How to expand your competences
Lectures. Theory. Abstract knowledge. Exams – graduating and being thrown out into the job market with no practical experience. This is what many students fear. But if you become active yourself, you will leave university with a lot more than a head full of theories and facts.
Get inspired by the stories of three AAU students and graduates who talk about what they have learned from study jobs, internships, volunteer work and the concept of problem based learning (PBL) at AAU. And career counsellor Lotte Burholt Pedersen has some valuable tips on how to secure a project collaboration or a study job.
TEXT Daniela Weichselgartner
STUDIES Master in Culture, Communication and Globalisation at AAU
SEMESTER graduation in summer 2021
Andreea is a native Romanian but lived in the UK for several years before coming to Denmark. She participated in the Young Professionals in Denmark programme which is aimed at international students in Denmark and gives them insights into the Danish labour market and working culture.
Andreea has also actively expanded her competences by volunteering the United Nations Youth Association (UNYA) Aalborg and the Nine Carols and Lessons event, doing an internship at the International Office at AAU and working as a student assistant at AAU Career.
In the interview, Andreea shows how her openness for new experiences helped her prepare for finding a job in Denmark.
What were the most important skills and competences you gained during your studies?
My studies reopened my eyes and made me reassess myself and the world around me. A big part was played by problem based learning. It was very puzzling and strange to me at first as I had to question everything and that was not in my study mindset, my bachelor studies were very different. But group work, intercultural communication and interchange of global ideas opened the way I look at the world very much.
Why did you choose to apply for the Young Professionals in Denmark programme?
The most important reason is because I knew it would help me and as an international in Denmark you need all the help you can get. The working culture is unique, the flat hierarchy and work ethics may seem hard to grasp in many other cultures. So participating in this program helped me see the overall picture.
And I like meeting people, and this program gives you the opportunity to meet international students from almost all specialties and programs. There is a lot to learn from everyone if you listen closely.
What were the main takeaways from the Young Professionals in Denmark programme for you?
My student job with AAU Career that I love, the people I met. A big part of the programme is the support you get in growing your network. It helped me kick-start my professional life in Denmark.
What skills and competences have you gained through your volunteer work?
I gained knowledge of other problems that exist outside my comfort zone. Discussing and working on sustainable projects made me more in touch with the realities of today.
And I met many other internationals that are facing all sort of issues from loneliness over wanting to belong somewhere to not knowing how to deal with paperwork in the Danish system or just not knowing where or who to turn to. That made me a better person when trying to help. Empathy is always a good skill to work on.
What tips do you have for other students on how to prepare for the time after your studies?
Get involved, be present and active, participate. Meet as many people as you can and learn something from all of them and at the same time grow your network.
Try to find out what your strong points are and work more on that. Usually, it is best to ask others about it because you may be surprised that your strong points are not the ones you think because we evaluate ourselves not taking many aspects into consideration.
And what tips do you have especially for other international students?
Start from scratch, Denmark is completely different from any other country. Take the time to know how things work, familiarize yourself with the working culture and how you need to present yourself.
Don’t wait for others to do the first step. Always be the one who tried and made that first step and the second one for that matter. Danes will not see it as a weakness but as willingness and eagerness to belong.
Remember that it is not about your nationality, it is more about your personality.
STUDIES Bachelor and Master in Informatics at AAU
CURRENT POSITION PhD student at the Department of Computer Science at AAU
After her graduation in informatics at AAU, Alisa started writing her PhD at the Department of Computer Science at AAU. Throughout her studies and now as a supervisor for other students, she has been working with problem based learning (PBL). In the interview she talks about the benefits of PBL and how her studies have prepared her for writing a PhD.
What are the most important skills and competences you gained during your studies?
During my time as a student at AAU, the most important skill I have gained is the ability to learn fast and to acquire new knowledge and skills in an interdisciplinary environment. The essential competence that I have gained is to engage in the interplay between theory and practice through PBL. I learned how to be critical in choosing what theory or method I need and why, depending on the problematic situation in which I am intervening.
Why did you choose to write a PhD?
If I am honest, it is because it gave me an opportunity to work with people that are very inspiring to me. Getting a PhD title for itself is not a motivator for me. Today I work with amazing, competent people that are best at what they do, and I appreciate it.
How can you apply the knowledge from your studies to your PhD?
My PhD project is about Digital Transformation and Sustainability. These are mature and distinct fields, which can be hard to grasp. However, my Bachelor and Master were very interdisciplinary. Informatic students at AAU find themselves juxtaposed between Computer Science and Communication Studies. This interdisciplinarity allowed me to see phenomena from different perspectives and find commonalities in distinctions which is useful in my PhD.
Both as a student and supervisor, you work closely with PBL. What do you think about the concept?
As a PhD student, I am also a supervisor and I teach the principles of PBL. This would be a challenging job if I did not believe in them. I think PBL, like most other things, has its advantages and disadvantages. Some students thrive in PBL. They can apply abstract theories in practice, learn to understand complex issues and create good group dynamics. On the other side, some students lose their voice in group work, feel that finishing a project is more important than learning, and find that theory and practice are too far apart. I also think that whether you are one or the other depends on group dynamics, the study environment, the student and the supervisor.
Did PBL help to prepare you for your PhD?
Yes, it did. I think that I use most of my experiences with PBL in my PhD project to identify problematic situations in real-world settings, find adequate solutions based on analysis, and engage in reflective inquiry.
STUDIES Development and International Relations at AAU
SEMESTER 10th semester
Elizabeth worked both in practical jobs such as in cleaning, as a waitress or in an outdoor-gear shop and had academic study jobs like her current position as a student assistant at AAU Career. In her 9th semester, she did a remote internship at the One Family foundation in the Netherlands.
In the interview, Elizabeth explains how both unskilled and study-relevant student job can be an asset and how PBL can be applied in surprising situations.
What are the strengths of the education at AAU?
I would definitely say the concept of problem based learning and group work. In so many areas it is important to work in a team. And the whole process of starting with an idea or problem and coming to a solution is exactly the way most workplaces function. I was for example planning a trip as a scout leader and the task of finding a camp is very much like a research question that you have to solve. Then you try to find a solution and evaluate different options, just like in PBL.
How could you apply knowledge and competences from your studies in your internship?
I benefited a lot from my cultural understanding. One the one hand, I had the cultural and historical background knowledge to understand what we were working with. On the other hand, I have collaborated with students from many different countries during my studies and that helped me when I was in contact with people from different cultures.
What did you learn in both your practical and academic jobs?
On the practical side, I learned a lot through the contact with people. You have to ask the right questions to find out what the customer needs and how that fits with your services. You need to do the same with a business partner. As a waitress for example you also have a lot of different tasks going on at the same time, so you learn to get an overview and to coordinate. I am sure you can get a lot of experience that you can bring to a different kind of job.
The academic working environment is very different and I got familiar with these processes that are often a lot like PBL. The boss gives you a task and then you have a meeting where you find out what to do.
How can volunteering help students?
Volunteering can be a great opportunity for networking. For example, I got a study job through volunteering at the student house. We were planning an event and I started talking with the university chaplain who was speaking there. We started chatting about an open job position they had, and I mentioned that I had considered applying. The conversation encouraged me to apply and, in the end, I got the job. I think if I had not known the chaplain and he had not seen me organizing the event, I might not have gotten the job.
How well do you feel prepared for the job market?
I feel prepared but only because of my various student jobs and my internship. There you can apply the background you got from your courses. Sure, you can never be 100% prepared but I am trying to be.
What tips do you have for other students that want to expand their horizon beyond their studies?
Try out different things. For some it might be sport, others might want to get involved in the student association. For me it was volunteering at the student house and as a scout leader.
And tell others if you are looking for new opportunities. Tell the people you are studying with, maybe somebody knows about an open position or a person is leaving a position that might be exactly right for you.
Lotte Burholt Pedersen
Project collaboration, volunteer work, study job – career counselor Lotte Burholt Pedersen gives you valuable tips on how expand your competences.
What are the advantages of PBL in preparing students for the job market?
You have the excellent opportunity of actually having worked on real life problems which means that your education is not only theory, but theory put into practise. It can really boost your self-confidence and selfunderstanding that you have worked on a case study or maybe even worked closely together with a company. At AAU Career, we always advise students to work together with a company, if possible.
What are the advantages of a project collaboration?
The advantages are that you gain an understanding of the corporate structure in a company, you practise your research skills and can show initiative to the employer. Not only will you become more confident when experiencing that your education is useable. You will also expand your network with new contacts – and maybe even new contracts through the contacts. About 20 % of students get a job in the company where they are doing a project collaboration. Maybe you give such a good impression that you can get hired for a student job, internship or fulltime job.
How can you find a good project collaboration?
By looking at AAU’s jobbank you can find many project collaborations. When companies contact us about collaboration or jobs, we always advise them to post their projects or jobs in the jobbank. In addition, at job fairs you also meet company representatives – remember to research about the companies in advance. You can also ask your teachers about collaborations as they are often in close contact with companies. Sometimes, you need to approach a company on your own, convincing them that your ideas for a collaboration is valuable to them – other times you will find a predefined project.
What would you recommend students to do if they want to supplement the competences from their studies?
Some believe that a study relevant job is the only way to gain relevant competences for their future job. However, for example volunteer work can also develop highly relevant competences. Your volunteer work says a lot about you as a person because you spend your valuable time on matters that really interest you. And your competences such as coordinating, goal oriented and people skills are put into practise.
What tips would you give especially to international students that want to find a (study) job in Denmark?
They need to be aware that it can also be difficult for Danes to find a student job. You need to seek opportunities, such as offer your assistance to your teachers, attend career events in your study department or planned by AAU Career, the International House, your union or elsewhere. Also, be proactive on LinkedIn where you can find former fellow students who are now working or find people whose job you find really interesting. Check out their profile and company, and maybe contact them to ask them how they got into this job. You can find lots of inspiration when looking into your network or by expanding your network.
Do you have any further tips?
My last advice is that you have to remember that the company or organisation does not collaborate or hire you because you are nice. They hire you because you can help them. You can add value by for example increasing numbers of customers, decreasing faults in the production or minimising stress. It is your job to make sure that you tell employers what you can do for them.