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Individual career guidance gave a good gut feeling

An interview with a dedicated expert outside the university world can be the key to clarifying career prospects. PhD student Helene Kirkegaard made use of Health's offer of personal career interviews, giving her peace of mind during the final stages of her PhD.

After spending a year in the USA, PhD student at the Department of Public Health Helene Kirkegaard returned to AU at the beginning of 2014. Now with the prospect of a completed PhD at the end of the year, but also with an increasing unrest at the thought of life after her PhD defence.

"I had told myself to just focus on my PhD studies while I was in the USA. But when I got home I began thinking more about my future. After all, there is no guarantee of a future at the university. And I have also been really uncertain about whether or not I should go in that direction," says Helene Kirkegaard, who has a background as a Bachelor of sports science together with a MSC in healthcare from AU.

The first step towards clarification was contacting adviser Vibeke Broe from AU Career. She recommended applying for an interview with one of the participants in Health's newly established career guidance panel, which consists of nine people who are all employed in the healthcare sector. Primarily as managers.

Not a job interview

Helene Kirkegaard's choice of interview partner was Head of Department Torsten Munch-Hansen from the Centre for Public Health and Quality Improvement (CfK) at the Central Denmark Region. Helene Kirkegaard reckoned that the centre could match her academic competences and interests. Furthermore, Torsten Munch-Hansen was affiliated to Health in the role of part-time lecturer.

Prior to the interview Helene Kirkegaard sent her CV and some keywords about her expectations for the interview.

"I mainly had specific questions about the centre itself and whether I would fit in with my competences. But I was also generally interested in learning more about similar environments. I hoped he could answer my questions about this," says Helene Kirkegaard, who found that her expectations were met – and even exceeded.

"I didn't hide the fact that CfK could be a workplace for me in the future. But because this was about getting some advice and not a job interview, the dialogue took place on another level with fewer obligations. I wasn't hampered by having to really sell myself and could ask about the sector in general and hear about competitors," says Helene Kirkegaard, who received honest and constructive responses to her questions. Among other things, she found out that her experience as a former employee of the Danish Cancer Society and as a health consultant in the Municipality of Syddjurs were important elements of her career planning.

A liberating discussion

The interview in April 2014 has given Helene Kirkegaard the necessary clarification and peace of mind to focus on the final phase of her PhD.

"I will not hesitate to contact the relevant people if they are crucial to making sure I get a foot in the door," says Helene Kirkegaard.

"I have good supervisors to discuss an academic career with. But it was a relief to talk to a deeply committed professional who understands my academic skills and expertise, knows the sector and is interested in me but without, however, being obliged to do more than draw on his knowledge and experience," says Helene Kirkegaard.

Since the career guidance interview Helene Kirkegaard has received a grant from the Danish Heart Foundation for a postdoc position for research into how pregnancy, weight gain and breast-feeding affects a woman's risk of raised blood pressure and cardiovascular disease later in life. The research will help ensure that women can go through with a pregnancy without an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.


Who are Health's career consultants? 

Health has put together a career guidance panel with nine people from either private or public-sector players in the health sector. They range from Director at Novo Nordisk (Brian Stidsen Vandahl) to Chief Medical Officer at Aarhus University Hospital (Claus Thomsen) and Head of Development at Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) (Konstancja Ford). Apart from the length of the interview (which is one hour) there are no formal requirements for the interview, which is not journalised or reported.

See a list of the panel here: http://phd.au.dk/gradschools/health/au-career-advisory-panel-health/

How to get a career guidance interview:

The website contains a presentation of each member of the panel. Here you select the person you wish to talk to and fill out the form found in the link beneath the presentation. Due to the planning required, the interview should be booked via Advisor in the Dean's Office, Lene Bøgh Sørensen lbs@au.dk