Denmark My Words

Education in science at the postgraduate level tends to be directed at preparing you with skills for work in academia – even if the jobs we aim for are elsewhere. There seems to be an increasing understanding that working life may take us outside of academics and into for-profit, non-profit, or government work. To bridge that gap in awareness, I enrolled in a course on international scientific careers.

The class had an additional appeal: the tour this year focused on Danish businesses and culminated in a five-day road trip across Denmark. After Corsica, taking yet another opportunity to combine my education with travel feels like I am spoiling myself, but I have no regrets – my adventures only confirm that experience is the best teacher.

Our day off in Denmark was spent exploring Copenhagen on foot and by canalboat.

The companies led us on tours of the facilities and over the course of the week we saw a range of offices, laboratories, and factories, as well as the Fishery and Seafaring Museum (or rather Fiskeri- og Søfartsmuseet) where my group’s project was based. We also got to sit down with industry professionals and pick their brains for insight and advice. Fascinating conversations often ensued, on how to balance responsibility to the shareholders with responsibility to the environment, and the benefits and challenges of genetically modified food.

The trip crystallized my understanding of the division between the worlds of academia and industry. While academics is research, industry too is research-driven, and both fields are heavily propelled by competition. However, they are bound by different constraints. Academics must prove themselves through publications, but are free from the requirement of short-term profit-earning, and this, I believe, allows them to do work of longer-term import. In industry, that need to meet a demand can drive incredible useful innovation.

The massive sculpture “Men by the Sea” can be seen near the Danish city of Esbjerg.

My classmates from non-ocean science backgrounds couldn’t get over
how crazy/cool/scary the aquarium's wolffish were.

Summer officially began upon my return to the Netherlands, which for me means family time. While out with my cousins, we stopped at a herring stand for a traditional Dutch snack. The fishmonger deftly gutted and filleted each whole herring (so we could see its freshness first-hand) while he explained the process by which the herring is preserved.

Although Dutch herring is often called “raw,” it has actually been brined or pickled. Fishing vessels today have the capacity to immediately freeze the catch, but historically, these processes were needed to preserve the food. They also add real love-it or hate-it flavor! It can be eaten on bread with onions, but I prefer to savor the fish itself, so I placed my order for herring plain and “by the tail”. The fishmonger praised my choice: Zoals het hoort! “As it’s meant!”

Old-school Dutch snack: herring, pickled – and held by the tail. Mm!
The northern Europe herring fishery is considered sustainably managed, but its boom and bust has defined coastal communities for centuries.

I had learned in the museum in Esbjerg that drift nets were used to catch herring in in the Middle Ages. Herring populations are naturally very variable, and their boom and bust cycles guided the rise and fall of coastal civilizations in northern Europe. These days, North Sea herring are steadily fished, and generally regarded as sustainably managed. Herring are forage fish and their low position in the food pyramid means that they are of critical importance for supporting the large predators that feed on them. Since these small fish are actually more suited to supporting fisheries than their predators (like tuna, which grow and reproduce slowly), I allow myself the occasional indulgence.

In summer it stays light past 10pm. The town of Zutphen was stunning in the late evening light.

I am prepared to graduate by the end of this summer with an MSc in Marine Biology, with a focus on research. However, I’ve had another idea brewing for a while now, and I’ve officially concluded to go through with it. This fall, I’ll extend my study at the University of Groningen for a year to pursue a second focus on science business and policy. I’m thrilled that this will allow me to build on my eye-opening experience in Denmark learning about science in a business setting, and to delve into how policies guiding the sustainability of fisheries (such as the herring I discussed) are made, enforced, and monitored.

So, I’m joining Melissa, pushing on with summer work to prepare for a new autumn program!

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