Carmen Sandi, orchestra conductor, a good mood and the human brain

© Christian Brun/ 2018 EPFL

© Christian Brun/ 2018 EPFL

Prof talk (2 of 5) Every day between now and EPFL's Education Day, a Polysphère award winner takes us back to their school days and describes how they view education. Today we spoke with Carmen Sandi, a professor at EPFL’s School of Life Sciences.

EPFL’s student association AGEPoly gave out its annual Polysphère excellence in teaching awards last fall. These awards, voted on by students, recognize EPFL’s standout faculty members. We interviewed award-winner Carmen Sandi, who heads up the Laboratory of Behavioral Genetics.

Do you remember a school memory ?

Yes, many. Several of those memories relate to the excitement I experienced when teachers asked challenging questions in which it was necessary to elaborate an answer, not just to repeat something learnt by heart.

What did you have in your backpack?

Every morning my schoolbag included a delicious, homemade, sandwich – that made me quite popular with my school mates (who were keen to try it).

Who would you like to sit next to in class?

Someone avid to learn, to discover, to share… but only if generally in good mood!

Which teacher inspired you?

One that I had when I was 9-10 years-old. As a prize for excellent school performance, she offered spending time in the music room and play any instrument there.

And which one made you sweat?

I do not recall anyone in particular.

When you're standing in front of your students, do you feel like an actor, a gladiator, or a tamer?

Every year, groups in the class behave very different. I feel I have to adapt to these differences in behavior across different cohorts of students. However, I do not like any of those roles (actor, gladiator, tamer). I prefer to see myself as orchestra conductor in the class.

Do you prefer to teach or be taught?

I like both; difficult to choose. But if I have to choose, I probably prefer to take lessons, always happy to learn from someone else.

A good point?

Being able to pursue my vocation for neuroscience and study how the brain produces behavior, as a natural path in life.

Any clouds on the horizon?

It is not precisely a cloud, but the somehow slow pace of discovery in research, though natural as research takes time, it is sometimes a challenge for my rather impatient personality.

How would you define education?

A lifelong process whereby knowledge and skills are shared with the goal of improving individuals’ capacities.