Photo: Darya Lapitskaya
Coming from Belarus, a neighboring country to the south, Darya has always heard many good things about the success story of Estonia. With the government supportive of technology and small business, Estonia has become a digitally advanced state with one of the highest startup rates per capita. “ I have also heard of the University of Tartu (UT) during my Global Economics studies in Belarus”, Darya begins her story. “In my last years of bachelor’s, I found a master’s degree in Innovation and Technology Management at UT, an intriguing combination of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Economics, and Management. It was exactly what I was looking for”.
Coming to Estonia
Darya has also considered studying similar programmes in Denmark and the UK until she received a full scholarship for her master’s at UT. “In the end, I thought studying in Estonia will be easier because of affordable living expenses and cultural similarities”, she shares. “Estonia was a better choice, considering all other options, and UT has long been a highly ranked university. I was excited to see how Estonia, such a small country, transformed into a global success story of ICT and startup development, challenging all post-Soviet stereotypes”.
Photo: University of Tartu
At the University of Tartu
In 2017, Darya started her master’s degree in Innovation and Technology Management at UT. During two years, the programme educates experts able to implement ICT solutions to management processes of enterprises and facilitate their growth through more added value created. At the end of the course, students also have an opportunity to establish a consultancy business in implementing ICT solutions or find employment in the public sector, particularly in the field of innovation policy and digitalization. “At the beginning of the programme, we had an additional chance to receive a certificate in Business Analysis, granted on the basis of several compulsory courses and an internship”, Darya adds. “It’s a great opportunity; many of my classmates currently work as Business Analysts in Swedbank and Finnair”.
According to the university’s admission requirements, “Qualified students should have a bachelor's degree or equivalent in economics, mathematical sciences, and technology sciences”. “It’s an interdisciplinary course, so there are people who never studied economics and those who never studied IT. However, there’s an opportunity to receive an introductory course before the start”, Darya recalls. In general, everything seemed to be different from the higher education standards back at home in Belarus: “Not only was I impressed by the level of teaching, but we could also choose any course we wanted and study whatever interested us the most, in addition to compulsory classes. I chose Neuroscience and Korean as my free elective courses. Why not challenge yourself by learning something new?”
Graduation ceremony. Photo: Darya Lapitskaya
Tech and Startup Industry
After graduation, Darya took on the Project Manager role at iCV Research Lab, a leading computer vision lab in Europe located at the UT Technology Institute. “This work brings many opportunities for professional development and career growth”, she tells us. “As the lab’s project manager, I get involved in many interesting projects, such as Horizon 2020, the EU framework programme for research and innovation, for example. It’s great to be at the center of computer technology development, which the lab is particularly famous for”. Professionally, Darya is interested in artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), and computer vision: “Every day, there are breakthroughs and improvements in the computer tech industry, and you have countless opportunities to learn even without having advanced skills in the area. Besides, ICT has entered every sphere of our daily lives, especially in such a digitized country as Estonia”.
In addition to her full-time position at the Research Lab, Darya and her colleagues are developing a human resources (HR) tech startup. “We are building an AI-based HR tool that makes the recruitment process more efficient and easier for both the recruiter and the candidate”, she explains. “Our AI technology analyzes the interview recording, a one-minute video provided by the candidate, and builds a detailed profile of the candidate based on their personality, experience, skills, and even emotions”. While the candidates do not have to fill in any complicated application forms, the recruiter spends less time on analyzing the candidates’ profiles.
Representing the University of Tartu at a fair. Photo: Darya Lapitskaya
There are many projects and courses dedicated to startup development. “In my first year of studies, I attended two introductory courses teaching various aspects of startup building and providing mentoring support”, Darya recalls. “There’s also a startup lab incubator dedicated to startup development from idea to execution. You can start from scratch without knowing anything about building a business. Or maybe you know what to do and have an idea, but no team members yet. That’s also a good place to start”. Even if students do not have an idea of their own, the university startup platform gives them a chance to network and join an existing team.
Darya’s startup, itself an independent company, works as a spin-off of the Research Lab and closely collaborates with the UT researchers. “That’s one of the reasons I came to Estonia, to be at the center of the startup industry”, she shares. “Estonia has many startup incubators, such as the Idea Lab in Tartu or Mektory, Tehnopol, and Startup Hub in Tallinn. It’s a very diverse and interesting community. Even if you don’t have enough funds to proceed with your business idea, you can participate in different startup events, listen to professional speakers, ask for some mentoring support, and network”.
Photo: Darya Lapitskaya
Studying in Estonia: What to Know
For now, Darya intends to stay in Estonia, continue working, and possibly start a Ph.D. programme. To anyone considering Estonia as a study destination, Darya suggests doing some research on the programmes available to international students and drawing up a plan of goals and priorities. “What do you want to study? How can you develop yourself professionally? Make the most of your time here”, she recommends. “For example, if you study Philosophy, nothing prevents you from taking additional courses in Computer Science or Medicine, anything you are interested in. Look for internships and part-time, or even full-time, jobs. Many of them do not require any knowledge of Estonian”. Finally, a student town such as Tartu creates many opportunities to connect with fellow students and meet many interesting people. “Don’t be afraid to communicate and learn more about foreign cultures, new ideas, and different opinions. Don’t be shy and take advantage of your studies abroad”.
Text: Anastasiia Starchenko