Since June 2019, more than 300 PhD students at DTU have completed a four-week course in scientific presentation and the UN Sustainable Development Goals as part of their study programme.
The PhD students on the course receive training in presentation techniques, an understanding of the sustainability perspectives of their research, and how this can be incorporated into one or more of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. After completing the course, they can volunteer to join a corps of PhD students who visit high schools to talk about research and sustainability.
The aim is twofold—to increase the knowledge and interest of secondary school students in the technical and natural sciences—and to highlight how the engineering sciences contain indispensable knowledge in the realization of the 17 SDGs for sustainable development.
“Sustainability is a key part of DTU’s strategy and goal to develop technology for people. Therefore, this course is a mandatory part of the PhD programme at DTU. It enables the PhD students to critically assess the sustainability of their research projects. At DTU, this is a tool in the academic toolbox in line with source criticism and statistics,” says Philip Binning, Dean of Graduate Studies and International Affairs.
When Philip Binning introduces the course for new PhD students, he explains that you have to go all the way back to DTU’s mission to find out why DTU is so committed to the UN’s sustainability goals:
“DTU was founded more than 100 years ago by the scientist Hans Christian Ørsted, who among other things discovered electromagnetism. He formulated DTU’s mission which states that the University must develop and create value through the technical and natural sciences for the benefit of society.”
“The UN Sustainable Development Goals are formulated by world leaders who have given their views on the challenges facing society in the years ahead. A common denominator for most of these goals is that technology will play an essential role in solving the world’s problems. We have therefore decided to embrace the SDGs and use them as a platform for our future work.”
A challenging audience
In addition to the PhD students being made aware of the sustainability of their project in relation to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, they also receive training in presentation and communication so that they can, for example, explain the impact their project is having on society to high school students. Such competences are necessary according to Philip Binning—not least if later in their career, for example, they want to secure a grant from the European Research Council (ERC), which awards funding for cutting-edge research projects:
“In order to secure a prestigious EU grant, you have to attend an interview where you only have a short time to pitch your project. This interview is quite simply the decisive factor in determining whether the grant is awarded. But regardless of the students’ ambitions following their PhD, they will need to communicate their messages to a broad audience.”
And according to the dean, the best way to test your communication skills is to give presentations at the nation’s high schools: “High school students are a curious, but also challenging audience. Their powers of concentration can be very limited and they get bored quickly. If students are still curious at the end of the presentation, the PhD student will know that the presentation has been a success.”