Congratulations with your appointment as the new Deputy Head of Institute for Teaching at the Niels Bohr Institute (NBI)!
What are some of the first (or main) issues that you would like to focus on in this position?
One week into the job, I realized that there are many ongoing activities in the area of teaching, which require particular attention this year. I also realized to a much bigger extent than before, that the faculty and junior faculty at NBI is really passionate about teaching.
This summer the entrance requirements to Physics will change. See https://studier.ku.dk/bachelor/fysik/adgangskrav-og-optagelse/. We are also targeting, more than before, HTX [technical high school] students. Therefore, we expect more students, and slightly different demographics with respect to previous years. We will take this opportunity to improve our welcome package to the new students, brushing up some of the math and physics they learnt in gymnasium and helping them to get to know each other in a happy and learning-oriented kick-start program.
We are also looking into improvements in the bachelor and master education, to reflect even more clearly, which careers our education opens up for students. We wish to make it clear that Physics educates students to be critical and not accept superficial explanations in science, to go straight to the core of a research problem as the best way to find a solution. We teach how to think scientifically, and this really opens up a million careers for Physics students afterwards.
No doubt, this past year has been challenging for students at the Institute, and elsewhere, since a large part of classes and exams have been taking place online. Looking forward, how can we draw on these experiences? Do you think online teaching would naturally have a more prominent role to play?
One thing this last year has taught everyone (students and teachers) is how much we need each other. We teachers really miss the interaction with the students in class, and they miss that too. Nothing can replace physical presence in the classroom. That said, I think online teaching has made many teachers reflect on teaching methods, and teaching material, and what is most useful for the students. I am quite confident some aspects of online teaching will remain, after we return to campus.
Which initiative do you think would encourage a more diverse group of people to study and pursue a career in physics?
We are really thinking a lot about this at the institute this year. The study leaders have put focus on recruiting this year. Reaching out to students, teachers, and parents at gymnasium level is an important way to get more students in. The change in requirements for entering Physics is also opening up this education to 3000 additional students.
We would like to also ask you a few questions about your career and background:
What brought you to study and work in Denmark?
My husband. We met towards the end of our University studies at CERN, for the summer student program. I then took a PhD at the Niels Bohr Institute. After some years of postdocs abroad, we then came back with our family. Danes are actually harder to keep away from Denmark, than Italians from Italy, I must admit.
When and why did you decide to pursue an academic career, and what motivated you to specialize in the field of particle physics?
I think it is fair to say the academic career chose me. I started being interested in particle physics since my CERN summer student program, in my fourth year of University. I found it fascinating. At the time, we also had the feeling there were many fundamental questions which could be answered soon, thanks to the experiments designed and built while I was studying: matter-antimatter asymmetry, the Higgs boson and the origin of mass and force range. I decided I could take the time to do a PhD and at least one postdoc, and give it a try at research, before turning to other careers. It just kept being interesting. I never really worried I would be unemployed or something. After getting my kids (at age 30 and 33) I decided I would give it until the age of 40 to get a permanent position somewhere, and with my husband we agreed that the first of us who finds a permanent job the other should follow. Somehow things worked out. I guess I was lucky, and I was not afraid.
Did you have a role model or a mentor? If so, what inspiration did you get from them?
My mum certainly has showed me women can work just as hard as men and have ambitions. I always took it for granted that I would get a career in something, and that I did not have to choose between family and work.
What, would you say, is the most defining moment of your career?
Well, given I am a particle physicist still to this day, I would say the CERN summer student program I attended in my University years. And then my return to Denmark in 2006, following my husband who had become associate professor at the Niels Bohr Institute.
Lastly, do you have any advice for younger physicists willing to take on positions with more responsibility such as teaching, leading their own group or coordinating large projects?
These are three very different things, so I am not sure I have any advice which suits all. I guess one thing I always try to convince my master and PhD students about, is that if they like research, they should give it a shot, and not give up right away. As a physicist, you can always find a job, and very fast! And, contrary to perhaps common belief, it is easier to have a family when you are a researcher in academia, than when you have a regular job. You can work crazy hours, and administer your time as you like, to a larger extent, as long as you produce results. I have had many bosses, and they have always been most comprehensive and flexible about my working hours. Of course, our family is a bit special, since we both are in academia, but still, I think what I claim still stands. Finally, I really think that a job as researcher in academia is as close as it gets to having a job which is also what you love most to do.