She abandoned her dream of a research career to help make sure no child is left behind

As a PhD student, Maj Sofie Rasmussen conducted research into children’s and young people’s school engagement. Today, she draws on her research background in the children’s rights organisation Børns Vilkår. But the path to her current job wasn’t a straight one. Based on her own experience, she shares good advice for the researchers of the future who are considering a career in the private sector.

PhD Maj Sofie Rasmussen shares her advice for AU researchers who are considering a career in the private sector similar to her own path. Photo: Marjun Danielsen

Children and young people have always been the focus of Maj Sofie Rasmussen’s brief but already eventful career – and her current position is no exception.

Rasmussen works as an employment consultant for Børns Vilkår, more specifically as a project manager for the Fælleskabsskoler programme, which aims to promote children’s well-being and safety in the Danish school system. She also develop teaching materials, organises workshops and works to spread awareness of Børns Vilkår, all under the umbrella of the organisation’s overall ‘Stop Svigt’ goal: to make sure no child is let down or left behind.

“That’s the overall goal of everything we do in the organisation. It’s hugely meaningful to me,” she said.

Rasmussen has a PhD from Aarhus University; in her dissertation, she explored how to re-ignite the spark of academic engagement in children and young people who lose their engagement in the classroom. And she continues to draw on the experience she gained during her doctoral studies. 

“Some times it’s explicit, and other times it’s more implicit that your competencies and experiences from your PhD programme come into play. I work with a lot of tasks that extend beyond my research field. Because you gain more general competencies as a trained researcher. For example, the ability to acquire and communicate knowledge. I use that a lot,” she said.

The right shelf

Although Rasmussen dreamed of a career in research as a PhD student, she quickly found work outside academia after defending her PhD. She took a position on Rambøll Management Consulting’s education team working with national and municipal interventions, evaluations and analyses in relation to the school system.

After three years at Rambøll, she moved on to new challenges at Børns Vilkår. Rasmussen was attracted by the organisation’s thorough, methodical approach to working with children, and she felt certain that her professional competencies could help realise their vision. Which she found strikingly similar to the visions that inspired her when working on her research project about schoolchildren and the lack of academic motivation.

“I’ve found the right shelf for me, and I put my heart into my work. The way Børns Vilkår works with well-being, communities and engagement of schoolchildren is really compatible with the approach my dissertation was based on,” she said.

Her colleagues at Børns Vilkår feel they benefit from the research skills and abilities Rasmussen brings to the table. Marie-Louise Johannesen, who is head of the education division, stresses that her ability to analyse and process large amounts of knowledge is a major plus. 

“She familiarizes herself with the context for new cases very quickly and generates a lot of knowledge about them, which is important in a knowledge-intensive organisation like ours. AT the same time, she also has some general competencies that are a good fit with our focus on children and young people. In time, we will be exploring and drawing on even more of her specific field of research at Børns Vilkår,” she says.

Good advice for the future

Rasmussen has ended up on “the right shelf”, she feels.  Nevertheless, she has some good advice for coming graduate students. Advice she wishes she’d been given at that stage of her career.

Because a PhD programme doesn’t just make PhD students specialists in the narrow research field they devote countless hours to: it gives them so many other competencies. For example, she names project management, networking, fundraising, communication and financial management.

And it’s a good idea to get all of these competencies into the spotlight and at the top of your CV when applying for jobs in the private sector with a research background, Rasmussen advises.

“You have to emphasise that your background as a PhD gives you a wide range of competencies. The private sector needs to see that we can contribute values to an organisation in addition to our specific research areas. You need to explain this to companies when applying for jobs with a PhD in your briefcase,” she concludes.