Foto: Irina Matusevich
In your new management role, you hold the position of Vice-Dean for cooperation with secondary schools, talent care, social affairs, and lifelong learning. What exactly does this agenda entail?
The first part of my agenda involves activities within the faculty, including supervision of the libraries and canteens, the loan of IT equipment to needy students, supporting associations, and so on. I was also recently trained contact person for sexual harassment cases. Luckily, no one has turned to me in this regard yet. On the other hand, chemistry students with study problems they don’t know how to deal with have been contacting me for a long time. I always try to help, and sometimes I succeed.
And the second part of your agenda?
The second part is more extensive and concerns the external activities of the faculty. I take care of institutions and lifelong learning projects and help coordinate courses of the University of the Third Age on behalf of our faculty. part of my work is focused on cooperation with secondary schools, and it is mainly because of this that the new Vice-Dean's position was established. Currently, there are two main topics, finding premises for Bioskop and cooperation with the newly emerging science grammar school.
What is the problem with Bioskop?
It is necessary to provide suitable premises for Bioskop so that it can fully develop its activities, which are extremely important for both the faculty and the university as it helps us acquire quality students. So far, I have managed to win space for them in the Department’s laboratories, but this is only temporary. Both the lack of space and its temporary nature are serious obstacles preventing full cooperation between Bioskop and schools.
They need a permanent location, preferably somewhere on the ground floor so that they can easily take primary and secondary school participants . We need to find a conceptual solution, and this will not be possible without the help of the university as, unfortunately, there is a real lack of teaching space on campus. We can hardly ask the departments to limit their research to help with this, not least as financial and evaluation pressures force them to do the opposite.
Why is cooperation with secondary or primary schools so important for the faculty?
First, we need high-quality candidates from high schools to come to us. If we do not get quality students, the quality of research will drop, no matter how well equipped the laboratories are. And then there is the wider dimension. We are a public university, and as such, we should respond to the needs of society. We have been informed by the Ministry of Education, for example, that there is a lack of science teachers, particularly in some regions. Furthermore, there are four companies in Brno that make electron microscopes, and each has reported a shortfall in applicants with a physics education. And we could go on.
So, can't we just admit more applicants into teaching fields?
A sufficiently large number of motivated, prepared and reasonably confident applicants would have to come from high schools, and unfortunately, this is not the case. In part, this is because high schools are struggling with a shortage of quality teachers. For example, a high school physics teacher is a scarce commodity these days. And it really does matter who teaches physics.
You teach yourself. What do you consider most important when teaching this challenging field?
To make students clear the basics. Particularly difficult parts need to be explained slowly and carefully, and we often return to the most basic things. As such, it is necessary to limit the amount of material that one fits into a lecture so that students remember the essentials. For the rest, it is better to refer to the literature. Textbook self-study is no longer a matter of course today, but students need it and we should support it. Also, just as important as the lectures are quality exercises and seminars.
But how can students be clear about the basics?
In our fields, it is important to build abstraction gradually and not to assume it is automatically at the beginning, it is crucial that we enable students to imagine as many things as possible. “Pure” mathematics is different, but in my field, I have learned that “hiding” in a mathematical derivation lecture without further comment is not entirely fair. if one provides at least a brief example of how it works, how large the numbers we are talking about are and how to check that the result that comes out is acceptable.
Five years ago, you yourself received the Rector’s Award for Outstanding Educators for your approach to teaching. Did this award help you?
Most definitely. It confirmed that I was on the right track, and that is far from the normal feeling of a university employee. Academics are under constant pressure to do research and to publish. In this case, the prize helped me little more in the complicated and stressful environment I .
You also did research. You worked as a researcher at the NCBR. Will you use this experience in the role of Vice Dean?
Most important of all for me were the several years of study I did abroad, specifically at the Max Planck Institute in Stuttgart and, briefly, at Cornell University in the USA. Not only because I learned new things there, but also because I had the opportunity to see that things could be done differently than we were used to. Because of this I was able to gain a level of internal independence, a basic precondition for performing a function in which you must sometimes go against the interests of your own department in favour of the interests of the faculty.
Can you still manage a science career in combination with the new office of Vice-Dean?
I have time for science on a small scale, and I try to keep it . Together with my students, we focus on quantum chemical calculations that help interpret the results of experiments in both organic and inorganic chemistry. We have great experimentalists here, and if they measure something, help them explain it.
Can you compare what has changed compared to when you studied?
Perhaps instead, we should ask if anything has remained the same. In my day, we had much because the subject matter had firmer outlines. We attended lectures where teachers largely wrote on the board, or sometimes used a meotar projector; it was not normal to provide us with a huge amount of information over a short period, unsure as to what we really needed to know. On the other hand, I feel that excessive monitoring of the internet both reduces valuable study time and impairs memory and concentration. There are students who have trouble formulating Archimedes’ law in physics, and I can’t explain it any other way.