proactives Finland society with Elena O. for the students where we taught a mindfull approach to life.
Next vital and really meaningful part of PhD is to get familiar with global community. One of my wise friends I met at the conference in 2014 in Cyprus while still doing my masters, told me that he tried to go to the best conferences he could from the beginning of his PhD studies.
In fact, it takes time before you can publish the paper to the best venue, that is why it makes sense to go to the best places even without any publication there. I learned this lesson and thanks to the support of my professor I made it possible to attend the best venues.
I got to know global community and the brightest minds through summer schools. My most favorite one Machine Learning Summer School in Tubingen, 2015. It is hard to get to this school, since they select only 100 people, but I managed to write a good motivation letter and got there. It was amazing time and we still keep in touch with some of the community people there and meet while being at the conferences.
Besides I went to Deep Learning Summer School where I met my good friends D.U. and A.L. whose friendship I appreciate till now. So each year during the summer I selected a different summer school until the last year when I have chosen to attend an ICML instead.
Nobody can deny the difficulties that one has to face with during PhD studies and conference deadlines. However, with time every other paper is a bit easier to write. The research comes deeper with knowledge and the quality increases. However my position was to deny PhD life as the one full of suffering. I have chosen a bit different position as PhD as a school of life.
Taking responsibility for what you have is a key thing that helped me to balance those four years. I have to acknowledge that at some point my research did not go well, since I did not have collaborators to work with. But once I started to work with one researcher, very responsible and clever person, it went well. In fact, there were two influential people Eric and Emil with whom I worked tightly and who drastically have increased my standards.
That is PhD as life can be hard at times…
Besides, I am extremely grateful to have so many trips and travels abroad through these years… Two months in New York spent in NYU while research visit, two months in Moscow in MIPT university with IPavlov project.
Running after the raccoons in Montreal and walking for many hours along the Long Beach in California with a friend. Those moments are not coming by default, but those are created by good planning, hard work, open-minded attitude and yes, a pinch of luck 😉