Organization of a Danish University’s Public Health Department

I am nearing the halfway point of my internship with the University of Copenhagen’s School of Public Health.  While it is a bit more difficult to ascertain the organizational structure remotely, I have still grasped an understanding of the general structure.  It is nearly identical to how most US universities are structured.  Some professors in the department are tenured, whereas others (typically the younger professors) are not yet tenured.  All professors at the University of Copenhagen are required to both teach courses and conduct research.  There are various committees that all professors can be a part of in the university.  My supervisor, in particular, is on the research ethics committee as well as the new COVID-19 committee.  In our meetings, it seems as if all professors, regardless of their tenure status, are listened to with equal respect.

One main difference between most US universities and University of Copenhagen is the level of formality that colleagues address one another and that students address professors.  It is considered very strange in Denmark to address a professor as “Dr. x” or “Mr./Mrs. x”.  Instead, you simply call them by their first name, as you would address a friend.  This was difficult for me to adjust to at first, since at UR I have never called my professors by their first names.  I have grown to appreciate the Danish informality.  It seems to level the playing field and makes students feel more comfortable speaking their minds to their professors.  The overall environment seems to be more informal as well.  On Zoom meetings, everyone is frequently making jokes and asking about how each others’ families are doing.

I have also noticed a difference in expectations about work and productivity between US research projects and my Danish research project.  I have friends conducting research for US universities, and their work is much more structured than mine is.  We are moving at a pace that works best for me instead having strict deadlines for completing certain parts of our project.  My supervisor frequently tells me that I am spending too much time on our project and has told me that I need to take a vacation!  This statement would likely never come from a US professor.  Danes greatly value work-life balance, with the majority of life being spent away from work.  They value being highly productive for a few hours rather than moderately productive for many hours.  This has taken lots of practice for me.  I have tried to set a daily schedule for myself with the knowledge that I must be off my computer by 5pm every day to spend time with my family.  Overall, I have learned a lot from my internship about health research, but also about Danish work values and expectations.  Some of these values could be applied to US organizations to promote wellbeing and life satisfaction.

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