Michael Herzog

Prize in the Life Sciences and Technologies section

Professor Michael Herzog believes that the instructor’s task is to help students identify what’s crucial in the ocean of information out there. Herzog, who teaches a statistics course in the Master’s program, does not want his course to simply pass along knowledge the same way medieval monks used to copy texts. “Students mustn’t just accumulate information in order to pass an exam, they have to understand why that knowledge is important,” said Herzog.

This is fundamental in the field of life sciences, where knowledge is changing so fast that it often becomes obsolete after a few years. “It is important to teach core ideas rather than getting lost in the details. That’s why I don’t use a book, which really surprises my class: I prefer to give them materials I’ve developed myself, so I can adapt them specifically to EPFL students.”

Herzog is passionate about teaching. He not only rewrote the course materials, but he overhauled the entire statistics program. “I like interacting with the students and presenting known ideas in a new way, and I worked with a colleague to produce a course that does just that.” He sees utility in MOOCs, but he would only use them to supplement his classroom teaching. “Online courses are a resource, like a book. I need to maintain contact with my students.”

His philosophy is evident in his Understanding Statistics course, which quickly became popular among students from several EPFL schools, including bioengineering, chemistry and civil engineering. The popularity of the course and the excellent year-end feedback from students show that this course meets a real need at EPFL. It helped Herzog win the teaching prize in the Life Sciences and Technologies section. Herzog has also developed two other courses, Neuroscience III (Master’s level) and Neuroscience and Neurophilosophy (PhD level).