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Professor Sören Petrat: the maths teacher

When Professor Sören Petrat came to Jacobs University in fall 2017 to take up a post of Assistant Professor of Mathematics, one of his immediate objectives was to be a good teacher. (Source: Jacobs University)


August 08, 2019

Three of Professor Sören Petrat’s students have recently been granted spots in prestigious summer schools at renowned US universities: Carnegie Mellon University, Cornell University, and a Utah branch of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Professor Petrat himself did postgraduate work at Princeton University. When he came from there to Jacobs University in fall 2017 to take up a post of Assistant Professor of Mathematics, one of his immediate objectives was to be a good teacher. 

“It all worked out pretty well,” laughs the 34-year-old. What makes a good teacher, in his eyes? Thorough preparation for courses, for one. First and foremost, however, it means being open and responsive to the concerns of students. Then there’s being willing to learn from them in turn, through the questions that they ask. And opening up opportunities for his students, like the chance to take part in the summer schools. “Jacobs University has made it easy for me,” he says. “The classes are small and lecturers are in close contact with students, which I believe is something quite special.” 

Teaching is important, but Petrat sees research as no less vital. He is particularly interested in mathematical physics, especially quantum mechanics, a fundamental physics theory that deals with the microscopic world of elementary particles – atoms and molecules. He is looking at the issue of how these microparticles interact with the larger world around them. “The general aim of my research is to understand how effectively the macroscopic dynamics emerge from the microscopic laws of quantum theory,” he says. This is hugely pertinent to modern experiments. 

Although Petrat’s research is based on experiments, it is purely theoretical. “I see exchange and discussion as fundamentally important,” he says. This takes place at conferences in Germany and abroad, or via Skype with various colleagues. However, he also discusses mathematical concepts with students. 

“The students here are of an extremely high caliber,” he declares. This is due to the great reputation of the Mathematics department, which in turn owes its success to the commitment of its many teaching staff. Mathematics graduates from Jacobs University have themselves gone on to teach at many of the world’s leading universities. Others have gone into business, again supported by the degree program, which covers applied mathematics topics. “The mathematics degree course at Jacobs University gives you lots of opportunities for securing very good jobs,” says Petrat, “and not only in academia.” 

This text is part of the series "Faces of Jacobs", in which Jacobs University introduces students, alumni, professors, and staff. Further episodes can be found at 

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