UCL News


Spotlight on Frank Witte

17 December 2015

This week the spotlight is on Dr Frank Witte, Departmental Tutor, UCL Economics.

Frank Witte

What is your role and what does it involve?

I am the Departmental Tutor in UCL Economics, where I also teach economics of the environment, economics of science and run the undergraduate dissertation module.

As Departmental Tutor, I work in close collaboration with academic as well as administrative staff to provide pastoral care to individual students as well as to identifying obstacles for students regarding their learning experiences on the one hand, but also opportunities for improvement of teaching and learning on the other.

This work involves meeting a great variety of students and staff members and developing an ability to see issues from several institutional as well as individual points of view.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

I started at UCL in July 2010, before that I was a senior lecturer in theoretical physics at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and Fellow for Mathematics & Physics at University College Utrecht, the first residential liberal Arts & Sciences college in the Netherlands.

Ever since my PhD in theoretical physics in Heidelberg, Germany, I have been distributing my time between my passion for teaching at all levels of university degrees, pastoral student care in tutor-like roles and doing a bit of research.

With respect to that last aspect, I have always been fascinated by systems that evolve according to patterns that are generated by those same systems.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

I am actually quite proud of making the step from theoretical physics to economics at a relatively late stage in my career. It has been a very rewarding experience that ushered in a whole new period of learning for me as an academic.

I am also very proud of having been part of the many developments in the teaching and learning in the UCL Economics undergraduate programme during the past five years.

Finally, I have to mention the unique experience of being part of the dedicated group of people that set up University College Utrecht between 1997 and 2010, which was a unique pioneering effort in 1998 that has changed the landscape of higher education in the Netherlands.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of you to-do list?

I am currently finishing teaching my 'UCL Star Wars Class', a 0-credit module that was hosted by UCL Economics this term and that attracted students from programmes as diverse as economics and mathematics undergraduate programmes and graduate programmes in Film Studies.

I am still in the process of making the notes of the 10 classes available online - a task that will last for a few more weeks, but it has been a wonderful experiment definitely worth repeating.

In fact, one or two additional meetings during the Second Term to absorb and process the implications of the events covered in the new film seem unavoidable. Discussing and studying human behaviour in the context of a universe that emerges from the mind of exactly those same humans is fascinating.

It is maybe less about studying how we behave and more about studying things that we believe about how we behave. But it is a context in which the sciences, social sciences and humanities come together in an inspiring way that raises so many wonderful questions for student and teacher.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

In terms of music, I enjoy listening to a wide variety of things, but special places in my heart are reserved for the soundtracks of the Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings movies as well as for much of Bach's and Haendel's works. But also for the oeuvre of the Canadian rock band Rush who were only recently inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

I thoroughly enjoy reading Umberto Eco's novels and my favorite films? Do I really still need to say that? Well, in addition to the Star Wars movies that have accompanied me throughout the past 38 years, a very recent movie I also enjoyed very much was The Lady in the Van with a beautiful performance by Maggie Smith and Bridge of Spies with my favourite actor Tom Hanks.

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

I am so terrible at recalling jokes that have brought me to tears with laughter. I like political comedy and I must say that the political comedy I regularly watch on German TV is just excellent. Shows like Die Anstalt and Die Heute Show are very good at generating this political humour about current affairs that hurts as much as it makes you laugh.

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

Well Neil Armstrong to start with, I know he would not be able to attend dinner anymore unfortunately, but we were dreaming right? He has been a constant hero for me since I was very young and watched the later Apollo flights in amazement. I would also like to have George Lucas at the table of course.

Dreaming a little further, I think that if I could also invite Angela Merkel and Mary Shelley. There are interests and backgrounds that I share with each of these people and I am not sure there would be enough dinner to cover all the interesting things we could discuss at the table.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don't worry too much and follow your curiosity while maintaining a good balance between what you are passionate about and what you turn out to be good at.

What would it surprise people to know about you?

Possibly that I am a terrible planner and a lousy gardener. People sometimes get the impression I am very balanced, in control and well-organised. But, in fact, I am everything other than that - I joyfully live in the moment while having the confidence that all those little pieces of momentary reality will somehow fit together.

I love everything that grows but I be a rather incompetent Hobbit. I 'contain' my garden, but you can't really call it gardening.

What is your favourite place?

There are many places that I enjoy visiting and that I have returned to quite regularly in my life. One definitely is the 'valley' of the little river 'Dinkel' in the Dutch-German border region of Lower Saxony/Twente.

It is a place where 'tales of old' still resonate with the landscape. I somehow return every decade to the Old City of Jerusalem and to the French medieval town of Carcassonne. They too are inspiring places to sit, think, reflect, write and interact with people.

Finally, I adore hiking among the glaciers and ice of the high French Alps near Chamonix. All very different from London and yet I love London as well.