„The TU has a strong platform for health research “ – Interview with Prof. Nikkil Sudharsanan

Prof. Dr. Nikkil Sudharsanan, head of the new Rudolf Mößbauer Assistant Professorship of Behavioral Science for Disease Prevention and Health Care

As of October 1st, 2021, Prof. Dr. Nikkil Sudharsanan has accepted TUM's call to the new Rudolf Mößbauer Assistant Professorship of Behavioral Science for Disease Prevention and Health Care. Before coming to TUM, the health and population scientist was an Alexander von Humboldt Postdoctoral Fellow at the Heidelberg Institute of Global Health and a David E. Bell Postdoctoral Fellow at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies. He received his PhD in Population Studies and his master’s degree in Statistics from the University of Pennsylvania.

Dear Prof. Sudharsanan, what was the decisive factor for you to move from the Heidelberg Institute of Global Health to the Technical University of Munich?

There were two main factors. The first was, in terms of German health research, I knew that the Technical University of Munich has a strong platform for health research. A lot of really important research is being done at TUM and it was an exciting prospect to join a growing community of health researchers. The other was that TUM is one of the few German universities that offers a structured Tenure Track program. That was very appealing to me and signaled TUM's desire to be more international with its department.

What does the call to TU Munich mean to you?

The most important part for me as a researcher is to be given the space and resources and to develop a research agenda that’s my own. I feel very lucky for the support and confidence of the university, especially because my research sits in between disciplines, which often makes it hard to find an academic home.

What is your impression of the Department of Sport and Health Sciences so far?

I have met a couple of professors, the dean, and many of the administrative staff. Everything has been overwhelmingly positive and everyone has been very welcoming. The process of settling in has also been smooth and straightforward. It’s a very promising start and I’m excited to meet more people.

What are you looking forward to the most with regard to your work at the Department of Sport and Health Sciences?

I’m really looking forward to building a team and starting new research projects. Up until now, I have mostly worked on short-term contracts and haven't thought more than a couple of years ahead. There is something really exciting about building a team of PhD students and working to develop a new research agenda over a six-to-seven-year time horizon.

What are the main topics you will be researching?

My research focus is preventing and caring for cardiovascular diseases in South and Southeast Asia. Countries in this region have huge, rapidly aging, populations where cardiovascular diseases have become the leading causes of early mortality. But the health systems are not prepared and set up to care for the massive number of people in need of preventive care. This is where I see a lot of potential for impactful research. My work though is not focused on developing biomedical treatments. It’s more acknowledging that we have a lot of evidence already on how we should be caring for and preventing heart diseases. It’s a matter now of getting that to actually happen in practice. In my group, we will be asking questions like, how can we encourage clinicians and doctors to actually provide high quality preventive care. We also want to help encourage people to follow through with all the lifestyle and behavioral changes needed to prevent heart disease. This is where the behavioral science component of the professorship comes in. We will use insights from the behavioral sciences to see how we can motivate clinicians and individuals to ultimately help prevent such diseases.

You are already teaching during the winter semester 2021/22 – which courses are you teaching?

I was thankful and lucky to be able to cover existing courses in the winter semester so that I wouldn't have a hectic start. I'm currently teaching two seminars for Prof. Klug's Study Design and Research Ethics course, which has been super fun. For the summer semester 2022, I will be developing my own courses. I'm still working out the exact courses but I’m excited to teach topics related to Global Health and the intersection of the social and health sciences. As of now, I will be teaching in English in the Master’s program, but maybe in the future, if my German gets better, I will expand to the Bachelor program as well.

One last question: Do you do any sports yourself? And if so, what kind?

Since moving to Germany I have started to really enjoy hiking, which I never really did in the US. Heidelberg is right in the mountains and it’s been lovely to go from my house to the forest in just 15 minutes. That’s something I hope to continue in Munich. I have also never skied before and am looking forward to learning this winter!

Thank you for the interview!


To the homepage of the Rudolf Mößbauer Assistant Professorship of Behavioral Science for Disease Prevention and Health Care



Prof. Dr. Nikkil Sudharsanan
Rudolf Mößbauer Assistant Professorship of Behavioral Science for Disease Prevention and Health Care
Georg-Brauchle-Ring 60/62
80992 München

e-mail: nikkil.sudharsanan(at)tum.de

Text/Interview: Romy Schwaiger
Photo: private