Humans of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science

Moritz Fieback


I wanted to finish my PhD before this year’s summer break. That led to a bit of pressure as there were some administrative deadlines to meet and then I got COVID as well. I still managed, though. But to be fair, it wouldn’t have made a major difference in my life had I defended my thesis two months later. I think it is important to keep that in mind when faced with a stressful situation.

Now, as a researcher, I do more supervision and management tasks, but I don’t find these stressful. I like the discussions with students on how to approach their research. In our group, our feedback sessions tend to be like a brainstorm, floating all kinds of ideas. For the students not to get overwhelmed, I make it a point to give them structured feedback on what to do and what not. Besides, I am very grateful that they do some of the tedious work, such as spending several days debugging simulation software. That is something I don’t miss.

I also very much like to do research myself, as it gives me full control and complete freedom. The main difficulty is that, in science, a certain amount of time spent doesn’t always translate into a certain amount of output. You have good days and bad days. It somewhat depends on the circumstances, such as good night’s sleep and having few interruptions. Then again, I can also be in a flow after a terrible night, barely noticing that it is 6:30PM and still going strong.

If I notice I’m having a bad day, I take a short walk on campus, or go for a coffee. I don’t mind the bad days, they’re part of the deal of being a scientist, but they shouldn’t add up. If it starts impacting me, I talk to my supervisor or my girlfriend, or I go for a run. That helps clear my head and get new ideas. During COVID, when working from home, I also went running during the day, shifting my work hours. But now, back at university, I don’t feel that to be really appropriate.

We have a university hierarchy, of course. So, some parts of my agenda I do not control myself. But other than that, I manage my own workload. For some people, it is a lifestyle to be reachable 24/7, but that’s not for me. After the first year of my PhD, I decided to turn off the emails on my phone. I now only read them when at work, so it may have to wait till Monday or till after my vacation. If it is something super critical, they can always call me or WhatsApp, right?

You see it in society in general, this trend towards always being reachable and responsive, but it is definitely worse here in the department. I think that people should focus a bit more on separating work and life. To me, vacation is not working!