You’ve done a hugely successful job as Professor of Particle Physics. Will you still have time for research now that you’ve been appointed Rector?
My passion for research won’t just evaporate from one day to the next! What matters most is ensuring that the amazing people in my research group continue to thrive and prosper. I want to continue investing time in them, but it will certainly be a challenge to combine that with my responsibilities as Rector.
During your time at CERN, you were deputy spokesperson for a scientific collaboration
involving 4,000 researchers and students from more than 40 countries. Do you think that experience will benefit you in your role as Rector?
Absolutely. Organisations like ETH and CERN operate on the same principle – namely, that we can achieve shared goals by working with highly motivated, talented individuals. The only way to tackle most of the challenges we face today is through outstanding teamwork – just as the only way to develop the highly complex experiments at CERN is through broad-based international collaboration.
If you had to name one key insight you’ve gained during your 20 years at ETH, what would it be?
Learning to appreciate the incredible diversity and quality of ETH teaching and research and seeing such a wide variety of truly amazing people all working in one place – from students, researchers and lecturers right through to staff in the academic departments and central services. That’s what makes it such a joy to go to work each morning!
You’ve already received several awards for your teaching work at ETH. What advice would you give to someone looking to improve their teaching?
I base my teaching on the three Es of enthusiasm, empathy and expectation management. That means teaching with enthusiasm and cultivating the kind of presence that captures and holds people’s attention; putting yourself in the learners’ shoes and constantly asking yourself whether you’re explaining things clearly enough; and giving clear guidance and objectives that you can actually stick to.
You were born and raised in South Tyrol. What do the mountains mean to you?
I feel a close connection to them. I get an extraordinary feeling of inner peace when I’m in the mountains – and I think they can teach us respect and humility.