Last year I became a chair to the longlasting Students' Seminar (*), together with my colleague Anssi Mirka, at the Department of Mathematics and Statistics of the University of Helsinki. The seminar takes place almost every week of the study periods, usually in room B321 of Exactum, Kumpulan Kampus. Speakers and audience are usually formed by undergrad and postgrad students. I am very proud of what we achieved together since our start. Students have been very available to lecture (some pressure may have been applied 😉 ) and we had very interesting talks.
The Doctoral School of the Department was kind enough to grant us some fundings this year, so that we could advertise the seminar more and organise some events with special speakers; I sincerely thank DOMAST for the trust!
After about one year and a half from the start of our management, the seminar gets the room full almost every week and I am very pleased to see new faces every time. We even had exceptional events that, to my opinion, contributed to increase the feeling of community among students of different levels (see the pics from the talk on mathematics and zombies here).
The main purposes of this happening are to offer students a "safe place" where to train their presenting skills and to learn something together. Since people in the audience have different backgrounds, we encourage presenters to choose topics that are accessible to everyone. As Anssi and I are both interested in teaching, communication skills and techniques, in the current semester we advised speakers to privilege explanations on the blackboard than slides (credit to Anssi for the idea). Even though I am myself a fan of slides, I personally think this forced speakers to a slower pace and made the talks better, in general. It was a very interesting experiment! (**)
As we have been getting such good reaction from students, we decided to push further the seminar and we are now also trying to pursue three additional goals:
- try to connect the different departments of Kumpulan Kampus, showing how mathematics is used or needed in other fields,
- encourage networking with other Finnish universities (we had two speakers from Aalto University this spring),
- creating a bridge between university education and the working world, to make math students more aware of what they need "out there".
To this extent, I have been contacting people from other science departments, asking to give math-related presentation of their field of study/research (for instance, Oona Kupiainen-Määttä from Department of Physics will be speaking next Thursday). Personally, my hope is to encourage networking within campus, to create a lively and heterogeneous research/study environment.
Concerning the other idea, we noticed great enthusiasm in students when Prof. Samuli Siltanen presented some suggestions for facing the working world last January. We had to rush to an auditorium because the audience was definitely too wide for our usual little room! This large affluence and the questions after the talk made me think that maybe students wished to be more aware of what they needed to study and do to have an easier life when applying for jobs after their degree. For this reason, we invited a mathematician working at Varma Insurances, Jarno Ruokokoski, who was kind enough to accept promptly. I wish to thank Jarno and Varma for making this possible.
I invite all interested students to participate, since presence will be an important feedback indicator for us for future events!
As a conclusion, I wished to explain all these aspects of the Students' Seminar to show our commitment and purposes. I am really grateful to all speakers who I harassed in the past year and a half and who proved open and generous to give talks, and to the Department for supporting the activity. I strongly hope to provide a good platform for students at different levels to learn new things and to train themselves to become good communicators.
(**) I care to underline that this was a mere suggestion. We leave speakers free to choose their own way of presenting and the language they want to talk in (Finnish or English). There is no point in making a speaker uncomfortable!