In terms of actual extra activities, it’s rather inaccessible in the first semester, not least because staying afloat is challenging enough. If you’re new reading this, just stay low for now. Make cake, take long walks, have a nice meal with friends. On to the second year, possibilities open up.
Course loads are lighter, giving rise to more free time. At least in L’Aquila and Nice, the curriculums are still very theoretical. What you should do is ask for projects. It’s completely optional, of course, and nobody will mind that you do the minimum. But to get the most out of this program, you need to take initiatives. For the Optimization track in L’Aquila, Machine Scheduling and Combinatorial Optimization are two extremely applicable classes. The nice professors are happy to assign you something if you ask (a few of us did). Obviously this applies wherever you are. This initiative will also earn good marks come the time for recommendation letters.
If you’re not sure what you want/can to do afterward, check out the Career Center in your university.
Nice: http://unice.fr/unicepro (under Orientation & Insertion professionnelle)
Even if their page isn’t in available English, it shouldn’t deter you from trying. Speak to your local admin assistants/coordinator if translation is a problem. This is important enough for them to help.
For those coming from more theoretical backgrounds: it’s always a good idea to learn Python, R, or any programming language relevant to the field you might be interested in. The beginning of the third semester is a great time to start. There’s no pressure and plenty of time. Come the time of thesis (or graduation), you’d have half a year (1 year) of experience that you can build off of. I can’t recommend it enough, and to quote prof. Smriglio, you really shouldn’t leave an engineering program without knowing Python. This is particularly useful if you’re leaning toward Data Analytics, Finance, and Statistics. Websites like Kaggle, Codecademy, Udacity all have free intro classes that are perfect for beginners. Or consult the programming whiz nearest you.
For those who are more advanced: Cineca in Rome gives out professional courses free of charge. While they focus on high-performance computing, the general menu is scientific computing. Check out their catalogue here, reservation required. I attended a course on modern Fortran and had a great experience. The instructors were experts in their field, and so much more importantly, lunch was free. Three course meal + coffee, what more can you ask?
If you’re in Barcelona/Hamburg, the ground is perhaps more ripe for getting involved (separate post later). One of the things I did was to give a presentation of MathMods at the local Erasmus Student Network welcome meeting in L’Aquila. The international community is bound to be larger at other cities, and it’s a great way to make connection and stay tune on professional events. Of course, if you haven’t already, join the Erasmus Mundus Association. They have a vast international network and organizes many local activities. Have an i
dea for project that needs funding? EMA provides grant for that too.
That’s all for now. Hopefully this post has helped you a little to enrich your grad school experience and transition toward a post-MathMods life. I really do think the second year is prime time for doing things you’re supposed to do in grad school. It’s a time to learn outside of lectures and forge your own path. All it requires is effort, and there is no better time to start than now.