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Research or not? Asta and Anders ponder their career options

They are both social scientists. When their PhDs are over, they can try for a job inside, or outside, university

They share an office at the campus of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Copenhagen. On the whiteboard in their office, where the University Post did this interview, a cryptic algebraic formula. Asta laughs as she, in vain, tries to get our reporter and our photographer to understand.

Both Anders Trolle and Asta Breinholt Lund are PhDs at the Faculty of Social Science at the University of Copenhagen and are researching parenting and education under an EU-funded programme on the ‘intergenerational transfer of ressources’.

“I am focusing on how and why parents invest time and money on their children and how it affects children’s performance,” explains Anders.

Asta’s PhD subject is close to this. It is about the “the effect of education on parenting and the effect of parenting on child educational outcomes such as grades or educational attainment,” she explains.

Jobs can be directly useful

According to speakers at a recent seminar at the University of Copenhagen, PhD students have to deal with a paradox.

On the one hand researchers need to go into depth, focus on their research and do all the things that qualify them for a research career at university – on the other hand, there are and will be fewer and fewer university research jobs, and more and more private sector jobs available when they graduate. And the PhD culture at university continues to re-inforce a university research career, rather than one in a private company or non-university.

Anders Trolle likes the idea of getting out of academia for “a more policy-relevant institution. I really like the idea that your job can be used to inform politicians,” he says.

Waste of PhD?

But whether Anders actually will choose to do so, remains to be seen.

Among your friends and colleagues, is their more prestige in continuing your career at university?

“Certainly among my peers, there is more prestige in a continued university career,” says Anders. “And then, whenever I think of a private or non-university career there is this at the back of my mind: Am I pushing this, my research career, as far as I can? Would a non-university job be a waste of my PhD degree?”

The person you are

Asta Breinholt Lund used to work in a consultancy before going back to university to do her PhD, and right now she prefers a career in university.

“This is not because I somehow deem private sector jobs inferior. But I think it has to do with what kind of person you are, what kind of job you prefer to have.”

Read article: PhDs are not aware of private sector jobs

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