Tobias Schneider

Prize in the Mechanical Engineering Section

Tobias Schneider began working at EPFL in 2014 and has been teaching the Bachelor-level course on fluid mechanics since last year. His class is already a hit among students – so much so that Professor Schneider has been awarded the mechanical engineering section’s prize for excellence in teaching. “For me, a good teacher is someone who knows their subject matter inside and out and is passionate about it,” he says. “It’s my job to make sure that the students learn about fluid mechanics but also have the tools and concepts they need to feel at ease with advanced mathematics – and appreciate just how useful it is!”

A self-professed theorist, Professor Schneider thinks it’s truly important to analyze scientific thinking down to the last detail in class. “An engineer needs to know how to find solutions, not just how to use a computer program. That’s a large part of my role as a teacher: I have to explain the scientific theory to my students and show them how to reason properly.”

And to get these complex notions across, Professor Schneider tries to ensure his classes are as interactive as possible. “When you’ve got 110 students in your classroom, it’s not easy to get them to speak up,” he says. “I tend to map out my reasoning on the board, so that they understand the process step by step. The students are used to PowerPoint presentations and slides, so it’s a welcome change for them. By showing them my reasoning in this way, it becomes less abstract and they feel more involved.” He adds: “Live demonstrations also make the teacher more vulnerable than if they’re just going from slide to slide. The students like that and ask a lot of questions.”

Professor Schneider also uses videos in his classes and makes time for discussions. “Teaching is about showing the students your research. I want them to feel that fluid mechanics is more than simply mastering complex tools – you can get a lot of enjoyment out of it too! Above all, I want them to understand that knowing how to solve a problem is more important than learning things by heart.”

Professor Schneider is really passionate about his teaching and gets a lot of satisfaction out of it day after day. “When you do research, you work for ages but only get positive feedback right at the end. With teaching, you get an immediate reaction from the students, and that’s what drives me.” Going forward, in addition to his lectures, he would like to integrate practical work and a computational component into his fluid mechanics course.