The New Rector of the University of Tartu is a Man of Action

Colleagues say that Toomas Asser, who was elected rector on 26 April, is a true Estonian in the best sense of the word: he says a lot in few words and does even more.

After the election results were announced, when 187 ballots out of the 212 in the ballot box were cast in favour of Asser in the second round of voting, the elected rector thanked the electoral council members for trusting him.

“I extend my thanks to those who voted for me and for those who voted for Margit. I am grateful to Margit for this long and complicated but extremely instructive period that we experienced together in the course of the election debates”, he said.

Toomas Asser. Photo: Andres Tennus

Asser admitted he did not expect such a result but said it gave him courage to think that his desire to cooperate would definitely come true. He expressed hope that by working together with all university members we could make the University of Tartu a better place.

In talking to Asser’s closest colleagues before the elections, it became clear that he is a really cooperative and reliable person. He does not speak much, but his words are always as valuable as his deeds.

Since the time Asser first came to the university as a student, he has been interested in neurology, says Eero Vasar, director of the Institute of Biomedicine and Translational Medicine, who was admitted to the Faculty of Medicine at the same time as Toomas Asser in 1973. Asser’s good friend Aadu Liivat shared his interest in neurology.

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5 Hacks for Making the Most out of a UT Mentoring Programme

In the end of 2017 University of Tartu started a pilot mentoring programme for bringing together talented alumni and students to make the most out of each others’ skills and knowledge base – students could have a sneak peek into the professional „grown-up“ world, whereas the alumni could potentially find a future employee or gain some fresh „out of the box“ ideas that have arisen from young and fruitful minds.

We had close to 200 candidates who were paired up to start a fulfilling journey of self-development and networking. To our great surprise, there were almost the same number of mentor candidates as there was for mentees. This once again proves that mentoring is not beneficial just for the students but also for the alumni who have ten, twenty or in some cases even 40 years of expertise in a certain field. They are hungry for young blood!

Since we are planning to start another programme in autumn – more polished and thought-out, because we as well, constantly learn and improve our product – I have put together 5 most important hacks that anyone who wishes to apply should think about beforehand.

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Do it for Tartu – what we can offer the City of Good Thoughts (Heade mõtete linn)

“We tried to engage and invite them to an event. We made an effort. But it didn’t seem to work out”.

Over a week ago, I had a conversation with my classmate when we saw each other at “Escape Room to the Future”, Tartu’s Vision Day on bidding for the European Capital of Culture in 2024. It was a bittersweet conversation, because I knew we had much more to offer to this Estonian student town.

On 9 May I attended a day of brainstorming on how to make Tartu the European Capital of Culture in 2024.

I have a personal feeling on whether people should learn a local language as an expat, because I come from Hong Kong, a cosmopolitan city where expats don’t bother much about learning Cantonese, the mother tongue of most Hongkongers. People can survive in Hong Kong effortlessly if they have a decent command of English. English is one of Hong Kong’s official languages, and foreigners can communicate with Hongkongers without speaking a single word in Cantonese, because they tend to speak English to accommodate foreigners.

But how about Tartu?

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How Lasting is Human Memory? Four Suggestions to Improve It!

A memory could stay with a person for the lifetime, but its content might change. One should not worry about forgetting the most beautiful moments of his/her life. The most vivid memories stay in memory for decades and there are many strategies to keep them fresh.

“People usually remember the most important events, such as graduation, wedding day or birth of a child, for their whole life. Of course, somewhere around being 60-70 years old, the episodic memory will slowly start deteriorating,” said Dheeraj Roy, a brain scientist at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. His speciality involves studying memory loss. Usually, it’s not the critical connections between various memories that are being forgotten, but their content. On the other hand, one should not be surprised as some less important memories can be forgotten in just a couple of years.

A memory could stay with a person for the lifetime, but its content might change. Author/source: boyarrin/Creative Commons.

Recall Often and in Detail!

So why do some memories stay with us longer? “One of the main factors is repetition — if we want to remember something, it’s a good idea to think about it later,” said Jaan Aru, an Estonian brain scientist, and researcher at the University of Tartu. Memories deemed worthy of remembering should be recalled scrupulously and often.

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Practical Field Research in Conflict Areas: Cyprus

Nicosia, the capital city of Cyprus, is an extremely pleasant and popular tourist destination. Walking along its many clean and vibrant streets, surrounded by passerby going about their daily lives in what must be one of the most sun-kissed cities in the world, imparts a wonderful sense of warmth and tranquillity. It is only when travelling down Ledra street, nearer to the heart of the city, that one would find the crowds of people thinning and the sounds of the daily hustle-and-bustle fading.

Nicosia is known as the “world’s last divided capital,” and near its centre border-crossing checkpoints stand. Once hopeful signifiers, gateways through a previously nigh-impenetrable gap between the two communities, their continued presence has become a monument to the separation between both Cypriot communities, a constant reminder of the uncertainty and tension that lingers in Cyprus today.

The Ledra Palace border-crossing checkpoint leading into Northern Cyprus. The slightly obfuscated sign on the left reads “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus Forever.” Photo Credit: Katie Clark.

On April 8th, 2018, eight students and I flew into Larnaca airport to meet the tenth student, who had flown into Cyprus through Ercan International Airport, and begin a one-week research trip in Cyprus, an integral part of our “Practical Field Research in Conflict Areas” course. Our semester up until that point had focused on the conflict between the two communities on the island, its further complication by external actors attempting to impose or negotiate solutions, and contemporary peace-building on the island. Equipped with that knowledge, guided by Professor Eiki Berg and PhD Fellow Maili Vilson, and hosted by Near East University, we prepared ourselves for an intensely educational week and experience.

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Honest advice from current international students

Last autumn the University of Tartu took part in an international student survey International Student Barometer (ISB). As a part of the survey, our international degree and exchange students could give advice to new students. Here’s what they said.

… don’t be scared to make this decision

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PsychoBus: Untangling the misconceptions about psychology

About five years ago, a few psychology students discussed the fact that there are many misconceptions in the general public about what psychology is. The solution to the problem seemed clear – we need something to untangle these misconceptions by introducing science-based psychology. And so PsychoBus was formed. Since 2014 we have performed hundreds of times in all corners of Estonia, as well as in Germany and the Netherlands.

What exactly is psychology?

Every time we perform with a science show or do a workshop, we always ask people, “What is psychology?” or “What does a psychologist do?” Most often the answer is either “counselling” or “helping”. Indeed, counselling and helping people through psychotherapy is an important part of psychology. But that is not all psychology is. PsychoBus aims to show people the importance of psychology as a science.

In any science, the main questions are “Why?” and “How?” In psychology, scientists look for answers to the questions of why and how our brains work the way they do. Our job is to demonstrate the findings of scientists and do it in a fun and interactive way. Demonstrating how our memory works by planting false memories in our audience’s heads or explaining how our senses cooperate by playing songs with funny misheard lyrics are just a few examples.

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