03/04/2020 14:12:04

Kostya Novoselov: ‘Phystech’ is like a nationality for me

It is not just MIPT that is proud of this alum, but the whole of Russia. He is a 2010 Nobel laureate in physics, a knight bachelor, a fellow of the Royal Society of London, one of the most influential researchers according to Thomson Reuters, a professor at the University of Manchester.

He plays soccer with his students on Wednesdays and enjoys painting in his free time (one painting of his is in the collection of Chinese President Xi Jinping). What makes an ideal day for him is doing something that no one managed to do before.

We would love to share the core principles that Konstantin Novoselov, or rather Kostya Novoselov, as he has been introducing himself for many years, abides by.

My examination score was high enough to study at any of the MIPT departments: General and Applied Physics, Problems of Physics and Energetics, Physical and Quantum Electronics. As I was making up my mind, I was talking a lot to the students I knew. On the very last day, I decided to transfer my papers from the general physics to the electronics department. This was not an entirely conscious decision, but rather one that I made on the spur of the moment, but I never regretted choosing that department.

The student years are always the best. There’re the friends, the freedom, the new experiences! Life at MIPT was naturally fun. Whereas now one has to make an effort to get that.

“Phystech” is like a nationality for me. You know right away what language the person in front of you speaks.

Why would I want to watch a comedy show, when I can joke?

I am only indirectly familiar with the Russian education system. As for the Soviet versus the British higher education, they are surely quite different. The Soviet education is more structured, more guided. Perhaps there’s less freedom that way, but there’s more structure and content. The system of partner departments [that MIPT fosters off-campus at other research institutions and in tech companies] enables a student to start doing science early on and have a good back-and-forth with the research supervisor.

Naturally, the British universities do not have such networks of partner departments [where you can do research while studying]. Here, it is the business of each student to find a research supervisor — you’ve got to move forward on your own, if you can. Surely, this requires more effort, but at the same time, it encourages being independent, which is important for a researcher.

By the time I was in Chernogolovka, I’d been through several other partner departments. In the early ’90s, there were few research institutes [in Russia] that projected a sense of proactivity. But Chernogolovka still radiated some of that former optimism, proactivity, motivation. These are the same qualities that I seek in my students.

There are not many MIPT people at my lab, but they are all good. They’re smart, and motivated.

Teaching entails enormous efforts, yet the payoff is limited: If the students got the point, that is to their credit, and if they got mixed up, then their professor is to blame. I don’t do much teaching at the moment, because I hold a research fellowship from the Royal Society.