“I want to encourage people to solve societal challenges by thinking computationally”

Sunny Wong struggled with math classes growing up, but words of encouragement convinced him to apply to the Bachelor’s Programme in Science at the University of Helsinki. According to him, nurturing your curiosity matters more than perfect grades when it comes to computing.

When Sunny Wong was 18 years old, he visited a casino and observed closely as people played ‘Sic bo’, a popular gambling game of ancient Chinese origin. The players kept betting, even though the probability of consecutive rounds in their favour was low. The game of chance got Wong thinking about the benefits of mathematical knowledge.

“This was just one example of a multitude of everyday occurrences where an interest in mathematics could help people make better decisions.”

Computing is not just a numbers game

Originally from Hong Kong, Wong moved to Finland in 2015 to study and work. A chance encounter with a professor from the University of Helsinki convinced him to apply to the Bachelor’s Programme in Science.

“I happened to be in Hong Kong while finalising my previous education and heard of the Finland-HK AI Summit, an event organised by the University of Helsinki and other collaborators. It aimed to bring together people from various backgrounds to exchange views on topics related to Artificial Intelligence (AI).”

Wong decided to attend, and although he did not understand everything the experts envisioned, a seed of curiosity for computational science was planted.

“Math was not my strongest subject in high school. Despite this, I was assured not to be afraid to apply to the programme. All students receive a foundation in university-level math and basic programming skills before specializing.”

The Nordic way of learning and living has left a lasting impression on him. You can succeed even without a clean sheet.

“I have noticed that in Finland, it is important to nurture your curiosity. Teachers want you to have at least a good attempt, and you can get a decent score even when your final answer is not perfect.”

Collaborative method mimics modern working life

The Bachelor’s Programme in Science offers a truly interdisciplinary learning experience. The programme encompasses the core scientific disciplines of mathematics and statistics, physics, chemistry and computer/data science. Students are able to get hands-on experience in all disciplines before deciding to delve deeper into their chosen fields.

“The chance to gain basic skills across the fields is very beneficial, especially as the disciplines are interrelated. For instance, linear algebra is the language of quantum computing.”

Wong believes that the studies offer a great stepping-stone to modern working life. Within the programme, someone might focus on the chemical industry, whereas someone else wants to become a data scientist. The students get to combine knowledge and work together on assignments. This is also a necessary ability in a typical workplace, where people come from different backgrounds.

“The programme takes into account the fluidity of contemporary career paths. You will graduate with multiple options and skills suited for today’s labour market.”

Students in the programme get the opportunity to choose one study track or to combine studies of two or three tracks. Wong has decided to choose the computer and data science study track, but tailor the degree with supporting mathematics and statistics courses.

“I have the benefit of choosing the courses according to my needs. For instance, data science deals a lot with probability and statistics.”

Wong also wants to branch out from the field of natural sciences and take advantage of the multidisciplinarity of the University of Helsinki. Students are encouraged to take courses from other degree programmes than their own.

“In my third year, I want to take philosophy courses, as I am very interested in the philosophical aspect of artificial intelligence. I believe this to be a pressing issue in the future.”

“Computational tools are urgently needed to solve complexities affecting us all”

Wong hopes that people would consider phenomena related to global change, such as climate change and resource scarcity, political tensions and cybersecurity, when choosing their future career.

“Mathematical knowledge and computational tools are urgently needed to solve complexities affecting us all. For instance, to figure out how to use data correctly to guide decision-making.”

Data-based solutions have also been vital when dealing with the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Just before the start of my studies, the City of Helsinki and software company Hypercell opened a website showing the most congested areas of Helsinki in real-time. Thanks to the heat map, immunocompromised people and other residents can try to avoid crowds. These types of innovations assure me that I chose the right career path.”

Computational science also offers an opportunity to build a career in a country of your choosing without having to master the local language perfectly.

“People who move to Finland from abroad can have difficulties in using their full potential due to a language barrier, but there are many opportunities in the fields of computer and data science.”

In the future, Wong would like to organise inspiring topical seminars with information about career prospects for people with computational know-how, hopefully with distinguished guest speakers.

“Just like with me, a chance encounter with a scientist conducting cutting-edge research could inspire on a path to proficiency needed for solving societal challenges with mathematical knowledge and computational tools.”

Bachelor’s Programme in Science

In the Bachelor’s Programme in Science, you get an interdisciplinary education. It enables you to work on the cutting edge of basic research and application development in chemistry, computer and data science, math and statistics, and physics.

All students receive a foundation in university-level math and basic programming skills during the first half-year. After this, they choose a specialization study track: mathematics and statistics, computer/data science, physics or chemistry. It is also possible to combine studies of two or three tracks to get a truly multidisciplinary education.

Students admitted to the Bachelor’s Programme in Science have the right, after completion of the BSc degree, to continue in one of the nine MSc programmes of the Faculty of Science at the University of Helsinki.