Dr Susanne Zajitschek

Susanne won the Rising Star Award at our Teaching Excellence Awards held in our Bicentenary year, recognising her impact on the student learning experience and her leadership potential in teaching and learning.

Her journey in academia really began after experiencing the passion and enthusiasm of her own professors during her undergraduate studies.

“Growing up in Munich I met my husband during the first days of our biology degree at university (LMU, Ludwig-Maximilians University). I did not have a clear idea what exactly I wanted to do with my degree - developing new microbial communities for sewage treatment plants was just as appealing to me as investigating theoretical ecological networks! But seeing that our professors got to work with the systems they loved and answered questions with their research they were excited about, I knew that academia was where I wanted to be.”

So, Susanne, along with her husband, embarked upon her international career as an undergraduate. Together they spent a year abroad at the University of Tasmania in Australia where they both secured PhD funding at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, soon after. They then embarked on a global adventure as postdocs with their children, from the French Pyrenees (CNRS Experimental Ecology Station) to Sweden (Uppsala University), the United States (George Washington University, DC), back to Australia (Monash University, Melbourne) and then to Spain (CSIC Donana Biological Station, Seville).

Having experienced life and work at various institutions across the globe, Susanne knew exactly what sort of university she would like to work for when looking for her next career move.

“Having studied and worked at many different research and teaching environments across the world, my ideal institution is one where students are part of the community, and where collaboration between researchers (instead of competition) is at the heart.”

“Never having worked in the UK, and not knowing much about Liverpool, applying at LJMU was quite a shot in the dark, but I was deeply impressed with the welcoming atmosphere, the happy students I got to chat to and the supportive environment during my interview. I have to be honest, I had another offer at the same time - but I never regretted the choice I made! Although after so many years of a highly mobile lifestyle the idea of “settling down” somewhere was actually a little scary!”

– Dr Susanne Zajitschek

Joining the university in 2020 as a senior lecturer in animal behaviour in the School of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Susanne wouldn’t have much time to settle in as the world suddenly changed as we were thrust into uncertain times when the Coronavirus took hold.

“Arriving just in time for the pandemic to start was not easy for me, or my family. Instead of making friends and meeting people we were facing home-schooling and remote teaching. Overall, I think I was quite lucky as everything was “new” to me anyway, so I was happy to dive straight into the new online environment, test various systems and explore best practise in online teaching.”

Susanne embraced the opportunities presented by online teaching and learning, something that was a major contributing factor in her Rising Star Award nomination. Despite being a new member of staff, and not even having met colleagues properly in person yet, she guided and helped other team members who felt less confident in the digital landscape while developing new online courses for both staff and students alongside customisable and relevant scoring guides to better support assessment.

She has since joined the Digital Champions Network, to promote best practices in student engagement, and is actively involved in shaping LJMU’s Digital Agenda.

In her award nomination, she was commended for her flexibility in teaching and being able to quickly adapt to changing requirements, much like her research on behavioural variability and environmental change. Plus, she goes above and beyond as a passionate mentor and tutor that looks after her personal tutees, students at various academic levels and research volunteers.

On winning the Rising Star Award, Susanne said: “I am very honoured and grateful to receive a Rising Star Award. I deeply enjoy teaching and the interaction with my students, and I am looking forward to continually exploring, learning and improving in all that I do!”

Alongside teaching and supporting students, Susanne continues to undertake research projects, now that she has fully been able to get her projects up and running post-pandemic, rather than just observing creatures large and small around her house and garden! One of her main research interests now lies in parental and transgenerational effects, exploring how an experienced environment, such as exposure to different temperatures, diets, and social stressors, affects not only the animal directly but also their offspring and grand offspring.

“I am an evolutionary ecologist by training, but have always been fascinated by behaviour, and observing animals has been a key component of my research.”