Three days, two countries, possibly the first SYP congress in IEEE history on a boat, duty-free drink prices – sure why not!


Figure 1: The Silja Line Symphony that ferried the IEEE Nordic SYP Congress 2019 between Stockholm and Helsinki

This was the first big congress our board members would organize, so when IEEE Sweden and Finland Presidents, Samarth and Toni first told us about their idea to co-host the IEEE Nordic SYP it seemed like a great idea. Help to organize from our Finnish counterparts, and sharing the workload and stress across two affinity groups instead of one. Then came the kicker – we would be hosting on a cruise ship.

I quickly sent out the idea to our board’s WhatsApp group and everyone was super excited about the idea. Three days, two countries, possibly the first SYP congress in IEEE history on a boat, duty-free drink prices – sure why not!

The theme we chose for the event was sustainability, so we tried to embrace sustainability in all our decisions. Our lunch was sourced from a sustainable food company, even our event hoodies were bought from a sustainable clothing company. The hoodies ended up providing the first lesson of hosting on a cruise. As the boat pulled out from Stockholm on Friday evening, we realized a small label on our box of hoodies with tiny little text that said “box 1 of 3”. A quick call revealed that the other two boxes were sitting in a post office in Stockholm! Of course, we just collected the other two boxes and distributed them when we returned for talks from industry experts on sustainability in Stockholm on Sunday but the first lesson was learned – your ability to improvise and react is greatly diminished when hosting on a boat!

From left – Ievgen Pichkalov, Anna Elżbieta Burek, Maciej Borówka, Dr. Andrejs Romānovs
Samarth Deo, the chair of the IEEE Sweden board

Day 1 was a gentle introduction to the congress, but one of my favorite days as it featured most of the people who had been instrumental in supporting the SYP. There was an introduction from who had donated countless hours supporting, helping and advising us throughout the entire planning phase. Next were two talks from the IEEE Young Professionals, featuring Rafal Sliz and Sara Barros – who also donated so much of her time advising and trying to help our affinity groups. The last speaker of day 1 should have been George Papadimitriou from IEEE Student Activities Committee, but had to unfortunately cancel due to work at the last minute. Luckily for us though we were blessed with a more than able replacement – Region 8 Vice Chair and R8 SAC Chair Maciej Borówka – who picked up where George left off and was a constant source of support throughout the event.

Customary group selfie in Aalto University

We docked in Helsinki on day 2 – a little worse for wear after a night of heavy karaoke! We met Jenni, chair of YP Finland at the docks and made our way to Aalto University. We were welcomed to Aalto University by Mahdi Pourakbari Kasmaei, who went on to give a talk about Electric vehicles – the benefits and challenges. The talk centered on how power grids will have to adapt, and adapt quickly, to meet the increasing demand for electricity as the number of EVs introduced to the grid increases.

This was followed up by Joel Kärkkäinen and Rebeccah Kimotho who spoke about Uninterruptible Power Supplies, and how vital they are – not only for ensuring data centers are always up and running, but for the entire Scandinavian power grid. They described how one of Eatons UPS had helped keep the power grid up when a reactor in the grid became unavailable.

Next, our host Jenni gave a talk about the company she works for Sandvik, and the challenges encountered moving towards a fully autonomous mining facility. One challenge was access to a network when mining deep underground, and she spoke about how Sandvik had worked with Nokia to set up a small network underground to enable communication between the autonomous mining machines. Which provided a nice segue to the final speaker in Helsinki, Dmitry Petrov from Nokia, who provided an eloquent talk entitled “5G Network Automation and ML”.

Then came the second lesson of hosting on a cruise. There is so much time lost to transfers. It took one-hour intervals to travel from the airport to the port in Stockholm, the port in Helsinki to Aalto University, etc. and as we were sitting in a packed tram at 16:20 Saturday evening, on our way back to the boat (which stopped boarding at 16:30) it did add a bit of extra stress to proceedings! Thankfully we all made it back on board and set sail back to Stockholm.

The stabilizing mechanisms on the boat had their work cut out for them on the way back as the seas got a bit stormy. The congress room we had hired was located at the very front of the boat, and despite the sound of the waves crashing against the bow Ana Cigarán Romero, the R8 chair of WIE, managed to steer us through a talk about Women Engineers and Equality. The talk centered on the inequality between men and women in engineering, and how to transform challenges into opportunities as a woman engineer in the career.

Ana Cigarán Romero speaking onboard the Silja line Symphony

The final talk of day 2 went to IEEE Membership Development and Ievgen Pichkalov and Dr. Andrejs Romānovs. They gave an exciting talk on the Benefits of IEEE membership and IEEE Student branch and chapters’ benefits and structure.

Day 2 finished with our Gala dinner and celebrating the Nordic SYP 2019 by taking advantage of the novelty of gaining an extra 2 hours due to traveling between time zones at the same time as a country switched to daylight saving time – meaning a 26-hour day 3!

The final day. Our weary gang landed in Stockholm in desperate need of rest and coffee. Luckily there was not only a steady supply of coffee, but also quality speakers who gave engaging and passionate presentations across a host of topics.

Waled Elsayed speaking in KTH

Women In Engineering began with talks from Sweden WIE Chair Elena Vasileva, and R8 WIE chair Ana Cigarán Romero giving talks on the difficulties and challenges in increasing membership in WIE, and how they addressed the issues.

The sustainability theme then returned with Waled Elsayed from Volvo Cars. Waled presented Volvo’s approach to Electric Vehicles and Autonomous Cars. Waled spoke passionately about the inroads Volvo cars has been making in autonomous driving cars and electric vehicles.

The final presentation before lunch was from Professor Carl-Mikael Zetterling from KTH. His talk on extreme environment electronics for Venus focused on silicon carbide electronics that can withstand the extremely harsh climate on Venus. Being able to send sensors and probes to Venus to map and model the climate there could help us learn about our own climate.

After lunch Dr.El Houssein Chouaib Harik took to the podium to discuss his research at the center for precision agriculture aimed at reducing fossil fuels in agriculture. He described how the fleet of autonomous tractors they developed worked together to accomplish agricultural tasks at a fraction of the carbon footprint cost that the fossil fueled tractors usually used on a farm create.

Dr Celestine Iwendi speaking at KTH

Given that a lot of the electronics used to reduce our carbon footprint are based around using sensors to learn and improve their efficiency and performance, we were lucky to have Celestine Iwendi, an associate professor in China, speak about “Securing the Internet of Intelligent of Things using Ai (INTRIXIT)”. The security of Internet of Intelligent of Things (IIoT) and 5G/6G Security Connectivity of the Cyber Physical systems is now a big research issue, and Celestine gave a presentation on the methods and research currently ongoing in the area.

A short break for a traditional Swedish fika, and we had our final three speakers of the congress. Ambra Sannino from DNV spoke of her company’s work, and their predictions for how the power grid will look based on their Energy Transition Outlook report.

We then that Gustav Frid, strategic environmental advisor at Vattenfall, talk about their efforts to move to fossil free living within one generation. The presentation was about Vattenfalls increasing focus on renewable energy sources, and meeting the demand of moving to fossil free living.

The final presentation by Ruben DeMoor, chief compromise officer, was on the most pressing challenges and opportunities that can be found at the intersection of engineering and sustainability. He spoke about the perceived incompatibility between technical progress, economic growth, and sustainable development, which leads to polarization and friction in society.

This was the first Students and Young Professionals Congress that our current board have undertaken, and it was such a great experience on so many levels. We had to learn on our feet how to manage event finances, market and promote, contact and interact with merchandise suppliers and catering companies, present ourselves to sponsors to try to secure funding, and many other soft skills that don’t normally enter our engineering careers. The company I work for Syntronic has also supported me 100% during this process, even agreeing to be the event sponsor, helping make the event possible.

Figure 7: Customary selfie at KTH

But the absolute best experience gained from hosting the event was meeting the attendees themselves. When you enter the SYP planning tunnel and are focusing on countless tasks that need to be carried out, you tend to forget that at the end of the tunnel you get to spend the weekend with like-minded volunteers from all across the world. Everyone who attended the event contributed to making it better for others and it was a privilege to be among so many bright and driven engineers.

Another big event is loading!!! We are hosting the R8SYP for next year. Stay Connected only in R8 Digital