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Comment: On the merger in Nutrition, Exercise and Sports

Merger experiences 1: On the merger of the Department of Human Nutrition, LIFE with the Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences, SCIENCE to the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports, NEXS.

When LIFE and SCIENCE managements decided to merge the Department of Human Nutrition, LIFE, with the Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences, SCIENCE, detecting any sign of enthusiasm at either department was difficult. Indeed, there was anger and voices of opposition. The large staff committees at both departments argued forcefully against the merger. The type of collaboration that was supposed to be occurring between nutrition and sport was already in existence, and if there was a need to strengthen that collaboration, a merged department was not necessary to accomplish it. There was also a fear that the merger would destroy the identity of two extremely well profiled institutions, each with its own history. And, there was a relevant worry that any time consuming merger would weaken research productivity, and maybe even weaken external funding possibilities.

The reactions were entirely natural and to be expected, just as it is now obvious that old identities have been succeeded by new ones. But the question is, how does the new Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports view the merger two years later? In September of 2014, we decided to organise a department-wide joint researcher day, a staff organised event at Valby Kulturhus. It is now a matter of fact that the strategy set into motion by the new department has already worked: Researchers have been able to markedly increase external funding and increase scientific productivity measured by the number of originally published scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals. As I walked around the various booths and spoke with staff, it was obvious that the cultural lines between the “Sport” and “Nutrition” groups are more and more blurred: We all come from Nutrition, Exercise and Sports and that is the department we are proud of, and we seek research synergies across department frameworks. Interdisciplinary work is a strength that should be harnessed. Increased awareness and cooperation is part of our new strength.

Of course, the process has not always been easy. But as department managers, we have tried to steer a course and adjust the process to the greatest extent possible while fully supporting the merger from the beginning, and ensuring equal managerial representation from both of the previous departments. It has been important for us to practise open management in a transparent managerial process, and that in all decisions every attempt is made to clarify all doubts about unfair treatment and suspicion about old academic affiliations influencing leadership allocation policy. Many older traditions were eliminated, and together, we are already in an ongoing process of defining new ones. In this context, it has been an advantage that the entire faculty is the result of a merger, and that SCIENCE is also adopting new rules, processes and cultures – all developed in close interaction between faculty management and the departments.

We are not entirely settled just yet. The future promises both challenges and opportunities. Some issues are specific to NEXS (like annoyances associated with campus construction), and others like stress and imbalances between work and home life are more general and apply to university work environments in general. But we still want to be better than the rest of UCPH. The potential lies in the continued strengthening of collaboration between the various sections and the consolidation of an internal culture. This will provide us with the chance for even better funding and thereby ensure better research and a stronger collective NEXS.

We continue to work towards a more optimal organisation of the department’s services for the sections, increased NEXS’ funding for section staff, including keeping talent, and having better control of hall and facilities rentals. So, problems remain to be solved. But we have come far, and all staff members deserve great thanks for their loyalty in supporting managerial decision-making. Great results have already been achieved, not least in our finances.

Yes, the merge that created the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports was the right decision, and I think that everyone at the department can now appreciate the advantages. And, if you ask a passer-by on the street if they believe that nutrition, physical activity and sports belong together, they might just wonder why you are asking something so obvious – of course they do.

By Arne Astrup, Department Head

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