Meet the researchers: Aniko Kahlert

Aniko Kahlert joined NCCR Digital Fabrication in 2019 as a PhD student studying the Socio-Economic impacts of digital fabrication techniques.

What is your role in NCCR Digital Fabrication?

I am a PhD researcher in the Stream “Fostering Implementation: Sustainability, Performance and Applicability”. I am involved in a project looking at how the use of digital fabrication techniques will change our workplaces and the day to day functioning of our jobs.

What is your background? What did you study at school?

I first studied psychology at the University of Luxembourg, followed by a Master degree in Psychology from the University of Zurich. I spent one year of my BSc. studies at the University of Valencia. I established the exchange between the University of Luxembourg and the University of Valencia which continues until today.


It seems like quite a leap to go from psychology to digital fabrication, how did that happen?

It is not that I actually went from psychology to digital fabrication, it is more that I am looking at people who do work in digital fabrication. Psychology in general is the science of the human mind and behaviour in relation to a particular field of knowledge or activity, in my case this particular field is the work and organisational context more precisely, the NCCR Digital Fabrication. Studying an evolving interdisciplinary field, like digital fabrication is very fascinating, because the successful implementation of these new technologies has the potential to be really disruptive for the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) sector. Bringing the perspective of a work and organisational psychologist into this field, I hope that factors that foster or hinder the future implementation can be identified and dealt with, so that in the end, the result are groundbreaking technologies designed in a way that the human is addressed and benefits from the design as well, e.g that the content and the organisation of the worker’s tasks and activities are successfully taken into account to contribute to positive outcomes, like motivation, performance or satisfaction.

What does a normal work day look like for you?

Quite the same as it looked when I was working in the office, but with less informal conversation. I miss the spontaneous catch-ups with my office mate and the other colleagues in the kitchen, despite having team coffee breaks and informal (slack) channels. I start working between 8 and 9am, have lunch between 1 and 2pm and finish between 6 and 7pm. I try to remind myself to drink enough during the day. Instead of having a carafe on my desk, I just a have glass and therefore I force myself to get up for a refill to avoid sitting at my desk for hours without moving.

Before lockdown began on Monday mornings I would begin with teaching duties where I support students with their semester projects, then I would head up to the Hönggerberg Campus for a weekly meeting for one of our research projects that is a part of my study. Tuesday is the department day for Workplace and Organizational Psychology when department meetings, journal clubs or colloquia take place, allowing me to interact with colleagues who study other aspects of the workplace, not just digital fabrication. Thursday is my presence day at the NCCR Digital Fabrication, to join the Management Meeting and have interviews and or observations. If working at my office in the Central Campus I would share my office with my office mate and we would chat occasionally about our progress and help each other out where needed.

Swiss Mountains cropped

Your work at the NCCR revolves around observing people and their interactions and workflows, how has this lockdown situation affected your day to day work?

That is correct. I was conducting interviews when then lockdown started, so I shifted the scheduled interviews to online interviews. This was not something completely new, because I had already been conducting interviews remotely. Luckily, the next task was the preliminary analysis of the interviews (cutting responses down to their main message and grouping answers so patterns of responses are easier to find), so no direct face to face interaction was required. In the first week of the lockdown, I assisted at the virtual project meetings, but the longer the lockdown was expected to last, the project tasks shifted and the meetings stopped taking place regularly. I will continue conducting interviews remotely. The possibility to observe the interdisciplinary collaboration between the researchers will not be feasible very soon, and their behaviour will be affected by the Covid-19 and health safety precautions.

Have you found any positives to come from lockdown?

Yes, I think it is important to have a positive attitude towards challenges. Only being involved in a small part in the teaching, I was really amazed how much the ETH switched the teaching to online. During the lockdown I started exercising daily, taking advantage of the time I was saving on the commuting, I started doing sports at home. Watching sport tutorials in exotic places all around the globe gives me the opportunity to do some mental travelling while exercising. So while I was doing Yoga yesterday in the Peruvian rainforest, today’s Pilates session was at a beach on a Greek island. (I am actually happy that I can do my exercises is my flat without coping with the climatic conditions.)

You work with a number of people with very different background to you, what difficulties have you found in your day to day work? (ie do you find it hard to find a common language, do you find problems with the way people work or communicate?)

Yes, and that is what I really appreciate, because getting to know other people’s perspectives is something I find really fascinating and enriching. I think it is really important that you have a genuine interest in understanding the other person and her/his work. That is a really good starting point, honesty is also important. I want to understand other people and their points of view, but in order to do so, I have to be honest and ask for further clarifications, if I cannot follow. This can sometimes be challenging, because I do not want to interrupt or cause irritation, because I am already using the other researcher’s time.


What would you like to do career-wise after finishing your PhD?

That is a really hard question. Having started my PhD last September, I am focusing on the PhD for now.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to follow a similar career path to you?

Having a quite nonlinear career path, I am not sure if someone would like to follow this path. In general, I would say pursue your goal in a persistent, but friendly way. Don’t let something deter you, there is probably some kind of work around that might turn out as even better in retrospective.

What do you do when you’re not at work? Any interesting hobbies?

Quite regular hobbies I would say. One of my passions is travelling which, of course, is impossible these days. I love travelling and getting to know other cultures. Now looking at photos and remember countries and places I have been to and would like to go in the future. I like learning languages and speak German, English and Spanish fluently along with some French and Italian. I spent last summer holidays in Iceland and started learning Icelandic to know some phrases and catchwords. I kept on doing that, but I am still at a very basic level.

You are always very happy and positive (or at least come across that way!), how do you keep a positive attitude even when things are going badly?

Thank you for the compliment. I think we are in a very privileged situation and there are so many people facing far bigger challenges than we / I do. So, one thing, is to remind myself of that and what usually happens to me is that I experience a great feeling of admiration for those people and find that my problems become small compared theirs.

On the other hand, if things are going badly, I get frustrated and sad as well. But every cloud has a silver lining, so better start looking for it sooner than later.

Mountain swing

Tagged with: meet the researchers