Last week one of my goals of the year was fulfilled and Meeting for Young Mathematicians in Finland, the conference I helped organise as member of the scientific committee, was a success. The meeting was promoted by the Finnish Mathematical Society and sponsored by Aalto University, DOMAST and Finnish Cultural Foundation. The chair of the scientific committee was my colleague and friend Hanne Kekkonen, and other members were Amaro Barreal, Emanuele Ventura, Pekka Lehtelä and myself.
The event aimed at facilitating networking among young mathematics researchers in Finland and at providing some career advice from maths professionals, through plenary talks and open panel discussion. From personal observation and feedback received, I think we succeeded and I am very proud of it. We selected three plenary speakers from academia (Prof. Camilla Hollanti, Dr. Eeva Vilkkumaa and Prof. Pekka Koskela) and three from the industrial world (Dr. Barbara D'Ambrogi-Ola, Dr. Ville Suur-Uski and Dr. Kimmo Uutela). Students could hear some "academic maths", but also see how mathematics was employed in three industrial sectors: finance, data science and health.
There were some common advice that emerged from the panels and the talks.
The importance of communication
All industry professionals were very clear on this: industry cannot make anything out of antisocial nerds. Employees, mathematicians included, are required to be good communicators and get along with the rest of the team. It is crucial to be able to explain one's work, sometime in the language of whoever is listening, who may be a product leader, the marketing team or a salesman. Also, it is important to be confident - not arrogant! - on one's skills as a mathematician and make sure to give them credit during interviews. If you ask me, these are all skills that are much needed in academia as well.
Be ready to learn more
Ville and Barbara told about their personal experience. Before starting working as a data scientist for Supercell - a videogame company - Ville was a theoretical physicist studying string theory. Barbara was studying inverse problems and carrying ozone measurements when she had to invent a career in actuarial science for family needs. Both had to get out of their comfort zone, buckle down and learn a lot of new concepts and subjects. As a bonus, Barbara explained that she found herself facing a complete new dictionary of financial terms in Finnish, not her native language. Kimmo stated that he finds programmers and he finds mathematicians, but he would like to see a professional figure in the middle. The final lesson is that professional training surely does not end when a degree is obtained.
Academia requires travelling
A period abroad after the postgraduate studies is strongly suggested, even necessary to get a permanent position in Finnish academia. Not only is an opportunity of personal growth, but it also makes a competitive CV. Camilla told her personal experience: for family reasons, she split the travelling in several short visiting periods, and it worked well in her case.
These are some of the lessons I am taking home from the plenary talks. During afternoon minisessions I could learn what other Finnish research groups are working on (by the way, find my own talk here). One thing I loved was the relaxed atmosphere, that made it easier for the audience to freely ask questions and for the speakers to be less technical and make the best of their talks.
The idea is to have this sort of event every second year, alternating with the well-established Finnish Mathematical Days (which will take place next in January 2016 in Turku). While waiting for next time, you can enjoy the full pictures gallery.