Professor for one year (week 5): A module is a module is a module

At the end of the last century, the Bologna process was started.  Studying today is very different from studying some decades ago.  New terms and rules were introduced, names of academic degrees were changed, students should be encouraged to spend some time at other universities, etc.  When you finish your studies, you will receive a Bachelor's degree after three years.  You can then extend your studies by graduating in order to get a Master's degree.  And after this you can do a PhD.  “Bachelor” and “Master” have replaced the German or Swiss “Vordiplom” or “Zwischenprüfung” and the “Lizentiat,” “Diplom,” and “Magister.”

The Bachelor's degree was also intended to allow students to leave university after only a few years, but with a degree instead of as drop-out students.  However, nobody knew whether these new degrees would be accepted by employers.  Switzerland therefore decided to have the Master's degree as the regular graduation degree – the Bachelor's degree is only meant as an intermediary degree, but can be useful if students decide to leave university for some years to get practical experience.

One consequence is that there are only loose requirements concerning the Bachelor's degree if you apply for a Master's program in Switzerland – you merely need a “relevant” Master's degree.  In some universities you can even start attending Master's courses and earn credit points towards your Master's degree before finishing your Bachelor's studies.  I always have students fill out a short survey in the very first lecture; among other things, I ask what they study and in which semester they are.  In Basel, some students stated that they are in a Master's program in the 12th semester – which translates to “I have been studying for 12 semesters and I am now doing a Master's program.”  It's not the 12th semester of this Master's program.  Students see the Bachelor as an intermediary degree.  Often you even don't have to write a Bachelor's thesis.  Which is really strange for studies in the humanities and arts:  You leave university with a degree but you never worked on a longer project or wrote a thesis (i.e., a paper exceeding 20 pages).

In contrast, in Germany the Bachelor's degree is a recognized graduation degree.  For entering a Master's program, you need a "good" Bachelor's degree (grade 2.5 or better on a scale from 5 to 1 with 1 being the highest grade), even if this is not a program with restricted admission (numerus clausus).  So, only the best students are allowed to pursue their studies.  As one consequence, the drop-out rate in German Master's programs is very low.

So, from the administrative perspective, a Bachelor's degree in Germany and in Switzerland means something different.

Another new concept is the “module.”  You have to earn a certain amount of credit points in each of the modules that make up your program.  The modules appear on your transcript of records.  Modularization is intended to make it easier to study some time at another university and to get credit for those courses at your home university.  Of course this would mean that modules in Computer Science or Spanish Literature or Theoretical Physics at different universities are comparable or even equivalent in terms of content, achievable competencies, and time and effort.

So far I have taught at the University of Zurich, the University of Basel (both are Swiss Universities), the University of Konstanz (Germany), and I was E-Learning consultant at the School of Social Work at the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland.

At the University of Zurich, a lecture or seminar is equivalent to a module.  Modules are defined in study regulations that have to be approved by the Faculty.  Which means: it is not that easy to change the title, the credit points, or the scope of a module.  If there was a certain course before Bologna, e.g., “Introduction to Programming for Computational Linguists,” this course still exists and is now a module.  Module names and lecture names are identical.  Some introductury lectures used to span several semesters like “Introduction to Computational Linguistics I” and “Introduction to Computational Linguistics II.”  This resulted in the creation of two modules with these names, each containing exact one lecture (and a lab course) of exactly the same name –  wouldn't it made have sense to create one module “Introduction to Computational Linguistics” containing two lectures to be attend in two consecutive semesters?  Well, apparently they didn't think so in Zurich.

As a consequence, a module is worth 3 to 6 credit points, and you have to do a lot of modules to obtain a degree.  From the institutional point of view, this makes it difficult to have courses offered by adjunct lecturers or courses on special topics.  How to create a module with a rather vague name or with a title allowing for change?  It's also difficult if you would like to allow students to earn credits from small projects as part of research projects, from contributing to publications, or from presenting their projects at workshops or conferences.  This shouldn't be mandatory for all students.

At the School of Social Work at the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland, they created a study program from scratch:  Modules are intended to enable students to acquire a set of competences.  A module may cover several semesters, some modules even run through your entire Bachelor's program.  During a semester, students attend certain courses.  However, the concept of a course has been redefined:  There is no longer one lecturer teaching a whole course over 15 weeks.  The lecturer responsible for a module defines learning objectives and an overall theme for a certain course.  Then he invites colleagues to contribute to this course by teaching one or two sessions within this course.  As a student, you are faced with another lecturer each week; as a lecturer, you teach on your area of expertise in various courses.  This concept involves a lot of organisational effort, but I consider it to be a good implementation of the general idea of modules.

At the University of Konstanz, the concept of modules in the Linguistic Department seems to follow the categorization of introductory, intermediate, and advanced courses which would have been named “Proseminar,” “Seminar,” and “Hauptseminar” in the old system.  For some modules all courses are mandatory, for most of the modules you have to earn a certain number of credits but you can choose from a range of courses.  You only have to pass a small number of modules during your studies.  In my surveys, some students thus stated that they are attending my class “to get the last credits needed to pass module 3.”  In the advanced modules there is always a course named “Current Topics in X” allowing to allocate invited, one-of courses by experts – for example, I teach “Methods and Applications in Automatic Authoring Support” this semester as an instance of “Current Topics in Speech and Language Processing.”  This implementation of Bologna is a little more conservative, but also makes sense.  It counters the criticism that university studies are overly regulated, as it allows students to decide on their own which courses they want to take in order to gain the required credits.

Of course, universities should be free to interpret “Bologna.”  However, some interpretations make more sense than others.  Clearly, having different interpretations of “Bologna” also reduces the interoperability of courses and the mobility of students.


Professor for one year (week 5): A module is a module is a module

At the end of the last century, the Bologna process was started.  Studying today is very different from studying some decades ago.  New terms and rules were introduced, names of academic degrees were changed, students should be encouraged to spend some time at other universities, etc.  When you finish your studies, you will receive a Bachelor's degree after three years.  You can then extend your studies by graduating in order to get a Master's degree.  And after this you can do a PhD.  “Bachelor” and “Master” have replaced the German or Swiss “Vordiplom” or “Zwischenprüfung” and the “Lizentiat,” “Diplom,” and “Magister.”

The Bachelor's degree was also intended to allow students to leave university after only a few years, but with a degree instead of as drop-out students.  However, nobody knew whether these new degrees would be accepted by employers.  Switzerland therefore decided to have the Master's degree as the regular graduation degree – the Bachelor's degree is only meant as an intermediary degree, but can be useful if students decide to leave university for some years to get practical experience.

One consequence is that there are only loose requirements concerning the Bachelor's degree if you apply for a Master's program in Switzerland – you merely need a “relevant” Master's degree.  In some universities you can even start attending Master's courses and earn credit points towards your Master's degree before finishing your Bachelor's studies.  I always have students fill out a short survey in the very first lecture; among other things, I ask what they study and in which semester they are.  In Basel, some students stated that they are in a Master's program in the 12th semester – which translates to “I have been studying for 12 semesters and I am now doing a Master's program.”  It's not the 12th semester of this Master's program.  Students see the Bachelor as an intermediary degree.  Often you even don't have to write a Bachelor's thesis.  Which is really strange for studies in the humanities and arts:  You leave university with a degree but you never worked on a longer project or wrote a thesis (i.e., a paper exceeding 20 pages).

In contrast, in Germany the Bachelor's degree is a recognized graduation degree.  For entering a Master's program, you need a "good" Bachelor's degree (grade 2.5 or better on a scale from 5 to 1 with 1 being the highest grade), even if this is not a program with restricted admission (numerus clausus).  So, only the best students are allowed to pursue their studies.  As one consequence, the drop-out rate in German Master's programs is very low.

So, from the administrative perspective, a Bachelor's degree in Germany and in Switzerland means something different.

Another new concept is the “module.”  You have to earn a certain amount of credit points in each of the modules that make up your program.  The modules appear on your transcript of records.  Modularization is intended to make it easier to study some time at another university and to get credit for those courses at your home university.  Of course this would mean that modules in Computer Science or Spanish Literature or Theoretical Physics at different universities are comparable or even equivalent in terms of content, achievable competencies, and time and effort.

So far I have taught at the University of Zurich, the University of Basel (both are Swiss Universities), the University of Konstanz (Germany), and I was E-Learning consultant at the School of Social Work at the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland.

At the University of Zurich, a lecture or seminar is equivalent to a module.  Modules are defined in study regulations that have to be approved by the Faculty.  Which means: it is not that easy to change the title, the credit points, or the scope of a module.  If there was a certain course before Bologna, e.g., “Introduction to Programming for Computational Linguists,” this course still exists and is now a module.  Module names and lecture names are identical.  Some introductury lectures used to span several semesters like “Introduction to Computational Linguistics I” and “Introduction to Computational Linguistics II.”  This resulted in the creation of two modules with these names, each containing exact one lecture (and a lab course) of exactly the same name –  wouldn't it made have sense to create one module “Introduction to Computational Linguistics” containing two lectures to be attend in two consecutive semesters?  Well, apparently they didn't think so in Zurich.

As a consequence, a module is worth 3 to 6 credit points, and you have to do a lot of modules to obtain a degree.  From the institutional point of view, this makes it difficult to have courses offered by adjunct lecturers or courses on special topics.  How to create a module with a rather vague name or with a title allowing for change?  It's also difficult if you would like to allow students to earn credits from small projects as part of research projects, from contributing to publications, or from presenting their projects at workshops or conferences.  This shouldn't be mandatory for all students.

At the School of Social Work at the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland, they created a study program from scratch:  Modules are intended to enable students to acquire a set of competences.  A module may cover several semesters, some modules even run through your entire Bachelor's program.  During a semester, students attend certain courses.  However, the concept of a course has been redefined:  There is no longer one lecturer teaching a whole course over 15 weeks.  The lecturer responsible for a module defines learning objectives and an overall theme for a certain course.  Then he invites colleagues to contribute to this course by teaching one or two sessions within this course.  As a student, you are faced with another lecturer each week; as a lecturer, you teach on your area of expertise in various courses.  This concept involves a lot of organisational effort, but I consider it to be a good implementation of the general idea of modules.

At the University of Konstanz, the concept of modules in the Linguistic Department seems to follow the categorization of introductory, intermediate, and advanced courses which would have been named “Proseminar,” “Seminar,” and “Hauptseminar” in the old system.  For some modules all courses are mandatory, for most of the modules you have to earn a certain number of credits but you can choose from a range of courses.  You only have to pass a small number of modules during your studies.  In my surveys, some students thus stated that they are attending my class “to get the last credits needed to pass module 3.”  In the advanced modules there is always a course named “Current Topics in X” allowing to allocate invited, one-of courses by experts – for example, I teach “Methods and Applications in Automatic Authoring Support” this semester as an instance of “Current Topics in Speech and Language Processing.”  This implementation of Bologna is a little more conservative, but also makes sense.  It counters the criticism that university studies are overly regulated, as it allows students to decide on their own which courses they want to take in order to gain the required credits.

Of course, universities should be free to interpret “Bologna.”  However, some interpretations make more sense than others.  Clearly, having different interpretations of “Bologna” also reduces the interoperability of courses and the mobility of students.


Plagiarism

Probably all students try to solve assignments with as little effort as possible -- they collaborate, they look for avialable solutions in the Web, they ask others for help.  If it comes to larger tasks like writing a semester paper, a thesis, or a dissertation, some students sometimes even copy text from other publications without giving credits to these authors.  This is called plagiarism. 

In Germany, there had been some major issues discussed in public over the last couple of years:  The former minister of defense had to resign, because his doctoral dissertation was found to be full of texts not written by him.  The former minister responsible for education at schools and universities had to resign, because she forgot to correctly mention the sources she used.  And there had been other cases as well, all following the same pattern: someone reads a dissertation or thesis of a politician, raises some questions, the politician denies, the public starts looking for evidence, and in the end the politician has to resign and loses the academic degree or title associated with this thesis.

Now, one of the candidates for the election to the city government of Zurich is accused to have plagiarized in a Master's thesis.

Two things are really anoying with these issues. 

First: When submitting a seminar paper, a thesis, or a dissertation, you have to sign a statement saying that you followed good academic practice (OK, you might not be fully aware of what that means in every detail) and that you did all of the work on your own.  The first part refers to "I did not copy-paste text from other authors without stating the sources, i.e., I did cite everything following the citation rules of my research area."  And the second part refers to "I did not involve ghost writers and if someone helped me with some minor parts of the work (e.g., transcription or annotation of large amounts of empirical data or plotting fancy diagrams), I gave credit to those persons."  So, someone proven guilty for not giving credit where credit is due committed perjury.  This might be a legal issue and could be fined.

Second: No person accused for plagiarism and later proven guilty did show some backbone and stick to what he/she did and say something like "The accusation is probably right, I didn't know then, but I know now that I did something wrong.  I appologize."  They all try to make excuses and argue that it's not of interest to the public, and so on.  It might be true that the paper in question is not of interest to the public, but the fact that someone made a false statement and when proven guilty tries to deny, supports the general perception of "All politicians lie." and "You can trust nobody."

The person accused to have plagiarized her Master's thesis at the ETH, argues that "I did not plagiarize, but maybe not every word in this paper has been written by me."  Does that mean someone else wrote part of her thesis?  In my opinion, this would violate the statement of academic integrity she most probably signed.

But the most annoying argument is: "Anyway, it's not a big deal, it was only a postgraduate (German: 'Nachdiplom') master."  There is no factor of importance when it comes to plagiarism!  You simply are not allowed to use other people's work without permission and without giving credit.  Statements like this one support the misconception that sometimes plagiarism is acceptable.

Plagiarism

Probably all students try to solve assignments with as little effort as possible -- they collaborate, they look for avialable solutions in the Web, they ask others for help.  If it comes to larger tasks like writing a semester paper, a thesis, or a dissertation, some students sometimes even copy text from other publications without giving credits to these authors.  This is called plagiarism. 

In Germany, there had been some major issues discussed in public over the last couple of years:  The former minister of defense had to resign, because his doctoral dissertation was found to be full of texts not written by him.  The former minister responsible for education at schools and universities had to resign, because she forgot to correctly mention the sources she used.  And there had been other cases as well, all following the same pattern: someone reads a dissertation or thesis of a politician, raises some questions, the politician denies, the public starts looking for evidence, and in the end the politician has to resign and loses the academic degree or title associated with this thesis.

Now, one of the candidates for the election to the city government of Zurich is accused to have plagiarized in a Master's thesis.

Two things are really anoying with these issues. 

First: When submitting a seminar paper, a thesis, or a dissertation, you have to sign a statement saying that you followed good academic practice (OK, you might not be fully aware of what that means in every detail) and that you did all of the work on your own.  The first part refers to "I did not copy-paste text from other authors without stating the sources, i.e., I did cite everything following the citation rules of my research area."  And the second part refers to "I did not involve ghost writers and if someone helped me with some minor parts of the work (e.g., transcription or annotation of large amounts of empirical data or plotting fancy diagrams), I gave credit to those persons."  So, someone proven guilty for not giving credit where credit is due committed perjury.  This might be a legal issue and could be fined.

Second: No person accused for plagiarism and later proven guilty did show some backbone and stick to what he/she did and say something like "The accusation is probably right, I didn't know then, but I know now that I did something wrong.  I appologize."  They all try to make excuses and argue that it's not of interest to the public, and so on.  It might be true that the paper in question is not of interest to the public, but the fact that someone made a false statement and when proven guilty tries to deny, supports the general perception of "All politicians lie." and "You can trust nobody."

The person accused to have plagiarized her Master's thesis at the ETH, argues that "I did not plagiarize, but maybe not every word in this paper has been written by me."  Does that mean someone else wrote part of her thesis?  In my opinion, this would violate the statement of academic integrity she most probably signed.

But the most annoying argument is: "Anyway, it's not a big deal, it was only a postgraduate (German: 'Nachdiplom') master."  There is no factor of importance when it comes to plagiarism!  You simply are not allowed to use other people's work without permission and without giving credit.  Statements like this one support the misconception that sometimes plagiarism is acceptable.

Should Switzerland be more like the US?


In a Swiss newspaper article (NZZ), one of the prorectors of the University of Zurich (Ottfried Jarren) argues that Swiss universities should have more assistant professors.  These assistant professors should be with tenure track to be more attractive.  In particular, these jobs should attract Swiss researchers.  Ottfried Jarren is asked about Swiss and German professors and he answers that at universities, most of the research positions below professors are part-time jobs (50%), making such a job not very attractive to Swiss junior researchers, but very attractive for foreigeners and for German junior researchers in particular.

He is also asked how to fund these new assistant professors.  And then he answers that universities should be perhaps more like in the US, where five or six professors would "share" one secretary.  So his proposal is -- taken to an extreme -- let's fire secretaries and hire junior professors instead.

It's a bit odd reading statements from a German professor on how to help "our Swiss junior researchers".  But he got Swiss citizenship some years ago (it's stated at the very bottom of the article), so he can make such claims.  However, I know he comes from Germany and also his name is not very Swiss, so for me he still is "a German".

Of course, I would like to pursue my academic career, and yes, I would like to be a professor at a Swiss university.  So if available, I would like to apply for such a job as assistant professor.  However, I'm not quite sure if I'm the intended audience: I'm German, I studied in Germany, but I got academic training in Switzerland, startet my academic career in Switzerland, and got a PhD from the University of Zurich.  On the one hand I am the bad foreigner, on the other hand I am an alumna of the biggest Swiss university and I would expect some support from my Alma Mater.

Should Switzerland be more like the US?


In a Swiss newspaper article (NZZ), one of the prorectors of the University of Zurich (Ottfried Jarren) argues that Swiss universities should have more assistant professors.  These assistant professors should be with tenure track to be more attractive.  In particular, these jobs should attract Swiss researchers.  Ottfried Jarren is asked about Swiss and German professors and he answers that at universities, most of the research positions below professors are part-time jobs (50%), making such a job not very attractive to Swiss junior researchers, but very attractive for foreigeners and for German junior researchers in particular.

He is also asked how to fund these new assistant professors.  And then he answers that universities should be perhaps more like in the US, where five or six professors would "share" one secretary.  So his proposal is -- taken to an extreme -- let's fire secretaries and hire junior professors instead.

It's a bit odd reading statements from a German professor on how to help "our Swiss junior researchers".  But he got Swiss citizenship some years ago (it's stated at the very bottom of the article), so he can make such claims.  However, I know he comes from Germany and also his name is not very Swiss, so for me he still is "a German".

Of course, I would like to pursue my academic career, and yes, I would like to be a professor at a Swiss university.  So if available, I would like to apply for such a job as assistant professor.  However, I'm not quite sure if I'm the intended audience: I'm German, I studied in Germany, but I got academic training in Switzerland, startet my academic career in Switzerland, and got a PhD from the University of Zurich.  On the one hand I am the bad foreigner, on the other hand I am an alumna of the biggest Swiss university and I would expect some support from my Alma Mater.

The role of teaching in Higher Ed

European universities emphasize that teaching and research are equally important. 

However, you can observe that rankings are based on publication records and citation, i.e., on research.  When reading job postings for professors, requirements emphasize research.  Maybe it's mentioned that you have to teach in one of the fields of the institution.  In your CV, you emphasize research projects, acquired funding, publications, degrees, and service to the scientific community.  And then you have a list of taught courses at the end of your CV.  In your motivation letter, you write one to two pages about your achievements, leadership, and future research projects.  And the one sentence that you consider teaching an important aspect.

Evaluation of applications or grant proposals is mainly based on your publication record, acquired funding, research stays abroad, your academic age (i.e., how many years have gone by since you got your first or last degree). 

In the late 1990s, German students aiming to become a teacher had less courses on pedagogy and didactics the older the kids would be they would teach: becoming a teacher for elementary school required attending a lot more didactical courses than becoming a teacher for secondary school (Gymnasium).  And of course, no courses are required when teaching at university level.  You just know how to do it, don't you?

So, when you apply for professorship, you are judged by your research.  But substituting for a professor is about teaching exclusively, what you research is about and whether you ever published in a journal or not---no body cares about.  Sometimes, the person substituting for a professor gets paid per hour taught---not including hours spent preparing material, assessing assignments, and supervising students. See this Spiegel article (it's in German, try GoogleTranslate for a sketchy English version).  Teaching doesn't seem to be valued.

The weekly workload of German professors has been increased some years ago in some states---you have to work one hour more, like 41 hours instead of 40.  And this additional hour went completely into teaching.  So working 41 instead of 40 hours a week means teaching 9 hours instead of 8.  This additional hour of teaching is assumed to not require any preparation.  You just go and teach students.

Only recently, PhD programs started requiring attending courses on didactics and teaching.  However, dozens of years will go by before all professors will have a pedagogical education.

What's the situation like in the US?  Do you get (mandatory) pedagogical training before you start teaching?

The role of teaching in Higher Ed

European universities emphasize that teaching and research are equally important. 

However, you can observe that rankings are based on publication records and citation, i.e., on research.  When reading job postings for professors, requirements emphasize research.  Maybe it's mentioned that you have to teach in one of the fields of the institution.  In your CV, you emphasize research projects, acquired funding, publications, degrees, and service to the scientific community.  And then you have a list of taught courses at the end of your CV.  In your motivation letter, you write one to two pages about your achievements, leadership, and future research projects.  And the one sentence that you consider teaching an important aspect.

Evaluation of applications or grant proposals is mainly based on your publication record, acquired funding, research stays abroad, your academic age (i.e., how many years have gone by since you got your first or last degree). 

In the late 1990s, German students aiming to become a teacher had less courses on pedagogy and didactics the older the kids would be they would teach: becoming a teacher for elementary school required attending a lot more didactical courses than becoming a teacher for secondary school (Gymnasium).  And of course, no courses are required when teaching at university level.  You just know how to do it, don't you?

So, when you apply for professorship, you are judged by your research.  But substituting for a professor is about teaching exclusively, what you research is about and whether you ever published in a journal or not---no body cares about.  Sometimes, the person substituting for a professor gets paid per hour taught---not including hours spent preparing material, assessing assignments, and supervising students. See this Spiegel article (it's in German, try GoogleTranslate for a sketchy English version).  Teaching doesn't seem to be valued.

The weekly workload of German professors has been increased some years ago in some states---you have to work one hour more, like 41 hours instead of 40.  And this additional hour went completely into teaching.  So working 41 instead of 40 hours a week means teaching 9 hours instead of 8.  This additional hour of teaching is assumed to not require any preparation.  You just go and teach students.

Only recently, PhD programs started requiring attending courses on didactics and teaching.  However, dozens of years will go by before all professors will have a pedagogical education.

What's the situation like in the US?  Do you get (mandatory) pedagogical training before you start teaching?

Introduction

Hi, my name is Cerstin Mahlow.  I'm a computational linguist.



From the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg (Germany), I got a Magistra Artium (M.A.) in Computational Linguisitics, Spanish, and Political Sciences.  I studied in the final decade of the last century of the last millenium, i.e., in the pre Bologna system where you had very few regulations concerning which course to attend when.

Born in the North-East of Germany, I followed my way to the South (or to the Mediterranean) and moved to Zurich in 2001.  For some years I was a research assistant at the Department of Informatics of the University of Zurich (UZH).  Then I started a second career as e-learning consultant for the Faculty of Humanities and Arts at the UZH and later for the School of Social Work at the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland in Olten and Basel.

However, I developed an interest in writing research---I always loved writing.  I started a project on combining computational linguistics and writing research:  How can natural language processing (NLP) methods and tools help people write more effectively and more efficiently?  I finished my PhD dissertation at the Institute of Computational Linguistics of the UZH in 2011.

Since 2010 I work at the University of Basel in the German Department as senior researcher / PostDoc in an SNSF funded project on German idioms. It's a digital humanities project.

In Summer term 2013 and Winter term 2013/2014 I will substitute for a professor in Theoretical and Computational Linguistics at the University of Konstanz.  I will teach three courses (8 hours a week) and at the moment I haven't decided yet whether I'm excited or a bit scared teaching that much---I also teach a seminar in Spring term 2013 in Basel.

From my experiences with non-technical researchers and users in e-learning, in computational linguistics, and in digital humanities, I developed some ideas on what kind of abstract thinking or even programming skills should be learned by everybody.  And probably universities are the right place to teach basic skills of programming to all students to prepare them for all kinds of future tasks.  I think this will be "my topic" in this year's GPP.  More on first ideas in a following post.

You can read more about my scientific work and interests on my website.


Introduction

Hi, my name is Cerstin Mahlow.  I'm a computational linguist.



From the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg (Germany), I got a Magistra Artium (M.A.) in Computational Linguisitics, Spanish, and Political Sciences.  I studied in the final decade of the last century of the last millenium, i.e., in the pre Bologna system where you had very few regulations concerning which course to attend when.

Born in the North-East of Germany, I followed my way to the South (or to the Mediterranean) and moved to Zurich in 2001.  For some years I was a research assistant at the Department of Informatics of the University of Zurich (UZH).  Then I started a second career as e-learning consultant for the Faculty of Humanities and Arts at the UZH and later for the School of Social Work at the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland in Olten and Basel.

However, I developed an interest in writing research---I always loved writing.  I started a project on combining computational linguistics and writing research:  How can natural language processing (NLP) methods and tools help people write more effectively and more efficiently?  I finished my PhD dissertation at the Institute of Computational Linguistics of the UZH in 2011.

Since 2010 I work at the University of Basel in the German Department as senior researcher / PostDoc in an SNSF funded project on German idioms. It's a digital humanities project.

In Summer term 2013 and Winter term 2013/2014 I will substitute for a professor in Theoretical and Computational Linguistics at the University of Konstanz.  I will teach three courses (8 hours a week) and at the moment I haven't decided yet whether I'm excited or a bit scared teaching that much---I also teach a seminar in Spring term 2013 in Basel.

From my experiences with non-technical researchers and users in e-learning, in computational linguistics, and in digital humanities, I developed some ideas on what kind of abstract thinking or even programming skills should be learned by everybody.  And probably universities are the right place to teach basic skills of programming to all students to prepare them for all kinds of future tasks.  I think this will be "my topic" in this year's GPP.  More on first ideas in a following post.

You can read more about my scientific work and interests on my website.