Year 2019 awards ceremony at the Christmas Coffee

The Department of Computer Science at the University of Helsinki awards annually members of its staff for excellence in research, its teachers for their work to improve the quality of teaching, as well as a person or a group who has had a positive impact to the department as a working place or who have otherwise done a great job.

The awards of the year 2019 were given to the following persons:

Teacher Award: Bachelor of Science (BSc) Harri Kähkönen
"Harri has worked extensively within the basic study modules and actively participated in the development of teaching. As a supervisor of exercise groups, he has demonstrated excellent pedagogical skills and a student-centred attitude. The classes have been planned as true learning opportunities, where, instead of passively listing model solutions, Kähkönen tries to truly respond to the problem areas that are puzzling to the students, and to analyse the themes in depth.

Kähkönen’s input into the course Introduction to Computers has been especially remarkable, as he has created a body of extra material for the students to explore the core themes of the course. Kähkönen has repeatedly proved that he is genuinely interested in and enthusiastic about teaching, and is an active participant in the general discussion."

Senior Researcher Award: Academy Research Fellow Alexandru I. Tomescu
"Alexandru is a researcher of exceptionally high class. He has established a strong record of accomplishment for results in high quality, high-impact venues right across the spectrum from theory to practice to applications, particularly in the field of Algorithmic Bioinformatics. He has achieved wild success in 2019, beginning with an Academy Research Fellowship and quickly following this with an ERC starting grant."

Junior Researcher Award: Doctoral Student Juho Leinonen
“During his postgraduate studies, Juho has been extremely active and productive.  He has participated in two international project groups, he has more than 25 peer-reviewed scientific publications with JUFO ranking, and he has received both a commendation for best article and one for best presentation. In addition to his own research, he has participated in the programme committee work in the scientific community, as well as contributed to the development of teaching at the Department of Computer Science."

Person of the Year 2019 award: Training Officer Reijo Siven
"Reijo’s role and contribution as training officer, specialist in teaching administration, teaching arrangements, and student counselling and supervision has been very significant during the great changes in the past years. Thanks to the expertise and know-how of Reijo, along with his calm attitude, there are many who have received help in times that felt trying. His contribution to the launch and updating of the education programmes, of which the department is in charge, has been remarkable and he has worked very hard for them.

It is especially the students and part-time teachers who greatly appreciate Reijo’s input; Reijo is a professional who always has time to help others. The course assistants and part-time employees always receive the support they need, and more from Reijo. To the students, Reijo is a rock, always ready to help especially with questions about graduation and study modules, even outside his office hours."


Christ­mas speech by Head of De­part­ment Sasu Tarkoma

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

We have had a very productive and hectic year and now is the time to relax and enjoy the Christmas holiday season. I will now give a short summary of some of the key highlights of the year.

This has been the 52nd year of the Department and the second year with the new Faculty organization structure.  We have had two very notable anniversaries this year.  Our student organization, TKO-Äly, turned 31 years that culminated at the annual gala. I would like to thank TKO-Äly for the excellent ideas and collaborations. For example the get-together seminar organized by our students for new staff members was an excellent idea and very successful.

Our collaboration instrument with Aalto University, Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT led by professor Petri Myllymäki turned 20 years this year and organized an anniversary seminar with keynotes reflecting the past and envisioning the future. HIIT has a track record of achievement and has taken the role of being an incubator of high impact research programs and centers, such as Finnish Center for AI (FCAI) and the Helsinki Center for Data Science (HiDATA).

Our vision of being and educating “the architects of the future digital world” continues to be very relevant. The recent research evaluation summarized our achievements as follows:” These (results) are impressive given the relatively small size of the Department. Also impressive is the wide range of the results.” I believe the takeaway here is that the we are on the right track and the Department is reaching its potential.  We have an excellent level of achievement in the three key dimensions: research, education, and societal impact.

Starting from the Spring, we have planned our strategy for the next years looking all the way to 2030. On the Faculty level, our key aspirations have been included in the short-listed focus area “From complex data to insight” that captures well our long-term strategy goals related to AI and Data Science.  Regarding the strategy work, we are now placing special emphasis how we take ideas forward and monitor their progress. For instance, we identified 20 actions during the 2018 strategy day and 16 of these 20 actions had significant progress or had been completed by May 2019.

For some years now, growth and renewal have been characteristics of our Department. This year is no exception with many recruitments and the kickoff of the FCAI flagship, one of the six Academy of Finland flagships in Finland, as well as significant progress with HiDATA. We are now the largest Department at the Faculty Science with 29 professors and over 240 staff members.

This year our external funding has increased significantly compared to last year. The volume of our new projects in 2019 is 13,1 MEUR. This is 3,4 MEUR increase from 2018 and due to the new flagship funding. We have also 6 new Business Finland research projects and last year we had 4 new projects.

This year we have recruited professor Jukka K. Nurminen and promoted Mikko Koivisto to Full Professor. In addition, four new Assistant or Associate Professors - Dorota Glowacka,  Antti Honkela, Simon Puglisi and Nikolaj Tatti - commenced at the Department.  Erkki Kaila and Antti Laaksonen were appointed as University Lecturers.  Teemu Roos will start as Full Professor in January 2020.  Teemu was very recently chosen as the Finnish 'technology influencer' of the year by Tietoviikko, congratulations! 

We are now recruiting a new professor in the Mind&Matter profi5 pertaining to “Artificial and human intelligence” as well as a new University Lecturer and Research Coordinator for supporting our IT and laboratories. 

To mention notable highlights: Professor Hannu Toivonen was granted the decoration of First Class Knight of the Order of the White Rose of Finland on the Finnish Independence Day 6 December. Academy Fellow Alexandru Tomescu received the ERC Starting Grant for “Safe and Complete Algorithms for Bioinformatics”. This is an excellent achievement and this is the first ERC at the Department. Based on the ERC, we are starting the Associate Professor invitation.

Associate Professor Matti Järvisalo received the IJCAI-JAIR (Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research) Best Paper Prize. The paper was chosen from more than 250 articles as the recipient of this prestigious award from the set of all papers published at JAIR in the preceding five years. In addition, Jeremias Berg, supervised by Matti Järvisalo and Petri Myllymäki, received the University of Helsinki Doctoral Dissertation Award for 2018. The award-winning thesis is titled “Solving Optimization Problems via Maximum Satisfiability: Encodings and Re-Encodings”.

In addition, our professors and researchers have received a number of best paper awards and other mentions. Our students have won competitions, for example last week our students won the Huawei Hackathon. Jami Kousa was the captain of the winning team.

Now, reflecting on our impact in education.

We have a full stack in education with our B.Sc., M.Sc. and Ph.D. programs in CS as well as the Data Science program. All the programs are working very well. This is evident in the fact that our CS program is the most popular CS degree program in Finland.

The Ministry of Education and Culture has set new targets for us that would require a significant increase in the completed B.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees each year. The new targets are challenging, but we are in a very good position to address these. Our intake of new students increased to 270 this year that is a significant increase from last year.

Our PhD program is also producing excellent results. Our PhD theses are high quality and receive awards and the number of completed dissertations has increased. We have produced about 6 PhD degrees per year in recent years and this year we have 13 PhD degrees.

Our MOOC roadmap has evolved over the years and now we have many popular and highly respected courses, such as the Elements of AI, programming courses, full stack, and Cyber-Security Base with F-Secure. We have two Ministry of Education and Culture supported projects, DEFA led by Kjell Lemström and FMSEI led by Keijo Heljanko, for coordinating and developing the portfolio. Next year we are taking more leadership in the MOOC platform design and development at the university. In a way, we are pioneering an open source MOOC kernel (Test-my-Code and other components) as well as pedagogical expertise in how to design and run MOOC courses. 

This year, Elements of AI has broken records and received many awards, for example the Nokia Foundation Award and the MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge Global Grand Prize. Elements is now being translated to all EU languages. The goal is to educate 1% of EU citizens in the basics of AI by 2021.

This year we have piloted the Ubicampus smart space with excellent results. The new space appears to be working well and we plan to develop the concept further next year. Many of the innovations we pilot at Ubicampus can then be scaled for the whole university.

Now to summarise.

We are very good at scaling: we have almost doubled the number of professors since 2018, we have over doubled the number of students in the Elements of AI MOOC led by Teemu Roos since last year, we have doubled our external funding since 2014 or so, and we have doubled the number of completed PhD degrees. These are remarkable achievements in terms of scientific, education and societal impact.

I would like to thank the University Services (YPA) for excellent support.

I would like to thank everyone for their contributions and wish merry Christmas and happy holidays!