“I had a bad reputation among my classmates because I always asked so many questions,” jokes Madhav Thakur. Twenty years later, the curious Maddy – as he calls himself in everyday life – has had an impressive career. Most recently, in 2020, at the age of 36, he became an assistant professor and head of the Terrestrial Ecology Division at the University of Bern; in 2021, his biology students voted him Teacher of the Year, and in 2022, the European Research Council awarded him a prestigious ERC Grant. His research group now has a dozen members.
Good-humoured and charming, Maddy Thakur sits in his office at the Muesmatt campus and explains the path that led him from the foot of the Himalayas to the foot of the Alps. The shortest version of this story: A bright young man, while studying for his master’s degree in environmental management at Pokhara University, meets a professor who sparks his enthusiasm for research and encourages him to venture abroad. In a poor country like Nepal, the student also knows there’s a lack of infrastructure for serious research. So Maddy Thakur applies for a master’s in Wageningen, the Netherlands, where he eventually focuses on soil ecology. “From then on, my life changed,” he says. “I realized I loved research and wanted to dive deeper and deeper into things. I wanted to contribute something to my field.” A PhD in Leipzig at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research and various postdoctoral positions at German and Dutch research institutes followed. And finally, the call to the University of Bern. Steps on the career ladder that the modest Maddy prefers not to make a big fuss about.