My Ph.D. in Finland

ITN Windmill
4 min readApr 10, 2022

My name is Parham and I want to share my journey in ITN WindMill project with you. I was born in Shiraz, a southwest city in Iran. I got my bachelor’s degree from Shiraz University in communications engineering. During this time we had some alumni occasionally visiting the university, and they shared their stories with us. Most of them were former employees of world-leading companies and research institutes such as Qualcomm and Nokia Bell Labs. I was inspired by their talks and it became my dream to find a job in such institutes one day. The objective was clear and I needed a Ph.D. degree to achieve my dream. So, I found a doctoral position in a European university to get myself closer to my dream job.

Before getting accepted into my doctoral program I knew a little about the Marie Curie fellowship, but soon afterwards I realized how lucky I was to be a part of it. The project is equipped with all the essential tools one would need to lead to a successful carrier and, most importantly, to conduct high-quality research. Periodic training events, full financial support, a network of top researchers and professors from leading companies and universities is the full package that the ITN WindMill project has brought to us. However, all of this comes at a price and it has more responsibilities than a typical Ph.D. Giving presentations, preparing posters on our research topic for training events, annual reports are some of the added work, but at the same it helps us to develop presentation skills.

Not only the Windmill project, but also Aalto university is an amazing place to get a doctoral degree. I’ve heard from a lot of visitors and former students that the campus is unique. A parkland-style campus with modern architecture which was designed by famous Finnish architects is a place to thrive in and to remember. The campus is next to a nature reserve and bird watch tower, which gives the opportunity to have a relaxing walk during busy working days and to be refreshed for the rest of the day. Also, there are several bikes at each building to borrow and to have a nice ride around the campus. At the department level we had cookie Friday talks, where we get to know new colleagues and different research groups’ work. Before the pandemic we used to have a floorball time slot where we played with other students and staff. Throughout these games I found a lot of friends with a common point of interest. It definitely helped me to connect with more people faster, despite the cultural differences. In fact, it provided a good ice breaker and a sense of being united with new people at the same time.

Next to the Gulf of Finland, at the corner of the campus

Moving to Finland was my first time being abroad and full of surprises. I had lived in a warm region and now I moved to a sub-arctic land. From walking on the frozen sea to the longest days and nights that I’ve experienced, everything was new and interesting to me. During the first year I had some challenges with cold weather and long summer days, but soon I learned the way locals cope with the environment, like “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. Sauna has a special place in Finland’s culture. Nakedness is a part of sauna’s tradition and Finns fully embrace it. For me it was really awkward when a colleague that I’ve only met a few times got undressed and kept the conversation with me like nothing happened. The biggest downside of moving abroad is to leave family and friends behind. Although we can keep ourselves connected via digital platforms, the real feeling of their presence is an invaluable asset and is the missing link of the true happiness.

Back to the WindMill project. I have an interesting topic for research; a combination of Machine learning and wireless communication. It covers both my background studies and my desired field of future research. In addition, I had the opportunity to take part in two training events in person: one in Aalborg and one in Paris. Both were perfect and full of informative lectures on machine learning topics. I met with the other ESRs in the project and we had a great time discussing our research and exploring the new cities during the training events. Each training event gave me an opportunity to improve my soft skills and broaden my professional network. The next training events at Ericsson and Eurocom, which were held virtually, were pretty good. In particular, the experience of the introductory lab to cloud systems and the perfect guidance of our mentors from Ericsson were quite compelling and I am so eager to get a part of my training there.

Now I am looking forward to my secondment which seems to be exciting, because not only the destination is a great university, i.e., ETH Zurich, but also it is very heart-warming that after a year and a half we are gradually getting back to normal life. I think that after finishing my career as an ESR I will reach the goal of the project and will become an independent researcher. I am planning to find a decent industrial R&D career. As I was inspired by some of our former alumni, I would also like to share my experience with younger students and help them find their paths towards their dream careers.

All in all I am so delighted that I have the chance to be a part of the WindMill project and to study at Aalto University. If you are a graduate student and looking for a great opportunity for your doctoral studies — do not miss a Marie Curie scholarship.

Credits

Article written and edited by Parham Kazemi, a PhD researcher at Aalto University.

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ITN Windmill

You can always learn more about project Windmill on our homepage: https://windmill-itn.eu/