The following is an excerpt.
When Tore Wisth started at NTNU, professors were gods. The thing is, gods are helpless in the lab. They don’t know how to weld or machine or mill. They need expert help.
Expert help comes in many shapes and forms. Here is one:
Has the knob on your kettle lid fallen off and can’t be found? Do you need some machining done for your stretch test? A novel design for a rig? A smile? Someone you can trust? Freshly made coffee when you come to work? Then Tore Wisth is your man. Just ask. He’ll fix it. Just like you wanted. Without delay. In the case of coffee, he has made it already.
Back to the eighties
Think back to the eighties. February 1980, to be exact. Tore Wisth came to NTNU after five years with a steel construction company. He was a trained welder and sheet metal worker. He was employed as a university technician and met a new world:
“It wasn’t possible to speak directly to a professor. We had to address the secretary. Then it was “Mister Professor” here and “Mister Professor” there. We were asked to make a machine part, but didn’t know what it was for. We just got the drawings. I am sure we made a lot of useless stuff.”
“When did it change?”
“Gradually, of course, but one point was when the lab was reorganized and we got a new administrator. Another important change was when I helped Professor Tore Børvik set up our gas gun. We didn’t make the gun ourselves, but we collaborated closely on building the foundation. I felt like a colleague on an equal footing,” Wisth says.
The example is illustrative. Professor Børvik explains:
“I think that we all do a better job when we know the purpose and the context. In fact, I had a heated discussion with a foreign colleague around the time Tore Wisth mentions. The foreign colleague saw no need to explain the purpose of each assignment to the lab engineers. I totally disagreed and still do.”
Now, this is important, not only to Tore Wisth. It is an attitude that many have pointed to as one of the reasons for the world leading position of the SIMLab research group: everyone is involved in achieving ever better research.
A day in Tore Wisth’s life
“How is your typical day?”
“I start at seven. The first thing I do is to make coffee and go through the mail. Before long, a student will come to see me. There isn’t a day passing without at least one of them turning up. They may need a sample or help setting up a test rig. From time to time, we discover that a set-up that looks fine in theory doesn’t work out in practice. Then we have to modify it. In most cases, we arrive at a feasible solution without having to ask for external help.
That solved, a professor might call and ask me to come to his or her office to discuss a new challenge.
Apart from that, I organize my own schedule. I make samples, I collect the prices for things we need, and I place orders. We buy quite a lot of what we need in the lab from outside suppliers. I prepare the specifications.”
“Do you enjoy your work?”
“Thoroughly. It is a true privilege to be able to make an effort when you want to. Especially when you want to all the time, like I do.”
“What are professors and students like?”
“Like most other people, I guess. Very nice, mostly. I enjoy working with them. A common trait is that they all want test samples first. I don’t think I have ever heard that they don’t need things in a hurry. With time, they learn that they cannot all have their samples tomorrow. Sometimes it takes three weeks.
Then, people vary with origin. Some students and candidates tend to be afraid to ask. They are not trained to do so.”
“Do you have trouble communicating?”
“No. One thing puzzles me. Many of our foreign researchers speak Norwegian very well. Yet I experience over and over again that their Norwegian colleagues speak English to them. I don’t understand that. They need to practice! I speak Norwegian to them and without exception they are happy about it.”
A cottage by the sea
All things come to an end. This year Tore Wisth can retire if he wants to. He hasn’t quite decided yet. When the time comes, he can head for the family cottage. It is located by the sea in a fjord southwest of Trondheim. Fishing is a favourite pastime. And enjoying the result.
“Fillet of angler fish with cream sauce is a delicacy,” he says.