It puts hairs on your chest

Johannes Engers Gregersen used to dream of becoming a researcher. And today, even though he chose not to continue in the world of research, he is happy that he did his PhD in Aarhus. He claims it put hairs on his chest.


Johannes Engers Gregersen would have been able to land the job he has today without having a PhD degree on his resume. He is currently employed with Vejle Municipality in the department of finance and labour market management, where he manages a range of initiatives related to Vejle’s status as a so-called free municipality.

But he does not regret spending three years as a PhD student at the Department of Political Science studying the marketisation of the welfare state. It was a unique chance for him to experience life as a researcher.

"I always wanted to see what the research world was like," explains Johannes Engers Gregersen, who worked for three years in the municipal social services department in Aarhus after finishing his Master’s degree. He had seen the outside of the yellow brick walls before coming back to Aarhus University to work on his extensive research project.

A seal of approval and a privileged life

His PhD project was about how municipalities purchase public services in other municipalities, and when the young researcher submitted his dissertation towards the end of 2012, Vejle Municipality were ready to offer him a job. Even though he was not employed directly by virtue of having a PhD, he finds that his research education has given him a range of great experiences that he has benefited from ever since.

"I believe I stood out in the field of applicants, and I think having a PhD degree is also viewed as a stamp of approval. But I must admit, I would be able to solve my current work assignments without the competences I gained as a PhD student. That being said, it was a great experience, and life as a PhD student was a privileged life. I’m glad that I met so many great colleagues at the university, and the feeling of doing something no one had ever done before was absolutely awesome," explains Johannes Engers Gregersen.

He does not doubt that the PhD education holds great potential for personal development, especially if you really apply yourself to the work and seek out the challenges.

"You will be thrown in at the deep end, and there are heavy demands on the quality of your work and not least your ability to work independently. You really learn a lot from carrying out and completing a relatively extensive research project, and it puts hair on your chest."

Be proactive and take full advantage

There were several reasons why he ended up opting out of a life in the university world. When Johannes Engers Gregersen had one year left of his PhD studies, he had a talk with his main supervisor where they discussed the option of him advancing to a postdoc position – but then he started thinking about what he really wanted to do in the long run; whether he wanted to do research or give life outside the university walls a shot.

"I had been on my own with my own project for a long time, and I wanted more variation in my working life and to cooperate more closely with my colleagues. And it was quite clear to me that if I wanted a tiny shot at turning the postdoc into an assistant professorship, I would need to work really, really hard."

The choice was not so hard after all. He had lived the dream of being a researcher and found that this was not where his future lay.

Johannes Engers Gregersen’s advice to others who are contemplating applying for a PhD scholarship is, you need to really think about what you want to do and where you see yourself in the future.

"Doing a PhD is truly great, but you should only do it of you really believe that you want to be a researcher," says Johannes Engers Gregersen. His most fervent advice to potential applicants is to go the whole hog:

"If you apply yourself to this, you also need to seek out every opportunity there is. You need to tell yourself: I have three years to immerse myself in this and work with the best people in my field, and I need to make the best of it. Personally, I think I was too hesitant and held back. If you want to do a PhD, go the whole hog!"