living matter lab

teaching philosophy

in my second year as an undergraduate, i began teaching weekly tutorials in engineering mechanics and in computer science which were attended by groups of approximately 30 students. already at this very early stage i was so fascinated by the idea of sharing knowledge with others and thereby broadening my own horizons that i decided to pursue an academic career. i thus continued teaching, being convinced that young and enthusiastic students like me would best understand the fundamental problems of their fellow students. ever since then, my teaching style has been guided by the idea of simplifying rather than artificially complicating concepts and by embedding them into a broad general framework. as a graduate student, i voluntarily taught problem classes in linear and nonlinear finite element methods to about 40-50 graduates. finally, as a post doctoral researcher, i was given the opportunity to develop and teach my own courses in biomechanics and linear and nonlinear finite element methods.

since I was was appointed as assistant professor, i have been teaching various graduate courses in theoretical and computational mechanics, both in german and english. in regular teaching evaluations, my students characterize me as enthusiastic, well-organized, precise, dedicated, open and knowledgeable with a keen attitude towards helping them with all kinds of problems. only recently, I was faced with an additional challenge when asked to teach an elementary course in engineering mechanics at the undergraduate level to approximately 300 students. in the german system, these courses are typically only taught by senior faculty. i think teaching undergraduates is especially challenging as they usually need much more encouragement and stimulation. for example, at the end of a class, i sometimes ask them to summarize the major results of the lecture in their own words on a sheet of paper which i will collect thereafter. on the one hand, this motivates the students to reiterate what they have learned. on the other hand, more importantly, it gives me an idea of how much they have finally understood and indicates if additional clarifications are needed. with illustrative examples, short movies and small experiments i try to share with them my personal passion for learning and understanding. i feel it is especially rewarding when some of them choose to specialize in the field of engineering mechanics and ask for potential master projects in my group.

it has been a great pleasure for me to supervise a number of master's students in the fields of computational and structural mechanics, multifield physics, biomechanics and finite element technologies. i currently advise three master's students, in biomechanics and in applied mathmatics. in addition, I am the principal advisor of five phd students working in different fields of computational mechanics. my first phd student has just defended her thesis a few weeks ago and it is personally satisfying to see how she has developed.

to me, understanding how people learn is one of the most significant gateways to improve teaching. during my academic career, i have been exposed to many different universities and teaching philosophies. It has always been important for me not only to teach courses myself but also to follow courses and learn from others which i still actively do. over the past years, I have had the privilege to get to know many fascinating teachers like erwin stein, ekkehard ramm, rene de borst, christian miehe, paul steinmann and michael ortiz. i especially admire their ability to communicate effectively to their students and i have sought to adopt parts of their teaching style in my own classes. i am continuously trying to develop a friendly atmosphere in class and to encourage the students to provide feedback and criticism. i strongly believe that my students can learn as much from me as i can actually learn from every single one of them!

spring 2006