‘I’m happy I didn’t go anywhere else’ – HAIC scholars very satisfied with their studies at Aalto

As top applicants, Rina Shmeleva and Parinaz Avaznejad received scholarships for their master’s studies and now they share their study experiences

Rina Shmeleva and Parinaz Avaznejad are students in the Master’s Programme in Computer, Communication and Information Sciences at Aalto University, majoring in security and cloud computing. Ms Shmeleva will soon graduate with a master’s degree, while Ms Avaznejad recently started the second year of her studies.

When starting their studies at Aalto, both of them received the Helsinki-Aalto Institute for Cybersecurity’s (HAIC) scholarships which HAIC admits to top applicants who choose to specialize in information security at either Aalto University or the University of Helsinki. The scholarships, supported currently by F-Secure and Huawei and both universities, cover students’ life expenses and tuition fees.

Before starting her Master’s, Ms Shmeleva worked in software development in her hometown Moscow, Russia, while Ms Avaznejad had a job in which she focused on the security of mobile applications in her native Iran. Both are very satisfied with their decission to select Aalto for their Master’s studies.

‘I got interested in security through my work experience because at work I came across with security issues and realized I didn’t completely understand how they work,’ explains Ms Shmeleva. She wanted to learn more and applied to universities in Finland and Norway, finally choosing Aalto. The scholarship played an important role in her decision, as thanks to it, she could focus fully on studying.

A practical and flexible master’s programme

Ms Shmeleva enjoyed especially the hands-on projects that were often did in groups. ‘I find it nice to work with other students and not just by myself.’ The projects forced her to look at security issues from different perspectives and the flexibility of the programme allowed trying different courses even from outside her major.

Parinaz Avaznejad from School of Science, sitting outside at bright sunlight / photo Aalto University, Matti Ahlgren

When you work on projects, assignments and do practical hands-on work in addition to theory, you will learn more.

Parinaz Avaznejad

Ms Avaznejad is also pleased with the practical approach of her programme, which actually made Aalto her first choice from the very beginning. Before applying, she looked up for information about many international master’s programmes and thought that her current programme was complete, concrete, and practical. ‘I thought that this is what I want; to learn about security practically.’

The programme has met her expectations. ‘I really recommend the programme! When you work on projects, assignments and do practical hands-on work in addition to theory, you will learn more,’ she says. According to Avaznejad, the researchers and professors at Aalto are willing to help students and the university shows that it cares about its students. ‘If you do not know how to find an internship, for example, Aalto helps with student fairs and job fairs.’

At the beginning of her studies, she was astonished by the seemingly fast pace of studies. ‘I wondered how I can complete 120 ECTS in just two years. This concept of five periods was fully new to me because in Iran we have only two semesters. But then I noticed I can complete two or three courses in a period, and now I think the system is really good.’

Aalto master’s students plan their own timetables, which can sometimes feel challenging. Ms Shmeleva: ‘I remember one time in my first year when I stayed with my fellow students at the Computer Science building until 2 a.m. because we had an assignment deadline early in the next morning. That was quite difficult time because I had wanted to take as many courses as possible in my first year.’

Finnish nature and seasons are beautiful

Both students seem to enjoy living in Finland. ‘For example, commuting here is just amazing. I like living close to the university and nature in Finland because it is so green. It is really easy to go out for a walk and get away from the studies,’ Ms Shmeleva says.

Student Ekaterina Shmeleva from School of Science standing at Otaniemi campus / photo Aalto University, Matti Ahlgren

Studying at Aalto is an amazing experience and you will meet so many international students.

Rina Shmeleva

She points out that in some countries, students may need to share a room with their peers. ‘Here you can have a shared apartment but you always have your own room and own space. That is also beneficial for your studies because you have a place to isolate and focus on what you need to do.’

Getting used to the Finnish winter weather was a bit difficult for Ms Avaznejad who comes from a hot country, but she thinks that all the Finnish seasons are beautiful, too. ‘In the summer, it is green everywhere, and the autumns are so colourful.’

Towards work in industry

Rina Shmeleva will soon graduate with a Master of Science in Technology and she wants to stay in Finland after graduation. Currently, she is finalizing her Master’s thesis while working in mobile development – an area that she was interested in already when she applied to Aalto a couple of years ago. She thinks that it is amazing how common summer jobs are in Finland. ’So many companies are ready to hire students for just three months.’

Parinaz Avaznejad does not yet know what kind of a career she would like to pursue after graduation, but she is currently interested in working in industry. She is now doing an internship at Nokia, a position that she found through Aalto’s International Talent Programme. ‘The programme helped me a lot. We had five sessions with experts of Nokia who told us about the work environment in Finland and helped us with our resumes and motivation letters.’

Ms Shmeleva has a message for those who are considering moving to Finland and studying at Aalto: ‘I’d say do it because it’s an amazing experience and you will meet so many international students. In Finland, everyone speaks English, which makes moving here from abroad relatively straightforward. I’m happy I made this choice and didn’t go anywhere else.’

Photos: Aalto University/Matti Ahlgren

Read more about study options in information security

SECCLO (Erasmus Mundus)

Security and Cloud Computing (SECCLO, Erasmus Mundus), Master of Science (Technology)

The world is becoming more digital. Can you keep up with its security and privacy needs? SECCLO is an Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree programme in the field of computer science, in information security and cloud computing. The programme combines practical engineering skills with a strongly research-based curriculum. The emphasis is on combining security knowledge with hands-on research and development skills in a specific technical area, cloud computing.

Study options

Read more about HAIC and computer science research

Helsinki-Aalto Institute for Cybersecurity HAIC (external link)

Excellence in information security research and education.

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