Miikka Rokkanen from Jämsä was to become a history teacher. After working for a few times as a substitute teacher at Jämsä Upper Secondary School he soon realized that teacher’s career is not for him. A few years after the matriculation examination, he followed his girlfriend and headed for university studies. He was admitted directly by his marks in the matriculation examination, when he chose statistics as his major. The doors have been open ever since for Rokkanen, who was named by the business magazine Kauppalehti Optio as one of the most influential persons in the future business world.
Already during his first year in the University of Jyväskylä Miikka Rokkanen attended a basic course in national economics. In the following year he changed his major to national economics, as he was increasingly interested this field. However, he did not forget statistics but kept on studying it beside economics.
“I have benefited immensely from my choice to combine a lot of statistics, economics and mathematics in my degree. This created a strong basis for my postgraduate studies and also for my later career.”
As regards his study years in Jyväskylä, Miikka Rokkanen has fond memories especially from the club facilities, a.k.a. Aquarium, of Tiltti, the local organisation for statistics students at JYU. – There you could spend time with your fellow students – playing cards etc., Rokkanen praises his friends from statistics and economics alike. The study years in Jyväskylä passed in studying and relaxing in appropriate balance.
The study programme also included a work practice period, which for Rokkanen meant working at the Labour Institute for Economic Research. There his boss encouraged him to pursue postgraduate studies and especially for studies abroad. – I decided to go to Sweden but started sending applications also to other places in Europe and, as urged by my boss, also to top universities in the United States, such as MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Princeton, Northwestern, Berkeley and Michigan.
“I was admitted to MIT! I think that it worked to my advantage that there hadn’t been any Finnish MIT graduates for a long while, but they had Bengt Holmström there as Professor of Economics. He knew some of my Finnish referees. I was truly lucky!”
Miikka Rokkanen has made a successful academic career in the United States. He reached his doctorate in national economics at MIT in 2014. He finds the US university culture considerably stronger than what we have in Finland. This is probably related to the facts that in the USA students typically live in dormitories on campus and that university sports is so popular. As regards actual studies, he hasn’t noticed much difference, at least for basic degrees. Then again, post graduate studies are highly different from those in Finland. Course-based studies are largely dominant during the first two years. Only after this the attention is paid to dissertation work in full. At least in economics it goes like this.
Amazon is a pioneer in employing economists. When a fellow student was hired by Amazon, it made Miikka Rokkanen consider also other than an academic career. Nonetheless, he accepted an associate professorship at the University of Columbia, where he stayed for three years.
After Amazon contacted him and he was eventually hired by this gigantic technology enterprise as a senior economist, he is now working on consumer behavior analytics. What Fascinates Rokkanen in this work, is its challenging nature, the quality of available data as well as the effectiveness of one’s work. – You can see the results immediately.
In Amazon the economists are working in teams to solve difficult methodological problems, but participate also in discussions on strategic issues. Multidisciplinary approaches bring new challenges to university education as well. Modern economists have to understand also psychology and sociology, for instance.
”Lifelong learning is very important to me. One of the most important things to me in my work is that I can feel that it keeps offering me interesting challenges through which I can learn new things and develop myself.”
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