Annual Report 2021: HIIT Overview

Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT is a joint research institute established in 1999 by Aalto University (previously, Helsinki University of Technology) and University of Helsinki. In these two universities, research on information and communications technologies (ICT) is the focus of the following four departments scattered in three different schools/faculties:

  • Computer Science (Aalto, School of Science),
  • Computer Science (University of Helsinki, Faculty of Science),
  • Communications and Networking (Aalto, School of Electrical Engineering),
  • Signal Processing and Acoustics (Aalto, School of Electrical Engineering).

HIIT is a strategic initiative pooling together the ICT researchers of these two Finnish universities together, forming an internationally highly visible research hub, a flagship of Finnish ICT research. The mission of HIIT is to support this research community and to enhance the quality, visibility and impact of Finnish ICT research while facilitating intensive cooperation with other disciplines, the industry, public organizations and key international academic partners.

The key instruments HIIT used in 2021 for achieving its objectives were:

Recruitment of postdoctoral researchers. We regard recruitment of high-quality researchers as the key factor in fulfilling our mission. HIIT organizes twice a year a massive joint call for the whole ICT research community, to support the recruitment of high-quality candidates. In the most recent Winter 2021-2022 call, the call offered several open positions in 38 research projects in the two host universities, and the number of applicants was over 200 in total. In addition to supporting the marketing of these project-funded positions, HIIT also offered HIIT-funded positions to exceptional candidates (HIIT Postdoctoral Fellow positions for early career postdocs and HIIT Research Fellow positions for more senior candidates). In the HIIT-funded recruitments we prioritize the strategic research focus areas of HIIT, which in 2021 were Artificial Intelligence, Computational Health, Cybersecurity and Data Science (Foundations of Computing was added as a new focus area at the very end of 2021).

Doctoral education. Like in postdoctoral recruitment, HIIT facilitates twice a year a big joint call for recruitment of new doctoral students (funded by the supervisors/projects), and sponsors e.g. marketing of these calls. Unlike in the postdoctoral call, HIIT does not offer HIIT-funded long-term doctoral student positions in these calls, but as a new pilot in 2021, HIIT opened a continuous call for short-term funded positions for finalization of the introductory part of the doctoral dissertation (“final crunch” funding, see more on the funding section). HIIT also supports the Helsinki Doctoral Education Network in ICT (HICT) in organization of various cross-department and cross-university events for doctoral students, and in offering additional training opportunities for those willing to enhance, for example, their pitching and presentation skills.

Activity funding for local ICT researchers. HIIT is willing to support initiatives that boost the quality, visibility, impact or collaboration opportunities of ICT researchers. Examples of such activities include organization of workshops and other events, researcher visits, and short-term projects creating opportunities for high-impact collaboration within ICT, or between ICT and researchers from other disciplines, the industry or public organizations.

HIIT has also actively supported the creation of several new joint units (see the section on organization structure):

  • Helsinki Centre for Data Science (HiData)
  • Helsinki-Aalto Institute for Cybersecurity (HAIC)
  • Finnish Center for AI (FCAI)

These units are closely affiliated with the mission of HIIT, but cannot exactly be considered as HIIT units as, e.g., HAIC coordinates also (undergraduate) education, which is not in the scope of HIIT as a research institute, and FCAI as a national AI flagship extends beyond the two host universities of HIIT.

Like all areas of the society, HIIT was affected severely by the Covid pandemic in 2021. The research work can in most cases be carried on remotely, supported by online meetings and collaboration tools, but what we witnessed was a significant drop in the number of visits made (either incoming or outgoing), and although we were able to run many events successfully either completely remotely, or as hybrid events (depending on the status of the Covid situation), the number of joint events has declined. The lack of physical face-to-face contacts clearly has had an effect on our working atmosphere and the team spirit in general as online or hybrid meetings can never fully replace the physical meetings. Looking forward to year 2022, we hope the situation to gradually get more normal, and it will be interesting to see how the long pandemic has permanently affected our ways of working.

Petri Myllymäki
Director of HIIT