The Attic (a name which commemorates our first physical location) is, first and foremost, a site for the research students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester: a virtual community which aims to include all students, be they campus-based and full-time, or distance-learning and overseas. But we welcome contributions from students of museum studies - and allied subject areas - from outside the School and from around the world. Here you will find a lot of serious stuff, like exhibition and research seminar reviews, conference alerts and calls for papers, but there's also some 'fluff'; the things that inspire, distract and keep us going. After all, while we may be dead serious academic types, we're human too.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Opinion Piece: University in Denmark

I recently witnessed the strangest thing and I thought it might be a good way to start a blog post about going to university in Denmark.

I’m not really going to university in Denmark. I’m on a PhD exchange and, ostensibly, here to write. I don’t attend class. I have no obligations. I have only a few meetings to go to and can show up, or not, for the department lunches. I am freer here then I was in my department in Leicester. And it’s a nice change, let me tell you. But it means I’m not really going to university in Denmark. I’m just sort of on the outside looking in.

The PhD’s here get Christmas gifts. From the Dean. I’m not entirely sure the Dean at Leicester even knows anything about the PhDs students in my department. I’ve never met the Dean. I couldn’t tell you who it is. But here, the Dean sends Christmas gifts to the PhD students. Wine and chocolate. To all of them.

And it’s made me seriously think about how different being a PhD student in this department in Denmark is from my own. We have it good in the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester. Quite a few other departments are envious of us (in fact, most of them probably are, but we tend not to ask them). But being here has made me realize that there are departments in the world that have it even better then we do. Or at least, have it differently.

Here, an international exchange at another university is a requirement. A minimum of three months must be spent elsewhere working on and furthering your thesis. As many as half the students here are sponsored by educational or cultural institutions and are doing their PhDs in partnership. They do their thesis, but also work for their sponsor at the same time. Many others are funded. Self-funding is sort of an unknown. The PhDs here teach, or tutor or run projects. They are inherently involved in the department as staff (which is probably why they get Christmas presents from the Dean). They have plenty of opportunities to gain the skills needed for academia.

For us, in the School of Museum Studies, that’s a lot harder. We don’t have nearly the opportunities for academic jobs and when we do, they are usually outside the department. Here, it is part of the PhD. It means they are busy. It means they are probably all overworked. They don’t have DLs quite like we do. You can live in another part of Denmark and only come here for specific meetings, still work and also be a full-time student. 3-4 years is typical for a thesis completion.

They also write differently. Here, PhDs in their first year choose what format they will do their thesis in. Either as a monograph (for book publication) or a series of articles that form a thesis. If the second, they are expected to publish those articles before they finish and submit their thesis. That means they are published authors before they ever get to their viva.

Obviously, they do things differently. They have more of an academic focus then a professional focus here, and yet many of the students work in museums as part of their research. It’s a lovely combination. The meeting of multiple disciplines is new to me too, as culture, media and education are all encompassed by this one department. PhD students can do research in any or all areas. The PhDs I have heard are fascinating and very topical. There are tackling the current issues in the Danish (and often German) cultural and educational sectors. You can really feel the creativity here. The students talk about their research to each other a lot. They meet each month, in fact, for two hours to do exactly that. Students help each other and go over similar aspects of research.

We planned to do that in Leicester, but it never really happened. And I think I will push to institute it when I get back. It’s fantastic. I’ve already benefitted from the easy and open discussions here. Even during lunch, all the staff meet to talk over their projects and what they are working on. We don’t do nearly enough of that.


I’ve learned a lot here, and it’s been less than two months! It is certainly has been a great opportunity so far, and hopefully in the years to come other students at Leicester can have a similar chance (though possibly to other departments around the world too). Seeing how a different group works can be really inspiring.

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