Department of Mathematics and Systems Analysis

Student testimonial: Napoleon Freitas Paajanen

Mathematics & Operations Research master's student Napoleon Freitas Paajanen tells us about his experiences studying at Aalto
Napoleon Freitas Paajanen

What made you decide to start studying at Aalto?

My mind has a necessity to question and understand the underlying logic and reasoning behind things that happen around me. When starting my university studies in finance, I clearly remember my first classes in statistics and the immediate strong appeal that I felt towards the subject, particularly when I began to notice how it lays the foundation for studying economics and finance. I wanted to understand it, and the more I learned, the more topics in mathematics I discovered, and the more I felt I needed to understand. It did not take long for me to be studying mathematics for most of my time and the original topic of my studies becoming an application among many others. I began recognizing that mathematics is a language for communication, a language that allows to formulate ideas precisely and pass them to others concisely and clearly. I found connections to well-known topics like engineering and computer science, but I started to see many other connections, much more subtle, to topics I would not have guessed before like philosophy and languages. For learning, these connections are imperative; the applications motivate to learn the foundations, and the foundations yield new perspectives and abilities to learn the applications. I wanted to be in an environment that would support both of these aspects, and in which I could pursue my various interests while simultaneously advancing my mathematical foundations. Aalto seemed to match perfectly to this profile, and I can now gratefully affirm that it certainly did.

What has been the most interesting course or study project?

Overall, I am extremely satisfied with every course I have taken in Aalto. All courses have been very well organized, and the teachers have been helpful and supportive. In the same spirit of the importance of both theory and applications outlined above, I would like to highlight two courses. The first is the master’s level course on measure theory, in which we ponder about fundamental questions in mathematical analysis, defining abstractly how to assign volumes to objects and integrate functions over these objects. For me personally, this was truly a milestone in my studies, in which I finally started to understand the true foundations of so many topics that have been in some form present throughout my studies, most notably modern probability theory. The second course is the basic programming course offered by the computer science department. It was mostly online, and the way it was organized was simply brilliant. From funny comments and jokes to very serious material and programming projects, I felt the course was very successful and remember it as a very positive, though quite challenging, experience.

How do studies here at Aalto differ in comparison to your previous experience? What was new?

I believe that from the perspective of a student the core of any university is its teaching staff, so having good quality teaching with approachable professors is unreplaceable. From this perspective, Aalto is extremely successful. Furthermore, the facilities provided for students are extraordinary and simply taking a walk at the Aalto campus is already an experience by itself. However, from my experience, what has differed more in Aalto has been the vast amount of available options both academically as in extracurricular activities.

As pointed out previously, being able to study topics from different fields is very important for me. In Aalto, you can seamlessly study topics offered by completely different departments. One can do courses in engineering, mathematics, physics, computer science, economics, management, arts and languages, everything in the same campus and without any additional red tape.

Furthermore, Aalto hires a lot of students to work as teaching assistants and summer trainees at the university, something I personally value tremendously. Having the opportunity to (hopefully!) help others is extremely gratifying and teaching truly solidifies knowledge. These experiences have developed my communication and presentation skills and taught me very valuable lessons of how I can improve as a student as well. Furthermore, working as a teaching assistant is very easy to integrate to study schedules as it is very comparable to doing an additional course.

Secondly are the options for extracurricular activities. The student communities in Aalto are very strongly present in daily life, and there are groups for pretty much everything one can imagine. In fact, if you can imagine something that does not have a student community already formed, you can easily form one of your own. Since I personally do not drink alcohol, it has been a tremendously positive surprise to find many student groups that are not focused on partying but instead on things like movies, theatre, sports and academic interests such as mathematics, data science and consulting (though from what I have heard the parties are quite an experience as well!).

To give an example, I have been actively involved in Aalto’s debating community, which has impacted me tremendously. We do collaboration with University of Helsinki and have meetings to debate about topics ranging from politics to pop culture twice a week and have the possibility to attend international tournaments on a monthly basis. This activity has motivated me to study and read about a myriad of things such as international politics, poverty, human rights and philosophy, topics I believe to be very interesting and important but never found the proper time to study before. Furthermore, through the community, I have been in touch with an extremely diverse group of people from every study field imaginable and from various countries and I have made many great friends. Having these types of opportunities is something that I enjoy in Aalto very much.

What do you want to do after you have graduated? Do you have a dream job?

I have a lot of dreams and aspirations and I am always open for new opportunities. I have had the privilege to work in the R&D department of an engineering company doing data science and the coming summer I will be doing my thesis for the mathematics department to hopefully get more insight of work in academia. Next year after graduation I plan to find a finance related internship in a bank, governmental institution or consulting company to enrichen my experiences with work that is more closely connected to economy and human behavior, both topics that interests me very deeply. In the future, I see myself doing a PhD in an area related to mathematics or statistics, possibly also financial mathematics or economics. But as said, for me plans are a direction, not an objective, and thus I try to always keep an open mind for any opportunities that come my way.

What tips would you give to students starting their studies?

Tips are of course subjective, and everyone should take them with a grain of salt. I will outline some ideas on what has helped me in my studies.

  • For many students, the first year is about partying and having fun, and as time goes, they (hopefully) attempt to focus more on studies. I would suggest doing the other way around. Focus the first year fully on your studies, do everything mandatory out of the way as soon as possible and try to study topics from many disciplines to get an ample understanding of different fields. Take too many and too difficult courses rather than too little and too easy courses and drop them if you get overburdened, since adding midway is always much harder than dropping. After a few years in university you will know better what interests you and it is nice to have the freedom to focus on those topics, and as the courses get harder it is nice to be able to focus on only a few at a time. This strategy has the added benefit of increasing your probability of getting good internships early on and allowing you to refocus to a different topic if you find something that interests you more.
  • Attend different student communities and try to see if you can find new hobbies. These activities offer a great way to socialize and meet new people with common interests while doing something that develops you. Too many students only think about joining these communities but in the end never do.
  • Put your own deadlines a week earlier than the actual ones. This allows you to have more flexibility to cope with unexpected things as well as lowering your stress levels substantially.
  • Read the course books. Books simply provide a richer and more complete vision of the topic and since you will never remember everything, having good references to get back to is valuable.
  • Watch videos and use online material outside of what is provided by the course. Nowadays for almost all bachelor level topics there are great online video material that can be used to advance your learning. If you do not understand something you teacher said, surely somebody else said it in a way that is more suitable for you.
  • Do sports, meditate and sleep well. Do not fall in the trap of not taking care of yourself to gain more time, since this lowers your effectiveness in the long run.
  • Focus on learning, not on memorizing for the exams. Spreading your studying throughout the study periods is crucial to make sure you learn for the long run. Courses tend to build on top of the previous ones, particularly in STEM, and cramming last night before the exam will only shift more burden to the next course.




Aalto University / students working on computers / photo by Unto Rautio

Master's Programme in Mathematics and Operations Research

The predictive capability and problem-solving power of mathematics and statistics enables profound solutions to even the most complex problems. The Master's Programme in Mathematics and Operations Research educates top mathematical problem-solvers with strong analytical skills and explicit knowledge of logical reasoning.

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