Peter Busch Nicolaisen

MA Journalism from Aarhus University, PHD student at CFA since 2019

Supervisor: Niels Mejlgaard. Co-supervisor: Tine Ravn.

What is the topic of your project?

I examine the interplay among climatologists, science journalists and the population, the three key actors in communication of climate research. My project will clarify, among other things, role perceptions of climatologists, science journalists and citizens. Both in terms of what their own role comprises and what they expect of the two other parties in the triangle. Do climatologists feel an obligation to do interviews every time a journalist calls? Do journalists see it as their responsibility to be able to understand the scientific articles the researchers produce? Do the citizens expect to have all relevant information handed to them, or do they accept that they have to make an effort to learn more? My idea is to build the study up around focus groups. I will start out with separate sessions with each actor type and then mix them and confront climatologists’, journalists’ and citizens’ perspectives with each other.

In my opinion, climate changes are the biggest problem in the world, and I would be interested in the phenomenon even if it were not my job. I know that, best case, my contribution will only be a microscopic pebble of useful information, but my hope of having a positive influence makes it meaningful anyway.

How did you end up doing a PhD at CFA?

I have made kind of a detour. I actually graduated in journalism from the Danish School of Media and Journalism, but when I was done there, I felt something was missing. I therefore completed a Master’s in analytical journalism. This allowed me to take electives at different institutes at the university. For instance, I took a course at Department of Political Science, and the teacher encouraged me to do a PhD. That planted a seed in me that grew into an ambition. I later wrote a thesis on how climate research affects the climate discourse in Danish political parties, and in that connection, my earlier teacher told me about CFA. I did some research on the place and set up a meeting with a PhD student there to hear about his life at the Center. After submitting my thesis, I spent a year working towards a PhD. First, I had an idea that I ditched after a few months. I could feel that I would not be motivated to work intensively with that topic for three years. One Sunday evening when I was most desperate, I had an epiphany, and that turned into the PhD application that hit the jackpot.

What is it like doing a PhD at CFA?

I enjoy the autonomy I experienced in my early days as PhD student. Other PhD students have meetings with their supervisors every other week, but in my case, the meeting frequency is significantly lower. I see it as a declaration of trust, and it has given me a strong sense of owning my project. However, when I need sparring, it’s available and it’s qualified.

A special thing at CFA is that teaching is not a natural element in a PhD project. Instead, you spend part of your time solving tasks for the Center, typically projects funded by EU or private foundations. So far, I have been lucky that these tasks matched my research interest, and as a bonus, I have gained experience cooperating across disciplines.

What would you like to do when you are done with your dissertation?

Right now, I’m trying not to think about the future and just enjoy that I have been given an opportunity to work with something that really interests me for the next three years. When I get closer to the end, it will probably be harder to put worries about the future off. I already know that I could imagine working with something climate-related. Not necessarily in academia, it could be in an NGO or in a municipality.