Sampsa Laakso: On my way to the promised land…

Yeah, that’s right. I’m going to Germany. Aachen to be exact. The land of production expertise and quality. Engineering students dreamland, RWTH Aachen is ranked in top 40 of engineering universities and the Werkzeugmaschinenlabor, the laboratory of machine tools and manufacture, is the best in the world in my field of research.

My process for acquiring an exchange place and other related issues has been quite educative, but not the easiest one. Exchange for doctoral candidates is not very well organized or instructed, at least not in ENG. I found some information from INTO, a portal for students in Aalto, but mostly it was for master’s level students. Thankfully my professor had some experience on going to exchange, so he gave me some tips; contact the professor in charge of the research group you wish to be in, get funding from various foundations in Finland, usually international endeavors are well supported, and start preparations a year beforehand. I did as I was told; sent 7 applications around Germany during January 2012, (don’t ask me why there) and got replies within 2 months from each. Some places I had to push a little, to get reply. But, reviewing the invitations, (yes, that’s what they are called, even though you have invited yourselves) I ended up with the one from RWTH Aachen, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Dr.-Ing. E.h. Dr. h.c. Dr. h.c. Fritz Klocke. He was actually the professor who wrote recommendation for my professor for his professorship to HUT, back in the days. But now I had a place to go, so all I had to do is arrange all the practical matters.

Just for curiosity; in Germany, you are supposed to use all the titles of a person, even in spoken language.. I’m terrified for the obvious reason.

I have heard from my colleague candidates, that doctoral exchange is not necessarily very well organized in target universities either; students are abandoned to some cellar with PC and instructions to do “something related to your research”. Often there is no orientation or even possibility to take part in language courses. I asked from the target university if I get permit to undergo courses while being there and is there a chance to get apartment from university. No and no, I would have to apply for student in there to get them. Oh, but it’s so easy for the Erasmus students.. wait a minute.. And so I went for the international office of ENG, and got myself an Erasmus stipend to Aachen, apparently it is perfectly OK for PHD students to apply for Erasmus exchange too! So, I got permit to take courses, to have an quota apartment, take part to orientation and even the small stipend for exchange! Ausgezeichnet!

Funding… the curse word for all researchers. I applied from three different foundations for full scholarship to my exchange and miraculously against all assumptions got them all. Really I had to turn two of them down because they were overlapping, but really, it seems that funding to go international is easy to get! Though one thing should be done carefully, and it is the research plan and application for the funding, never underestimate the power of the formal side.

Now I’m doing my last course of German before going there, renewed my passport, got a subtenant for my apartment and all I have to do is to decide if I go to Aachen by plane or by my own car…

Ok, it wasn’t that hard… but just because I had good support from my professor and our international office and colleagues. This is something that we have already discussed in Aallonhuiput, the PHD-students organization in Aalto, that every faculty or laboratory has their own networks and practices for PHD-exchange, and not always it is as easy as it was for me.

It’s going to be wonderful 6 months!  At least I hope so.

– Sampsa Laakso

Sampsa Laakso is a doctoral candidate at Aalto University School of Engineering, more precisely at Production Technology, and a member of Aallonhuiput board (2012-2013). He is doing his D.Sc. in FEM simulations of metal cutting. He studies material modeling and especially material parameters acquisition to be incorporated to FEM analysis. He was born in Rovaniemi Lappland, and came to Otaniemi to study mechanical engineering in 2004. He graduated in 2009 and started his post graduate studies in 2010. He also work as an assistant at Production Tech.

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