Geometric Deep Learning lecturer Erik Bekkers Lecturer of the Year


Dr Erik Bekkers teaches Geometric Deep Learning in the Machine Learning Lab. According to students, he is a talented lecturer who knows an awful lot about his field. No surprise that he has been elected Lecturer of the Year 2022 at the Science Faculty: 'By explaining something to a group of students I also gain new insights'.

Erik joined the University of Amsterdam three years ago and is therefore a relative newcomer. His knowledge combined with his almost inexhaustible enthusiasm make him a popular lecturer. ‘It's all still new to me, but the same applies to my students. That is a great combination.’

During the corona pandemic, Erik was editing YouTube videos night after night. ‘As an assistant professor you have to do many different things. But when we had to make the switch to digital teaching and started recording lectures, video production came along too,' he says, laughing. Despite the many hours of extra work he put in, you can't hear him complain. It is his second year as a teacher and he is full of motivation and energy.

Erik ended up in the Deep Learning field via a detour. ‘After doing a PhD in Biomedical Engineering at the Technical University in Eindhoven, I did a postdoc at the same university but now in Applied Differential Geometry and then took the route to Machine Learning.’ This specialisation is also the reason why he wanted to work at the UvA. ‘The UvA is really leading the way in this field. The Amsterdam Machine Learning Lab, which I am now part of, has already contributed a lot to the development of Deep Learning.’

Since his own student days, Erik has seen his field of study change enormously. ‘Actually, Artificial Intelligence did not yet exist as a field of study as it is now. And what there was, was very theoretical. It is only recently that deep learning has been used to solve concrete problems. Meanwhile, the field is constantly evolving. New things are constantly being discovered and developed. You really have the feeling that you are at the forefront of science.’

‘On the one hand, that is fun and exciting, but it also means a lot of extra work for teachers. The deep learning subjects are very much about the state of the art. That means you have to redesign your lectures every year.’

Initially, becoming a lecturer was not one of Erik's ambitions. ‘I saw teaching as something that was mainly at the expense of my research time'. He has changed his mind and considers the combination of teaching and research to be ideal. The fact that I teach also makes me a better researcher. By explaining something to a group of students, I often gain new insights. Teaching also forces you to understand the subject matter at a deeper level. Only then can you explain it properly.’

Although physical education is now possible again, Erik has not stopped developing online lectures. ‘I very much believe in a hybrid form of physical and online education. That is why I still record videos for the course Deep Learning II. I expect students to watch those videos before the physical lecture. That way, during the actual lecture, we can already step in on a different level and have an interesting discussion right away.’

About Lecturer of the Year

Good lecturers are at the heart of good education. Lecturers enthuse and inspire students. To put the lecturer in the spotlight, the students of the Central Student Council and ASVA Student Union organise the annual UvA Lecturer of the Year award.

About Erik Bekkers