Stories Talk | Presentation Skills and Effective Storytelling
George Karagiannidis, Professor of Digital Telecommunication Systems at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, influences and inspires his colleagues and students through his research which has distinguished him internationally. What makes a person so influential? What is the secret behind something so great and difficult?
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By Mia Kollia
Translated by Alexandros Theodoropoulos
"I was born in Pythagoreio, Samos and I graduated from one of the oldest schools in Greece, the Pythagorean High School of Samos. The first stop in my journey was my decision to study engineering, mainly influenced by my father. Thus, I studied at the Department of Electrical Engineering of the University of Patras, the oldest Department of Electrical Engineering in Greece.
I continued with a master's degree in Biomedical Technology from the School of Medicine of the University of Patras and then returned to the Department of Electrical Engineering to prepare my doctoral dissertation. At the same time I worked as an engineer in public and private works.
My tenure in this field helped me understand how the market works and taught me how to handle difficult situations like the ones I encountered successfully later as a scientist-researcher. Thus, I consider the years I worked in the private sector to be particularly important for my subsequent career.
The next turning point in my career was when I got selected as a Researcher at the National Observatory of Athens in 2001, with my main focus being Satellite Communications. I worked for 3 years there and I created my own research team and set the conditions to be selected as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (TIMMY) of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTh) in 2004.
With the assumption of my duties at the department, I created, in 2004, the research group Wireless Communications and Information processing (WCIP), which today is considered one of the best in Europe and worldwide. Since 2013 I’ve been a Professor in the field of Digital Telecommunication Systems".
What have been your biggest difficulties and how did you deal with them?
I would say that the biggest difficulty I faced was the bad financial situation that I had during the years of the economic crisis, which forced me to leave and work abroad for two years in order to be able to support my child financially, who is facing a particular health problem. In this endeavor, I had next to me people who supported me and to whom I owe a large part of my subsequent course.
Bureaucracy was another serious obstacle I encountered in my career as a researcher. However, I have to mention that in recent years things have improved significantly and the AUTh has created an environment that favors research efforts.
What do you think is your biggest qualification concerning your field and your subject and how does it affect the results and the people you work with?
This question is not an easy one. I would say that what defines me is imagination, risk-taking and hard work on the one hand and the ability to make the right choice of partners on the other.
My imagination and risk-taking allowed me to be one of those who created new research fields in wireless communications, in which other researchers later worked on. That's the reason for my inclusion in the list of Web-of-science Highly Researchers for the last 7 years, that is, the scientists with the greatest influence in the world.
Hard daily work was what kept my research team and me personally at the very high level to date. The right choice of collaborators is the other important reason for the great success of my research team.
What I ask of my co-workers is to work hard, but above all to be modest. A scientist, especially a young one, can be nothing else but modest, because he needs to realise that the research he is doing is just a small stepping stone in the great effort of the production of new knowledge.
Technology, new sciences and human beings; how these intersect, what do they help us with and what can they possibly burden us with if we don’t treat them properly?
Historically, from the 1st Industrial Revolution until today, technology has been the one that has helped humanity extend life expectancy and improve the quality of human life. But what has happened in the last 20 years has no historical precedent.
The development of information and communication technology, at a pace that we had never seen before, has led to developments in society, the economy, work and culture. We cannot fully perceive and understand the huge changes that are happening at the moment because we live in these times and of course no one today can predict what will happen in 10-15 years.
I would like to make a special reference to the subject of Artificial Intelligence. I would say that too much publicity has been given and it has been linked to conspiracy theories that have no basis, since it’s all about the application of algorithms known for many years, but which can now be used in practice because of the capabilities provided by memory and processors.
Do new technologies raise ethical issues? The answer is yes. Certainly such issues can arise if technology is used in a different way. This is a crucial matter which the European Union and Greece are trying to address with specific initiatives, such as the decision of the Prime Minister to establish the National Bioethics Committee.
What do international recognition and fame mean to you, how do you manage them and how difficult is the global competition through which you stand out?
My research team and I have personally received many great honors, which would be envied by major universities in Europe and America. As I mentioned before, my name is for 7 consecutive years in the list of Web-of-Science Highly Cited Researchers, which includes scientists who have influenced to a great extent with their research the development of all sciences.
Also, I recently received perhaps the top distinction given in the field of wireless networks by the largest engineering organisation in the world, the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineering (IEEE). This honour is given every year and it was the first time that it was received by someone outside the US.
These distinctions, which are particularly important worldwide, are the result of a great collective effort by my research team over the last 15 years. For me personally it’s a vindication of many years of effort. It is also a vindication of the few people who stood by me all these years.
For my university, the AUTh, this is also a great success, as these distinctions help significantly in improving its position in the international university rankings.
The competition in scientific fields such as information technology and telecommunications, is huge indeed. Such successes bear with them a lot of effort, love for research, imagination, risk-taking and notable international collaborations. Maintaining such a good level for many years, especially when you don’t belong to one of the most well-known universities worldwide, is something that doesn’t happen often. It’s a very difficult and painful process, which - as I mentioned - has a great personal cost.
What does it mean to be a good professor and an effective advisor for young people?
I will answer you with what I say to my students, in my first lecture of each course; to acquire as much basic knowledge as possible from their time at the university. Never assume that they are receiving "useless" theoretical knowledge. Theory is what teaches you to think in a structured way and then be able to deal with a problem in practice.
I also tell them to listen to the advice of the elders when collaborating with others for a lab or even as part of a research team and to listen to their heart when they are going to make an important decision for their studies and later for their career.
Work hard and with dedication.
When they have to face a problem in science -and in their lives too- they should see the “overall picture”, but at the same time try to discover the details. That is, they must look at things from above, but they must also go down into the details, but not get lost in them.
I tell them to have courage, imagination and not be afraid to take risks; to set high-risk goals but at the same time to maintain high efficiency. That’s what the Anglo-Saxons called “High risk, High gain”.
What do you love about Greece? Any favourite places?
I love places that bring back memories from my life.
I love Pythagoreio of Samos, the village where I was born, raised and went to school.
I love Rhodes, where I spent my summers as a child; in the island of the Knights, Psaropoula, Elli and the Trampoline.
I love Nisyros, because it reminds me of my childhood and because today it has the most authentic people you can find on an Aegean island; a real sanctuary with all its simplicity and quietness.
I love Karpathos, because there, in Kyra Panagia, I was inspired to write my first novel, which will be published soon.