Read interviews with students and graduates from the MSc programme in Physics:
Cilie Hansen has an MSc in Physics and is currently working as a statistical programmer at Novo Nordisk. Her duties include processing and analysing data from clinical studies of diabetes medications.
What My Job Involves
“I work as a trial programmer. This means that I process the data we collect when we conduct clinical trials of new medications to meet regulatory requirements. I also have a project manager role, coordinating the collaboration between doctors, data managers – who check for errors in data, and medical writers – who write the final report when we are done.
Right now I’m working with data from a clinical trial of Semaglutid, a drug that can lower blood glucose levels in type-2 diabetics. We tested Semaglutid against a placebo, i.e. one group of patients received the drug and another the placebo, and then we measured which patients had the lowest blood sugar level. When analysing the data, I don’t know which patients received the drug and which the placebo. This is to avoid me being biased and thereby influencing the result.
How I Got The Job
Towards the end of my bachelor’s programme, I realised that complex systems were what I was passionate about in physics. I had thought that I would do a PhD after my master’s degree, but I dropped that idea while writing my master’s thesis. I felt it was a very independent and sometimes lonely way of working that I did not want to continue doing. So I knew for certain that I wanted to get a job in the sector.
My supervisor drew my attention to a vacant position at Novo Nordisk, and I immediately applied for the position. I also applied for a job as an IT consultant with Net Company, and was fortunate enough to get a job offer from both of them – on the same day, a Friday, so it was a really good weekend!
I chose the job at Novo Nordisk because it gives me some connection to the scientific world. I also like the fact that my work involves a lot of data analysis.
In general, I’m motivated by being part of a team and delivering high-quality work. It’s great that there are people who follow up on my work, ask questions about it and appreciate it. It’s a good feeling to have responsibility and contribute to something bigger.
I like the fact that I can wear headphones for part of my day while immersed in writing code. If I get bogged down in the code, I can go out and answer emails and do some coordinating. It’s great when I get a tough assignment, where I get to think and challenge myself and perhaps even learn to use new tools.
How I Use My Degree In The Job
On my degree programme, I learned to familiarise myself with complex material and build expertise very quickly. Physics has also taught me how to think systematically and optimise work processes. This has helped me when working on projects with many other people.
I also learned how to programme. I probably wouldn’t have been offered this job if I hadn’t had programming experience. When I started at Novo Nordisk, I didn’t know the programming language being used here, but I learned it quickly, because of my programming skills.
What I Want To Work With In The Future
I’m not a fan of doing the same job twice. I prefer to remain in a state of learning. Novo Nordisk offers good opportunities for development. We’re actually encouraged to change jobs, because it can be good for the company that employees with expertise in one area transfer to other contexts.
For me, the next natural step would be to work as a statistician. Statisticians describe how the clinical trials should be conducted, which analyses to perform and how to handle missing data in a trial. Statisticians and programmers work together – my department is a mix of statisticians and programmers.
What I Did To Promote My Career Prospects While Studying
Getting involved in student life on the Physics programme (which is amazing!) has since turned out to be one of the best things I’ve done for my career. Through my involvement in student life I built up a huge network. For example, I was contacted by professors who drew my attention to PhD positions, and it was due to my network that I landed my job with Novo Nordisk and now work with my old supervisor.
I also think one of the most important things you can do for yourself is to work with something outside your field. Try things out. Many physicists are highly skilled in their field, so if you only compete on those parameters, it can be very difficult to land one of the really good jobs. If you have other things to offer, you are in a stronger position.
During my master’s programme I did an internship in Panama, where I worked with sales for a company that installed navigational equipment on ships. I’ve also been captain of a football team, and have privately tutored students in physics. I have subsequently appreciated this, because I developed skills in communicating with people who may not always understand complicated physics material. And I’ve been a waitress. This taught me to maintain a professional composure in various situations. You should never underestimate the fact that all jobs add something to your skill set.”
Since this interview Cilie has moved on to become a PhD researcher at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU).
Song Chen, from China, is studying physics
It was a professor from my university in Beijing who suggested I did my master at the University of Copenhagen. He had studied in Copenhagen himself. And then there was the name of the department where they teach physics: the Niels Bohr Institute. Niels Bohr was one of the greatest physicists of all time and he came from Denmark. And last but absolutely the most necessary: the teaching is in English in an international environment with students from many different countries. So I was ready to come to Copenhagen, and I have not looked back.
I like the teaching methods at Copenhagen. They are very different from the methods used in China, where you don't ask the teacher questions during classes. You wait till afterwards. At the Niels Bohr Institute it is very different. You can ask questions during lessons and clear up any doubts or problems at once. Back home it is more like the army, where the lower ranks have great respect for the officers. When I forgot something during a viva I even had a teacher from Denmark say to me "If I were you, I would do so-and-so in your description".
As for Copenhagen, well, it is a clean, peaceful town compared to Beijing, which is big and noisy. I like the old European architecture and the green areas in the city. I have made quite a few friends among my fellow students and I was fortunate enough to get a room with a really kind, friendly Danish family who live close to the University. The husband has even bought some kitchen utensils that suit Chinese cuisine. At Christmas I was treated to the traditional Danish Christmas dinner. They call it "flæskesteg". They roast it in the oven.
I am very happy in Denmark and I'd like to do my PhD here. The Danes are a bit shy at first but they gradually open out. And they are almost all crazy about football. Adults and kids. That means I have also started playing football with my new friends from Copenhagen.
After graduation, Song did a PhD at Bielefeld University and now works on computational imaging at Leica in Germany.
Salome, from Georgia, is studying biophysics
Originally I wanted to go to Germany to read biophysics, because I have friends from Georgia who are studying there. But the recession got in the way and I couldn't get a German grant. Instead I chose the University of Copenhagen, and I'm glad I did.
The teaching there is at a very high level. It is well-organised and the teachers are very good. So you don't waste time. But you can't get away without doing any homework at all.
I chose Copenhagen because unlike most places in the world, the teaching in my subject takes place at the Department of Physics and not at departments of biology. After all, my BSc is in physics. And the man who gave his name to my department is not just any old Tom, Dick or Harry: it was the world-famous Danish physicist Niels Bohr. He once visited Georgia when we were part of Soviet Union, and during his visit at Tbilisi State University he wrote the following words on the blackboard "Resistance is not deny it is only addition". These words on the piece of blackboard is still hanging on the wall of the Physics Auditorium and they really inspired me many times.
I chose the University of Copenhagen after checking out its neat website and its world raking. I had a grant from Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia who funds many motivated young Georgian students annually to get education in the world's ranking universities.
But getting to Copenhagen was not easy. I had to go to Ukraine to obtain a Danish visa. It usually takes three months, mind you, but I got it overnight from the Danish embassy in Kiev. They were so nice! It all happened so quickly that I suddenly found myself in Copenhagen with nowhere to live. But there was a Georgian family I hadn't met before who warmly welcomed me in Copenhagen and gave me place in their own accommodation and helped me to find a room as well. Now an elderly Danish couple have given me a room. They are really helpful and they've shown me round. Not just Copenhagen, but also Malmö, which is in Sweden just across the Sound.
As for the teaching in biophysics, it is top class. But I wouldn't mind more lab work. That will come in the second year of my biophysics Master. I was the only non-Dane on the course but the teaching was in English anyway. The other students from my class have been really helpful, and I have made Danish friends. At the University of Copenhagen I am part of an international study environment and my thesis subject is membrane studies, a field of research which I believe will lead to many actual problems solving in science and medicine.
The social life when you study in Copenhagen is also good, although I had to get used to the Danes eating at lectures. We don't do that in Georgia. But now I am so used to it that I am also capable of having some sweets while I am in class. As for Copenhagen, well, it's a lovely city. I have started riding a bike, with a few minor mishaps to start with. Nothing serious though. In Georgia we don't bike much because of all the mountains and hills. But Copenhagen is flat, with lots of opportunities to use your bike and enjoy the green spaces, the parks, the lakes and the long waterfront. And it's a quiet town, but not at all dull. Most of all though, I don't feel lost amid the huge skyscrapers the way you do in New York or other big cities.
I have learned a lot about men and women being equal in Denmark before my arrival, although I see many of the same things in Georgia too. But one thing is different: in Georgia a woman never, ever pays when she is on a date. They do in Denmark. But then, there are so many other good things about studying here. I thoroughly recommend the University of Copenhagen and the city of Copenhagen if you want to study biophysics or another subject, and you also want to get away from home to see something new. Copenhagen is just the place.
Alison Man, from Hong Kong, is studying astrophysics
I spent a year in Denmark as an exchange student and I wanted to stay. So I applied for a Danish grant and got it, which enabled me to do my master in astrophysics here. And this September I am going to start my PhD in Denmark.
I really appreciate studying at the University and getting to know Denmark and the Danes, who are an open minded, hospitable nation once they have opened up to strangers. There are three reasons why I wanted to see the world and leave Hong Kong to study at the University of Copenhagen: Good teachers, an international atmosphere, and the opportunity to stand on my own two feet. Back in Hong Kong family and friends are very important, but in many ways it limits your openness towards the world. And you spend most of your spare time doing homework.
In Denmark I have attained a balance between my studies and having a life as well. As for my courses, well, Denmark is famous for Niels Bohr and the knowledge of space. It is a very relaxed course where the students can communicate and discuss things with the teachers. A really good atmosphere with good supervisors and far from the hierarchy separating teachers and students. And I do a lot of group work with students from Portugal, Italy, Spain, and Poland, for example.
We also meet up in the bar at the institute and chill out on Fridays after the week's classes. My stay in Denmark has made me aware of other cultures and given me the opportunity to try lots of stuff that I would never have done back home in Hong Kong. Like, I've joined an NGO! "Energy Crossroad Denmark" works on climate and environmental issues. Via this organisation I took part in COP15 in December. It was a great personal experience which taught me a lot.
I really like Copenhagen as a city and the Danes as a people. One thing I have noticed that puzzles me is the Danish men. I have never before seen men pushing prams around and taking care of the kids. And what's more, private employers, the state and organisations actually pay them so they can go on paternity leave, as it's called here. It's a fantastic system!
If I have to say anything bad about Denmark it is that the shops aren't open round the clock like they are in Hong Kong. But then there are so many good things about Denmark. For example, I am going to summer school in Sweden, with all expenses paid! At summer school I'll have the opportunity to meet other people with the same interests and subject as mine: understanding how galaxies arose and evolved.
Alison went on to do a PhD in Astrophysics at University of Copenhagen. She is now assistant professor at University of British Columbia in Canada.