2018 - Bernd Kuhn
Prof Bernd Kuhn's Teaching Philosophy
B. Kuhn, January 2019
In primary and secondary school, we have to learn about a wide range of topics to give us a broad overview of human achievements and knowledge. Then, as undergraduates, we specialize in a subject, but still we have to scale the accomplishments of many giants. There is much to learn, but it is relatively easy because we can simply follow other people’s thoughts by listening or reading. At graduate school, however, we confront, for the first time, the limits of current human knowledge. There are no longer prescribed paths, and in fact, there are endless options for new paths. As it turns out, building a new path requires knowledge, hard work, and unquestionably, the capacity to suffer and to recover from disappointment and failure. Therefore, graduate studies require drive. This driving force is curiosity, the curiosity to go where nobody else has gone before, the curiosity to see what nobody else has ever seen before. Additionally, there must be excitement to discover new things and to understand things that have not been understood before.
A graduate course should therefore not only convey knowledge and teach problem-solving skills but should also stimulate curiosity and excitement. It is a little bit like going back to early childhood – we explore, touch, play, make mistakes (hopefully, not too many), guess, wonder, etc. We build a microscope from a few lenses, go on an excursion to watch coral fluorescence during low tide at night, dissect a two-photon microscope, and do many other small experiments. We also try to find connections between our islands of knowledge. For example, did you know that the brain is white for the same reason that clouds are white? We challenge knowledge of even mundane matters. For example, did you know that the sun is white?
At OIST we have the luxury of small classes and highly motivated, interdisciplinary students. Therefore, discussions can be easily triggered, and asking questions is encouraged. Automatically, everyone gets involved, and excitement and curiosity for further exploration and self-study are awakened! Get ready to explore!