Teaching is an art, and not all teachers are blessed with that skill. It is one thing to deliver lectures to a classroom, and quite another to connect with the students in that classroom. Katerina Argyraki, Tenure Track Assistant Professor at EPFL’s School of Computer and Communication Sciences, clearly belongs to the rarer category of teachers who believe in understanding students’ aptitudes and tailoring lessons accordingly. It is, therefore, not at all surprising that she was recently chosen as ‘best teacher.’
Professor Argyraki received her PhD and MS in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University and joined EPFL in 2007. Since then, she has presented numerous research papers in conferences and workshops. In her six years of teaching, she has helped many present and past PhD students in the core area of neutrality and transparency of computer networks. But what sets her apart is her deep understanding of how her course is being received by students. She derives instant gratification when students give a positive feedback, and that comes from her innate ability to spark spontaneous interest in complex concepts. In her own words, the secret to her rapport with students is to encourage out-of the-box thinking instead of focusing on theoretical knowledge.
Professor Argyraki has no hesitation in acknowledging the role of her mother—a philologist and high-school teacher—in shaping her outlook toward the teaching profession. She has imbibed her mother’s traits of maintaining visual contact with students and adding value to the time they invest in class. She interacts with students at a pace that doesn’t make lessons stressful, and conducts recap sessions to ensure that students retain past lessons. Her prime goal is to inculcate creativity and independence in her students.
Teaching skills need to be reinvented almost constantly, and the best way to achieve that is to interact with fellow teachers. In that aspect, Professor Argyraki is fortunate to have her husband George Candea as a teacher in the same school. They not only discuss their profession regularly, but also share a Master’s class on the principles of computer systems.
If one were to search for the underpinnings of her success as a teacher, it would be her desire to explore the internal workings of the Internet. That has helped Professor Argyraki strike the right notes at the right pace in her teaching career.