We got up early this morning, had breakfast at the hotel and took the train to Basel- about an hour away. From the train station we met Lucinda and Erik, from University of Basel, who directed us onto the right bus and to the hotel. We briefly dropped our bags and headed to University of Basel. We first met with a professor and 3 graduate students from the languages department. It was reinforced here that many European universities are in a transition state between an old PhD process and a new PhD process. The old one being that there was no stated curriculum and your PhD advisor determined when you had done enough to earn a PhD. The new process is more of what we see in the US, where there is a certain set of things that all grad students must do to earn their degree.
We headed into downtown Basel to a plaza where they were serving food. We each found lunch and sat down by the Rhine River to enjoy lunch. I had a sausage with a piece of bread and some really spicy mustard. I asked Erik about obesity on our walk, since one of my interests is in obesity research. He said that although obesity is not the same epidemic it is in the US, they are seeing an increase in childhood obesity rates in Switzerland. We speculated that this could be possibly due to the increased access to technology among children that promotes more sedentary behavior.
After lunch we visited the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research. Most of this institute is funded by Novaritis, but the researchers are given research independence apart from Novaritis’ research objectives. We heard 3 talks. The first researcher did an incredible job of explaining epigenetics to a room full of diverse academic backgrounds. He used visual aids to illustrate his points and everyone I talked to after the presentation was very impressed with his talk. He was a naturally gifted teacher. The second presentation was on neuroscience. He shared about mapping neurons in the brain and understanding the pathways when responding to different stimuli using Neuro-optics. Although I was unfamiliar with the technology, the science of mapping neural networks was very cool. The last presentation was very brief due to time constraints. He shared about using x-ray crystallography to look at protein structures. We did find out that there was about a 50/50 mix of PhDs and grad students in the labs and that they came from all over the world. Also with regards to these professors and others we have talked with, many have done their PhD or post-doc in the US.
We headed back to University of Basel and met with the rector or president of the University, Rector Loprieno. He was a delight to meet with and we were all able to ask questions. I asked him about teaching and he said that there has been a shift in the last 20-25 years. In the early 1990s, there was a big emphasis on research, which shifted in the early 2000s due to the Bologna process and then recently in the last couple of years there has been a shift back to focusing on research as ratings have become more important. University of Basel also has a tenure system and if you have great research and so-so teaching, you will get tenure. If you have OK research and excellent teaching, you will get tenure, but the research still has to be pretty good. Teaching can only be a part.
We headed back to the hotel briefly and then out to dinner at Restaurant zur Harmonie with some of the Basel students. There is a group of about 10 Basel students that are also doing the GPP. We will work together in Riva and then they will come to the US and visit MIT, Boston U, VT, New River Community College and UVA. It was fun to spend the evening with them getting to know their stories.