What is your typical workday like?
When you work as a consultant you do not really have a typical work day. But today [the day the interview was made] is somewhat close to a normal day for me. I usually start my day in my car at the E45 motorway, approximately 7.45 in the morning. Today I had a meeting in Aalborg at an educational institution, as part of a job we are doing for them, but for example yesterday I was in Tønder and on Friday I will go to Copenhagen, so it varies a lot where I go. In-between my meetings in different parts of the country, I usually do phone-meetings in the car with some of our other customers, in order to use the time most efficiently.
On my way back to Aarhus, I will stop in Randers at one of my colleagues’ house and prepare for another project together with her.
Of course, I also spend time in my office in Aarhus, where I have meetings and coaching sessions. I try to be at my office at least two days during the week, but that can be hard to keep.
When you work for a consultancy firm, you have to be present where your customers need you – for me this is sort of the definition of being a consultant.
What has your career path looked like up until now?
I have a master’s degree in psychology from Aarhus University. Already when I studied at AU, I knew that I wanted to work with organizational psychology, but as a psychologist I felt that I also needed to try to work with clinical psychology. During my internship, I worked with clinical psychology and found it both interesting and important to understand how people become people.
After I finished my studies, I got a job on Funen as family therapist. Here, I had the chance to work with children, families and consultancy. Moreover, I also received my authorization, which you need when you work as a psychologist.
I thought it was a very interesting job, but I also felt that I wasn’t 100 percent motivated. I think my temper didn’t really suit the job. Simultaneously with my work as a family therapist, I decided to start my own business with a former fellow student from Aarhus, who was working as a researcher. As both our jobs had flexible working hours, it was possible for us to make some consultancy work without it taking up too much of our time. Luckily, we starting up our own consultancy company coincided with schools, day cares and so on had to form teams. This meant that we had a lot of jobs where we taught leaders about teamwork and how to implement teams in schools and day cares.
At an event I attended with my own company, I met the CEO of “Udviklingskonsulenterne” [now UKON] at that time. She asked me if I wanted to come and work for them, but I said I was happy where I was at the moment, but suggested she could call me one year later. Which she did.
We started to discuss what my role would be at UKON and I suggested that I would like to implement some kind of research into my work, because I wanted to challenge myself. We became aware of an industrial PhD and we thought it could be a good solution for both me and the company. I would be able to do research about something we could use in practice and I would become a specialist when I was done with my research. As an industrial PhD you are employed by the company, whereas as a “normal” PhD you are employed by the university.
In fact, it would be a win-win for both me and the company. At first, the plan was that I should work externally on my PhD, but it seemed to be hard for me to find a field that made sense for the board to invest time and money in. Therefore, I ended up being hired as a consultant at UKON and simultaneously with working as a consultant, I would do my industrial PhD. This constellation was much better, as it also enabled me to learn about the organization from within, and hence being able to find a field of research that made sense for the board to invest in. Within a year we made an application and talked with different universities about the project.
After many talks with different universities, we ended up making an agreement with Aalborg University about an industrial PhD. It might seem like a cliché, but AAU were much more flexible and better to understand the demands the company had. Moreover, AAU’s research environment suited me well and they were able to understand that I both had to do my work at UKON simultaneously with doing my PhD. Lastly, AAU did not have any intention about influencing my field of research, which was very important for both me and UKON.
Two years after doing my PhD, I became UKON’s head of research, where I am responsible for the research projects we have and also initiating new research projects. My industrial PhD was a success for the company, since it has been a part of UKON’s strategy and brand to positioning the company between the research world and the corporate world. We use research-based methods and develop our practice by initiating new research projects and industrial PhDs.
How close is your current career to the ideas and dreams you had as a PhD fellow at AAU?
It is pretty close to what I imagined.
But as mentioned before, an industrial PhD is somewhat atypical compared to a normal PhD. When I started my PhD, I was already employed in a company, and chose to do research about something which could be put into practice and conceptualised in UKON afterwards.
Subsequently, I have also started to write books about my field of research. I didn’t really think it would come that far. But I have always had the idea about doing a PhD and then be able to come out on the other side as an expert, and be able to continue working within this field.
How have you made use of you PhD education, and which of your PhD competences have been most important to you?
Especially the knowledge I obtained during my PhD. I researched how management teams can break their old patterns, which I also work with today. So I use the knowledge about this every day.
Moreover, I use the certain way of writing, which you learn when doing a PhD. You obtain certain skills by writing, reading and getting feedback which are very useful for me today. UKON wants to be seen as an influencer, so it is important that we are able to formulate something – not necessarily in an academic way – that catch on with the public.
Furthermore, it is also extremely important for me to be detailed-oriented and skeptical about all answers you receive. This is also something I learned to be during my PhD.
Lastly, I would also say that my PhD has enabled me to know how I argue for things. I believe that being part of an environment filled with high expectations towards argumentation, clarification of concepts and so on has helped me a lot.
What do you remember most from your PhD studies?
One of the clearest memories is of course my PhD defence. That was amazing. I was so happy and overwhelmed afterwards.
Another thing I remember, was the first time I received feedback on an article. That was both a positive and negative experience. On one hand, you are blown away by the fact that a person has put so much time and effort into improving your work, but on the other hand you are completely dejected by seeing more remarks than characters in the article.
Is there a teacher/colleague from AAU you remember especially, and why?
I am still in contact with Helle Alrø and Poul Nørgård Dahl, which were also working here when I did my PhD. Both of them have just contributed to my new book and hopefully I will contribute to their book next time. So we’re still stay in touch and use each other’s networks.
I think both Helle and Poul exemplify the ability to navigate between the academic and practical fields. They have the ability to maintain academic standards, but are still able to include the things that companies find interesting.
Why did you decide to do a PhD, and would you have chosen differently if you were to do it today?
It made sense for me at the time and I wanted to challenge myself. If I had the option to do it again today, I wouldn’t hesitate. However, as I already obtain my PhD degree, I am not able to do it again. Now as UKON’s head of research, I am able to help others with their research. So I am still part of it in some way.
I love to start projects and would love to be able to do a PhD again.
What advice would you give to current PhD fellows at AAU that want a career outside academia?
My advice would be to research in problems, which can be put into practise. You should both address an academic gap, but also a problem in real life.
What are your dreams for the future?
I wish that the gap between the corporate world and the academic world becomes smaller. I know that the gap will always be present, but I hope that it can be decreased so it can be easier to move between the two worlds.
About Anders Trillingsgaard
Place of birth: Aarhus, Denmark
Current employment: Head of research and Partner, UKON Human Results
MA programme and university: Psychology, Aarhus
Department at AAU: Communication and psychology
Year of graduation: 2011
Title of PhD dissertation: Transformational Episodes in Management Teams