“At university, knowledge counts more than age” – “Im Gespräch” interviews Felix Petersen, who completed a Schülerstudium (studying while in school)
The Schülerstudium at the University of Konstanz has been running for ten years now. Around 20 to 30 young students who are still at school come to the university to test study areas they might be interested in. Felix Petersen, who attended his first lecture when he was a 9th grader, not only tested his subject but completed his entire degree. Before he had even acquired his higher education entrance qualification, the Abitur in the summer of 2018, the now 19-year-old student had completed all requirements and examinations of the bachelor's programme in Computer Science. Now Felix Petersen is on the fast track towards his doctorate. Despite his impressive achievements, Felix Petersen is very unpretentious and friendly when we meet shortly before he leaves for his half-year research stay at Tel Aviv University in Israel.
Felix arrives at the university via e-bike and moves around the campus with the ease and familiarity of several years: intuitively he chooses the shortest way between the buildings and greets fellow students and professors in the hallways. He shows us the office where he started as an undergraduate student assistant and is now working as an academic staff member. He has joined both the research teams of Professor Bela Gipp and of Professor Oliver Deussen.
Mr Petersen, why did you start your university studies in Konstanz when you were only 15?
Felix Petersen: After completing an internship at the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY I began studying in Konstanz while still at school. Instead of skipping a school grade I changed my school so I could attend lectures at the University of Konstanz. That was the right thing for me because I was very keen on science and wanted to research and learn more.
How did you experience the university and studying here compared to school?
Felix Petersen: Right at the beginning I realized that many of my fellow students are much more motivated than my classmates at school. The students are really interested in their subjects, and learning at university is much more independent. The lectures are much faster-paced than at school and you need to review the lecture content afterwards. This is how you can learn at your own pace.
The Schülerstudium made it possible for Felix Petersen to develop his interest in the natural sciences and his talent early on. He chose computer science because that discipline intersects with the other natural sciences such as biology or chemistry.
You look as if you'd never done anything other than study here at the University of Konstanz. Was it as normal for your environment, for your fellow students and the teaching staff?
Felix Petersen: When I became a tutor that was no problem at all, because, at university, knowledge counts more than age. The Student Council Computer Science gave me a very friendly welcome and through my work as an undergraduate student assistant I was able to gain direct insights into several research teams.
Parts of the Schülerstudium take place at the same time as school classes. What did your school say about that – did they support your university studies?
Felix Petersen: Many teachers regard the Schülerstudium very favourably, and only certain classes were affected. Overall, it was no problem for most of the teachers. Of course, some do not like it if you miss their classes. But we could always find a solution – you simply must not get discouraged!
Felix Petersen found his orientation and discovered his talent and area of study very early in life. At the Conference on Intelligent Computer Mathematics 2018 (CICM), he published his first paper entitled “Towards Formula Translation using Recursive Neural Networks”, based on research he performed for his bachelor's thesis.
Why would you recommend the Schülerstudium to others?
Felix Petersen: First of all, the Schülerstudium helps you find out what you are really interested in and what you would like to study later on. It's very easy to change your subject or get a taste of several subjects. Even if you do not complete a regular study programme, the Schülerstudium can give you valuable orientation. And if you want to complete your entire degree, you can do so. With one minor condition: you can only register your bachelor's thesis once you have passed your Abitur.
The 19-year-old and his determined career path may be an exception among Schülerstudium students. However, it proves that the programme is a learning concept that leaves lots of room for individual wishes and requirements. Felix Petersen definitely knows where his future career lies: in science – a dream he has already begun to fulfil for himself.