Henrik Jepsen’s PhD
secured him his job

Henrik Jepsen spent three years researching climate negotiations. Today he is working as a climate negotiator in the Danish Ministry of Climate, Energy and Building, where he keeps track of the current global climate debate.

Henrik Jepsen is a prime example that a PhD degree can indeed lead to something other than a research position in the university world.

Before defending his dissertation in January 2013 at the Department of Political Science, 31-year-old Henrik Jepsen had already secured a job with the Danish Ministry of Climate, Energy and Building. Today he participates in the negotiations for a new ambitious agreement on climate change, which must be settled by 2015.

"Luckily there’s a whole lot of good to be said about a PhD degree. First of all, there’s the level of knowledge that you obtain. I ended up knowing enough about climate change to land a very exciting job in that field. And then there’s the academic work. Over the course of a PhD programme, your arguments will be disputed and tested, and this serves to equip you to receive and make use of the criticism you get. And you can use these skills in many situations. The last thing is the personal satisfaction you get from completing such an extensive project. The feeling of succeeding with such a thing is great," explains Henrik Jepsen.

Coincidental PhD

Henrik Jepsen chose to do a PhD after having worked with international climate negotiations in his Master’s thesis from the Department of Political Science. This was just prior to the COP15 in Copenhagen, where 200 countries were responsible for landing an ambitious global agreement on climate change.

"I always thought it would be exciting to do a PhD. A personal challenge. But I never thought about applying until the university posted a position, which actually entailed researching and writing about international climate policy. So, in a certain way, it was a coincidence that I became a PhD student," explains Henrik Jepsen.

He then began three years of research on how negotiating parties with different preferences can reach an overall agreement through package deals.

"It was really exciting, and it was great for me to be doing something I am so passionate about. But delving down into a corner of particular subject was also a great challenge. It’s important to be ambitious and driven to do the work, because there will be times where you find yourself up against a brick wall and you will be working mostly on your own. In these cases, having a close collaboration with supervisors and colleagues and other professional communities is crucial."

Precisely because he sees the importance in professional communities, the young researcher helped build a network of researchers from the universities in Copenhagen, Lund in Sweden and the University of Southern Denmark This also gave him the possibility to spar with other climate researchers. Moreover, he found that the social cohesion at his department in Aarhus was a great help.

"Even though you don’t have much in common with your colleagues in terms of your academic work, you can still draw a lot of support from them. Despite the difference in our academic areas, the challenges we all experienced were much the same."

In the eye of the storm

His job with the Ministry of Climate, Energy and Building falls well into line with what he wrote about in his dissertation. Although he did not choose a career in the university world the first time round, he has not completely ruled out returning to the world of research at some point.

Henrik Jepsen just wanted to try something else first. One of the things that inspired him was when in connection with writing his dissertation he interviewed a group of negotiators.

"After having participated in climate negotiations and written about it, I wanted to go out and get my hands dirty myself, to experience negotiations from within and hopefully contribute to bringing about positive developments," explains Henrik Jepsen.

Today he finds himself in the eye of the storm, and this is not least thanks to his education.

"I think it made all the difference that I had done a PhD. I might have gotten this far if I had had extensive experience from similar positions. But I hadn’t. I have, however, grappled the crucial questions and tasks from a different angle than a lot of other people."