RSU Lecturer of the Year 2019 – Zane Vitenberga-Verza
This year the Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU) award Lecturer of the Year went to Zane Vitenberga-Verza, a graduate of the RSU Faculty of Medicine and a lecturer at the Department of Morphology. She not only competently explains complicated study topics and is adept in the e-studies environment, but also assists students in finding solutions to any problem.
Photo by: Rojs Maizītis
Zane Vitenberga-Verza started working at RSU as the Student Affairs Specialist at the Department of Surgery in 2014. Since 2015 she has been lecturing and carrying out methodological work at the Institute of Anatomy and Anthropology (the Anatomical Theatre). This semester she conducted lectures and practical classes for medical, dentistry and rehabilitation students in Histology and Histology and Functional Embryology, as well as a leading a practical class for medical students in Embryology.
Zane is currently a medical PhD student at RSU and is working on her thesis about the morphological changes in the bronchi that are caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This work involves studying pathogenesis and the local changes of this disease. ‘Although I am not working as a physician, I consider my current academic research path a very high point of self-realisation in medicine. If you have any doubts or questions, then you can realise yourself in science,’ Zane says in her interview.
She has always been interested in natural sciences. She enjoys and excelled at biology, chemistry and other subjects in school. After graduating from the RSU Faculty of Medicine, she considered a career abroad, but decided to stay in Latvia.
Do you regret staying in Latvia to work and study?
No, I don't. My personal experience with my doctoral studies, at international conferences and with publicly available information shows that what RSU offers can compete with study programmes in Europe and elsewhere in the world.
Why did you decide to study medicine?
There are no physicians in my family, but I liked this profession and was very interested in it as a child. It seemed so special! In secondary school I was more interested in studying chemistry or pharmacy, but eventually I chose medicine, because it has more life and wonderment to it.
Were your medical studies difficult?
They are hard if you lack interest. I was very interested in and excited about the studies. I like the feeling that I have done everything as best I could. The time I spent on my studies was valuable. I was doing everything with satisfaction.
Who are your mentors?
Professor Māra Pilmane, of course, who introduced me to academic and research work. Her encouragement, demands and support were, and are, very important to me. Openness, the ability to listen and to understand are the humane qualities that are invaluable in working with students, as well as the ability to act uncharacteristically in some situations – to know whether to wait or to act immediately. I admire the Professor's ability to feel a person's nature intuitively. It is unique to be able to approach students and colleagues in such a diplomatic, individual and intelligent way.
From the left: lecturer Zane Vitenberga-Verza and Professor Māra Pilmane. RSU Research Week, International Research Conference Knowledge for Use in Practice on Medical and Healthcare Sciences on 2 April 2019.
Everyone who has tutored and taught me in one way or another are my mentors. This includes my primary and secondary school teachers, university lecturers and colleagues and, of course, my family and the people closest to me, as well as my students.
One can't learn everything in one day. Everything consists of small details. Every person that I have met has left a mark on me. One has to be very open to see a teacher in every person that you meet. The greatest minds have always emphasised that they learn from everyone. Many leaders and teachers have said that they also learn from their subordinates, followers, and students.
What does the RSU award Lecturer of the Year mean to you?
When I started working with students as a Student Affairs Specialist, my work was related to supervising study materials. Back then I never thought that I could be a lecturer myself.
When I started to teach four years ago, students said that they liked my approach. Initially I thought that they most likely just enjoyed how I communicated, because I was a young lecturer, but students kept mentioning that they enjoyed my manner of speaking and explaining. Teaching work has pulled me in. Although it was a coincidence, it now feels like lecturing is my fate.
Being only at the very beginning of my path, receiving an award like this feels grand and touching at the same time. I'm still learning and improving, and I therefore perceive this award as a call and a stimulus to pursue an academic career.
The President of RSU Student Union Māris Lapšovs and lecturer Zane Vitenberga-Verza after receiving the RSU Award of the Year 2019 at the Riga Latvian Society House on 6 April.
Does a lecturer have to know everything? Are you not afraid that you won't know the answer to a student's question?
The students have very different questions. If the question is about something that I've read or researched then I answer them confidently. If I don't know something (and, often, it's because the question is not about my field of research or work), I honestly admit that I don't know the answer. If I have read something about the particular topic, I can talk about what I know, but I don't hide the fact that there is something that I don't know. I often search for answers to a student's question together with them.
A lecturer is always improving. The more I find out, the more questions I have.
Please, describe a typical RSU student!
Our applicants are the best. They are students who have already proved themselves in an area. RSU students are very motivated, interested in their studies, capable, determined and passionate, and this creates an excellent environment at the university, and a powerful place for a lecturer to improve themselves.
What do you expect from a student during in your course?
I expect students to be present in classes and lectures and to make good use of their time, not only to print out the lecture presentation, but to follow the lecturer's story, and to write down their conclusions and ideas. Active participation in the study process and forming their own opinion helps to learn.
Are students today different from when you were a student?
The era and the technical devices are different, but not the people. This is a digital generation. During my first years at the university, me and my peers wrote everything down in notebooks and copied the notes. Paper was the primary learning tool for us, whereas now different smart devices are available. But neither is worse than the other. Everyone has their own way of studying. What matters is that a student acquires the knowledge, skills and competencies that the lecturer expects from them, and that are required for the course. A modern student should be smart and intelligent and be able to use a wide range of information skillfully. One must not get confused with all the available information.
What is your attitude towards cheating?
I don’t think that students cheat in my classes, because I'm very strict about it. Before every colloquium or exam I remind the students not only about RSU's position on an honest academic environment, but I also explain what this entails.
I have never cheated myself, because I would only fool and cheat myself in this way. Is it worth cheating just to get a better grade? It's better for one’s personal growth to honestly admit that you don't know something or to make mistakes and correct them afterwards.
Lecturer Zane Vitenberga-Verza conducting a class at the RSU Anatomical Theatre.
What is the most difficult thing about a lecturer's work?
The most challenging thing is giving energy and regenerating it. It's tough to be active and open when teaching students all day – to read lectures and conduct classes in an attractive and exciting way so that the students and I are satisfied with the result. Changing your intonation and finding the time to cover the class plan is difficult both physically and emotionally.
Students are demanding, and it's essential for me to feel that I have explained everything in a clear and fascinating manner. I try to explain specific topics in different ways, because some students understand the visual material better, whereas others need practical theoretical examples.
I prepare for each class thoroughly, and I regularly reread theory books so that I can be sure that I have read eight books when the students have only read seven. This will ensure that our discussion is of a good quality. Some students challenge teachers with tricky questions. This frightened me a bit in the beginning, so I've spent a lot of time learning the theoretical and practical materials for my courses thoroughly. I have, in fact, only recently developed confidence in standing in front of very demanding students.
What should a knowledgeable lecturer be like?
Being knowledgeable requires professionalism and professional skills, as well as a desire to learn and an ability to find answers to students' questions. This is one of the reasons why a lecturer should continually educate themselves. They should always stay engaged by reading and improving themselves to be able to integrate everything into the study process. Only a lecturer who is not afraid of new discoveries in science can stay up-to-date with the study process and be competent in their area of expertise. Personal qualities, characteristics and attitude are what make a lecturer available and open. A lecturer should be able to motivate and inspire.
Please, finish these sentences.
Rīga Stradiņš University is my home. I'm happy at home.
Education for individuals, individuals for education. At first, a person is given knowledge and taught skills, but later they give them back to society, their country and the whole world. The direction and quality of education is determined by the people at a university.
In order to live well, you have to be grateful for the opportunities life has given you, you have to be grateful for accepting them, about the people around you and about the environment you live in as well as about the relative peace and your health. It is good when all these things fall into place.
I am motivated to do and move forward in my role as a teacher. Teaching is one of the highest missions. Standing in front of an audience of 200 students, and knowing that almost all of them are going to be physicians is an immeasurable honour and a great responsibility.
I would like that all those who have left would return to Latvia and keep working as hard as they did abroad – then we all would be much happier in our country. And I wish that everyone would genuinely care about this country!