Interview with PLuS Foundation Executive Council member Prof Scheidegger Lämmle

What’s up with … ?
Cédric Scheidegger Lämmle, Professor of Latin

Photo: Perry Hastings

Downing College, University of Cambridge

On 1 January 2024, Cédric Scheidegger Lämmle became the Professor of Latin at the University of Basel. While Scheidegger Lämmle was a doctoral student in Latin, he participated in 2011 in the Basel-US Global Perspectives Program, which at the time was being run by Erich Thaler for the Global Affairs Unit. Where has Scheidegger Lämmle’s academic life taken him since then?
 
ET:
 Cédric, the first time we met was in 2011 in the framework of the Global Perspectives Program, a program that brought together doctoral researchers from both the US and the University of Basel for an exchange of views on higher education. On the occasion of a joint meeting with our partner university Virginia Tech at the Swiss Embassy in Washington, DC, a US participant asked you if PhD students and postdoctoral researchers in Basel were happy, adding that “in the US, they are not.” On January 1 of this year, you took up the position of Professor of Latin at the University of Basel. How would you summarize the years in between and what kind of insights could you share with doctoral researchers today with regard to international academia and exposure to learning, teaching, and research contexts abroad? And has doctoral researchers’ happiness improved?
 
CSL: Well, Erich, it’s lovely to catch up after all this time! Has it really been that long? Back then I was just getting started on my PhD in Latin literature, and the Global Perspectives Program was exciting for me. I’ve always been interested in seeing how people work in other places, and perhaps this already had an influence on my choice of subject for my undergraduate degree. Many think of Latin as an inherently conservative if not backward-looking subject, but that’s very far from the truth. Greek and Latin are studied across the globe, and while there are quite different scholarly traditions in different countries, there is a lot of exchange between them. I am happy that Basel plays a very active role internationally: thanks to the generosity of the PLuS Foundation, we were able to establish the Basel Fellowships in Latin Literature, which now regularly bring international scholars to Basel. At some point, my wife, Rebecca (another classicist, but interested more in Greek than Latin), and I decided to go in the opposite direction, and we moved our family to Cambridge, where a lot of exciting research in our fields was happening. At the time, we thought we’d be there for two years—now it’s been almost ten! In the meantime, my wife became a professor in Cambridge, and I am now a long-distance commuter. Ever since I started, we’re running our own global perspectives program—”comparative views on higher education”—at the kitchen table! But on a more serious note: while there are obvious challenges to traveling every week, I really appreciate the fact that I still have a foothold in UK academia. It is true that higher education is under a lot of pressure in Britain, but there are still very many exciting initiatives, for example, in public engagement, outreach, expanding participation, and many other fields that we have long neglected in Switzerland. There’s a lot to learn, and yes, some of it directly impacts happiness!
 
ET:
 You said you decided to move your family to Cambridge. Why Cambridge and not Harvard or another high-profile destination for studying Latin
 
CSL:
There are several reasons. On the one hand, the Faculty of Classics was a particularly good fit for the quite different research interests that Rebecca and I were pursuing at the time. On the other, we moved with our three kids, who were then between three and eleven years old; while we were keen for them to immerse themselves in the new language and culture, we also wanted them to keep close ties with family in Switzerland. The UK seemed to be a good compromise: far enough from Switzerland, both culturally and geographically, to make our stay worthwhile, but still close enough that we could go back fairly regularly or have visitors. A longer stay in the US would have made this much more difficult, and we also knew that Cambridge was a very lively hub that attracts other visiting scholars from the world over, including many from the other institutions we had considered.
 
ET:
 Coming back to the concrete step of packing up your household and moving: How did Cambridge support you with logistics and settling in? And in your opinion, what should early career researchers consider before leaving for another destination?
 
CSL:
 In many ways we were quite fortunate. Before we moved Rebecca had secured research funding from the SNSF for two years. This included generous support for childcare and family costs. And then I also applied for a postdoc fellowship, which I received half a year later. Of course, this made the move much easier and allowed us to find a good solution for childcare etc. In our case, of course, these were the dominant concerns: we needed to coordinate two academic careers and family life with three kids, so much of our planning went into this. But still the most important consideration should be to find a host institution that you genuinely feel excited about! It is a leap of faith, true, but we have certainly never had regrets. And I have a great number of experiences to draw on in my new role back in Basel!
 
ET:
 Dear Cédric, it was lovely to talk to you. With a willingness to take some risks but also some good fortune and support from the Swiss National Science Foundation and from your host, the University of Cambridge, you were able to establish your professional and family lives abroad as you had hoped—and in the end, you found your way back to Basel!