Summer is the most beautiful season in Helsinki, especially since it is so short, and the weather is delightful. Everywhere you go, you see happy faces and positive vibes, and boy, a lot of style. The grey-black overcoat hues of the winter give way to colourful floral dresses and printed jeans when the sun finally shows up.
Summer is not only a time to rejoice and have fun, though. It is also the time to gain some valuable experience (and earn some side cash!). Some students take summer courses to keep themselves busy while their credits climb up whilst others choose to take up summer jobs and internships. I chose the latter, and I am glad to say that I have had a wonderful experience working as a research assistant for two professors from Aalto University this summer.
Landing the Internship
Before the entire corona shutdown started in mid-March, I was working as a fundraiser for Amnesty, walking on the streets, talking to people (amazing conversations, I must say!) and raising funds for Amnesty. But soon after I joined as an enthusiastic new fundraiser, the government announced that they were shutting down all public spaces and schools and I got a call from Amnesty within a few days to tell me that they were stopping the fundraising until further notice. That was a bummer since I was just starting to have some fun going out after the cold and dark winter months of Jan and Feb. The April-May examinations were approaching, however, and soon enough, my mourning for my job loss gave way to the stress of writing exams. But as these things were happening rapidly and as time was flying past like it always does when you want it to go slow, I had the nagging awareness at the back of my mind that I might not have anything to do after the examinations were over. I wanted to intern somewhere, but I had no idea how I was to land up a job amid the pandemic, let alone one in my own field. If I haven’t mentioned this already, for an international student who doesn’t know the language here, it is not exactly a cakewalk to find employment. But I knew that there was one job where I would gain adequate exposure and experience, and it wouldn’t require me to have Finnish language skills: research! I understood that working as a researcher needed me to have English language skills and an analytical bent of mind (which I have ), and might I add with a highlight, good connections. Even though it had only been less than a year that I had come to Helsinki, I wasn’t going to give up on my hopes because I didn’t have enough connections. I promptly started searching for professors and PhD students at Hanken, Aalto and the University of Helsinki who had an interest in my specialization in Economics. I emailed the ones which I found suitable and waited for their response. To my joy, two PhD students, one from Hanken and another from Aalto, were enthusiastic about helping me and giving me advice. One of them even gave me the contact of his PhD supervisor who had the same interest as mine and recommended that I email and ask him about any research positions available. Within a few weeks, after some to and fro of emails with the professor, I finally got an email from him saying that they would formulate a summer research project for me under two professors of Aalto and funding for the same was being approved!
My happiness was at peak and excitement was settling in as I realized that I finally had a chance to work as a research assistant under not one, but two professors. Adding to my joy was the knowledge that I was actually going to get paid for doing this (you don’t get used to this fact especially when you come from New Delhi where the phrases ‘getting paid’ and ‘interning’ seldom were used in the same sentence). While writing my exams that month, I was continually thinking about the internship that was going to start in a few weeks.
The internship experience
Starting in June, the research internship was going to be more interesting than I anticipated. My professors were knowledgeable and supportive. I had meetings with them every week to show them the progress of my work.
In the first meeting, we discussed my interests and expectations out of the three-month project. We also had the job to decide the topic of my research internship.
The following weeks comprised of me reading research papers and analyzing them, giving feedback to my professors and discussing possible areas for extension of the models presented in those papers.
The most enjoyable part of these first few weeks was my awareness that I was reading papers which had been published just weeks or even days before I was studying them since the topic of my study was so recent. Studying this current type of research methods gave me more exposure and experience than I would have got otherwise.
The second month was spent developing my analyses of the papers that I read and forming my own extensions of the models. This was, I must admit, the most interesting for me because imagination and analysis are amongst my key strengths, and I loved the feeling of studying and adding to the current research in real-time. Discussing my ideas with my professors and getting feedback from them was most valuable, and I learnt a tremendous amount about what are the limitations and scopes of theoretical and empirical research in reality.
The last leg of the internship was completed with me replicating the results of the most relevant papers using R and Python. This step was challenging for me since I had had limited experience with these two statistical packages before this time, and I was new to coding in general. However, even with the initial slow pace, I managed to replicate the results and present them to my professors before the period of the internship ended.
I would say that I am grateful to both my professors, who guided me through this three-month project. Their ideas and feedback were very insightful, and I learnt a lot throughout the summer.
Not only did they guide me with the summer project, but I also received some great suggestions about how to enjoy the summers in Helsinki and which places were best to go to for a jog. I was encouraged to enjoy the summers and not lose this opportunity of seeing the sun in Helsinki!
Overall, I cherish this experience and would recommend it highly. Not only did I gain knowledge through this opportunity, but I was also able to earn while doing so.
Keep on the lookout. There are always opportunities lurking around the corner, you just have to notice and grab them!
I would love to talk to you in case you have any questions about studying in Helsinki or anything else you have in mind. Just drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org J
Have a great autumn!