My Path Through Research

The Trials and Triumphs of Doing a PhD

Working in Denmark

I have been working in Denmark for just over 2 months (which included 10 days off for Christmas). During this time I have been busy learning my job, but also observing how things work within the department. I have also given myself time to think about the differences I am observing, if only to be able to keep them in mind when interacting in this new environment. So what have I been noticing? These are a few of my first impressions

Attitude to learning

First of all I am impressed with the attitude toward learning I have observed. I did a PhD because I wanted to learn and have someone guide me through the learning process when needed. Unfortunately, this is not the attitude I observed (and this seems to be the experience of other students I have spoken to). Instead, I found the PhD to be remarkably result-oriented rather than learning oriented, which is fine in terms of finishing the project, but doesn’t really serve the function of an apprenticeship as it should.

On the other hand, people say that the corporate world is very results oriented. However, the company I am working for is much more learning oriented than any time of my PhD! In fact I have been given a mentor who is a retired colleague who comes in every week to talk to me about the tasks I have, introduce me to the relevant people and help bring me up to speed with the technical issues. This surprised me a lot as it is completely the opposite of what I was always told working in a company would be like – and my previous experience as well.

I think the reason for this attitude is based in the vision of the manager. I feel that management see the employees as a valuable resource, and only by having them trained to the required standards can we deliver to the best of our abilities, thus serving our function within the company. Also, there are limited employees a company can employ so it serves it well that those employees are knowledgeable in what they need.On the other hand, PhD students are often seen as disposable and cheap labour rather than a valued part of the department. Therefore, as long as the students deliver on the one project of their PhD, there is no reason to give them a bigger overview as should we need that expertise we can easily get another student who knows how to do the work.

Trust

I was told this before I moved to Denmark, and I have really seen it work. The working environment is very much built on trust. There is no one checking how long you work – you can come and go as you like and you are trusted to do your job and give in the required hours. It’s the same situation with tasks: once I ask you to do something I trust you to do it, and do it right, and I will find the results in the required place. So far the system seems to work .

Respect for each others’ abilities

I think that trust is a result of the respect everyone has for others’ abilities. The department consists of technicians and consultants and as a consultant you are respected for the knowledge you have on processes and materials, while as a technician you are respected for your knowledge on techniques and methods. Because of this everyone feels proud of the job they are doing, and do their best to do it well.

Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance is something which Danes pride themselves on. I really see the difference here. In London and elsewhere people often lived to work. Here, the balance is really shifted the other way: people get their job done and leave. Socialising with colleagues is not really a done thing and staying around at work once your hours/work is over is definitely not something I have seen being done. It’s refreshing, and great. However, I am still to be totally convinced that shifting so far onto the other side can only be a good thing.

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Experiencing Science…in Denmark

Danfoss Universe is a hands-on science theme park where both children and adults play their way to a knowledge of science. Here you can romp from one experiment and fun-filled natural phenomenon to the next.

I am currently in Denmark on a short trip to southern Jutland. As part of the plan was to visit friends in Sonderborg on the island of Als, I couldn’t miss an opportunity to experience some science in Denmark.

Even in the 30 degree temperatures gracing Denmark today I think a park such as this should definitely be on the to-do list of any kid (and older people). This was one of the most interactive museums\attractions I have visited. As the blurb explains, the science park is an interactive experience about everything, from water to energy, digital technology to the origins of the Danfoss company.

One of my favourite areas was probably the Explorama attraction. This zone concerned concepts of creativity and intelligence. There were over 50 activities to try your hands at, from trying to mimic sentences in other languages, to mathematical and logical activities and activities testing your interpersonal intelligence. My mum was a maths teacher who did her PostGraduate Certificate in Education dissertation on teaching maths in a fun way to kids which she tried out a lot of these activities on us poor(?) kids. However this meant that I grew up with a very proactive attitude to these activities such that I am always up to the challenge. So thanks mum for all the time you spent on entertaining us in a fun and educational way!

The other attraction I enjoy was the Segway track. They apparently have Europe’s first Segway track which you can try out in the form of a sort of obstacle course which gets progressively more difficult as you learn new skills. The eye-wateringly high entrance fee could probably be excused for this experience together with the extent of hand’s on possibilities in the park.

However it wasn’t just hands’ on exhibits that were available. There was also a science show organised once a day that, after the great experience of science shows at the Cheltenham Science Festival, I wanted to experience. Even though the 30 minute show was conducted in Danish, I found I could easily follow what was going on. I liked the fact that the show seemed to be structured in a progressive manner such that each demo built on a previous one. As with the Cheltenham Festival, there was also a big love for bangs – it seems like this is an essential recurring theme in science shows! My quibble however? The demonstrator was dressed in a lab coat and wore a grey messed up wig. I guess this only helps to reinforce the traditional image of a scientist. But is that all scientists are? Mad, eccentric people? I would guess (or hope!) not.

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