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40 years at the university

Cherry Nielsen has spent four decades at the University of Copenhagen. She has worked with plants, as a botanist, a lab technician, and a purchaser

Cherry Nielsen’s has a motto: »It shall not wait until tomorrow«.

Now, this February 2013, she can look back on 40 years of ‘yesterday’s at the University of Copenhagen.

She has worked at the University of Copenhagen since 1973, the last seven years as purchaser for plant molecular laboratories at Frederiksberg Campus.

Cherry Nielsen was originally trained as a botanist in her native England.

Lab technician by chance

It was love that led her to Denmark. One sunny December morning in 1972, she moved to Denmark to start a life with her Danish husband. She had to say goodbye to family and friends, and to a good job as sales representative to laboratories as she didn´t know any Danish. At that time not many Danes were confident in English.

»But I was lucky, « says Cherry.

»At the Department of Plant Anatomy and Cytology at the University of Copenhagen, associate professor Ole Mattsson had just returned from a research stay in the UK, and he wanted to keep up his English language skills.«

Cherry could start as a laboratory technician trainee in his lab after just two months in Denmark. The daily working language at the department was Danish, and she spoke this language fluently long before she completed her training. She thrived among researchers and plants, and continued as a laboratory technician at the same place for well over a decade.

In 1986, Cherry transferred to a position as lab technician in the Botanical Gardens, where she was involved in putting up a tissue culture laboratory. After 18 years at the Botanical Gardens, Cherry was offered a temporary position as purchaser at the Plant Biochemistry Laboratory at the former Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, now University of Copenhagen.

The move was made permanent. It is the same position, Cherry has today, but the names of section, department, faculty and institution have changed up to several times, so today she is employed at the Section for Molecular Plant Biology at the Department of Plant and Environmental Science (PLEN) at the University of Copenhagen.

From botanist to technician to purchaser

»I’ve always been fascinated by plants. Throughout my professional life, plants have been there. But I also enjoy organizing, and putting things into systems, so the work I have today is just perfect for me, « says Cherry.

She takes pride in making sure that chemicals, equipment and everything else is always present when needed. It is her many years of work as a laboratory technician in plant biology laboratories that gives her the edge:

Firsthand knowledge of the chemicals and other products that she buys to the laboratories, has led her to buy both efficiently and economically.

And the administrative tasks fit well with her personality, Cherry admits.

She was probably not entirely suited to be a laboratory technician:

»As a technician, you wait for the results, and unfortunately many of them are negative. «. But, she smiles, »I prefer quick results and positive things«.

It shall not wait until tomorrow

Things move fast. She used to take care of laboratory purchases for a single section.

Now she provides the chemicals, plastic and glass equipment, and everything else, for several sections. She handles more than 50 orders per week to suppliers in Denmark and abroad, finding many of the suppliers herself, and negotiating prices. The items that scientists need in their laboratories are often specialized, and the university does not have a standard agreement for them.

This university has become busier in recent years, says Cherry. But orders should be handled in due time. Nothing should wait until tomorrow if it can be done today.

Developments in university workplace culture have not been all good.

It is sometimes no longer possible to keep the same level of service now, as when she only had to purchase for colleagues who were physically sitting next to her in the same section.

And the last few years people have gotten so busy that there is little time to exchange a few words in the corridors, or to make the coffee breaks a priority.

Leisure at full speed

Looking back, the years of faithful service to one place of work, does not meen that somehow Cherry’s career was at a standstill.

In 1999, Cherry took a year’s leave to train as tourist guide at Roskilde University.

And until recently she, in addition to her ordinary work, was a guide during weekends and vacations.

Cherry is married to Peter, the man who more than 40 years ago, originally inspired this young English botanist to uproot her life and follow him to Denmark.

She is the mother of two grown-up daughters and a grandmother to two-year-old Carl Emil.

Outside working hours, Cherry is an industrious do-it-yourself craftswoman in the house and garden. She has put up a new kitchen and made masonry work on her house.

After this reporter finishes the interview, at the end of Cherry’s working day, she has to rush out the door, she explains:

She has to catch a fitness class.

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