Aarhus University Seal

New dean to seek out the faculty's DNA

On 1 April, Kristian Pedersen took up his position as the first dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences. He is looking forward to getting down to work, despite the corona crisis and having to work from home. Read his thoughts about his new job, the faculty and what drives him as a leader.

[Translate to English:] Dekan Kristian Pedersen. Foto: Melissa Yildirim, AU Foto
[Translate to English:] Dekan Kristian Pedersen. Foto: Melissa Yildirim, AU Foto

Kristian Pedersen’s start as the dean of Nat was somewhat different than he expected: at home in front of a screen and with virtual meetings instead of physical. As someone who appreciates personal meetings and walking around an organisation, it hasn't been his dream scenario, but fortunately, it hasn’t prevented him from getting to know his new work place.

"I'm looking forward to meeting all of the talented people working here. It'll take some time, and it's not made easier by only being able to meet via a screen, so I look forward to coming round, looking at what you’re doing, and talking to you face-to-face," says Dean Kristian Pedersen.

The new dean has also had his first thoughts on how the new Nat faculty can forge its own identity as a science faculty, and according to Kristian Pedersen, the work ahead also lies with the research and teaching programmes.

"We have to seek out the core of what Nat really is. What’s our DNA and what are our main strengths that we in the management can help set the framework for, and help on the way? I don’t believe that doing research exclusively top-down is really possible: initiatives must to a high degree come from research and teaching programmes," he says.

He considers it very important that the identity of Nat is very much based on interaction with the other faculties at AU and with the outside world, and therefore he has strong focus on interdisciplinary collaboration with the other faculties - particularly Tech.

"We need to create new interfaces and hold on to many of the existing interfaces that encourage collaboration. There are many opportunities for collaboration both in education and in research, and we also have the interdisciplinary centres, which are a very visible part of our interdisciplinary collaboration. With themes that transcend borders, such as climate change and the UN sustainable development goals, we have to bring researchers from different departments together to address the challenges. This will ensure we make the best contribution to AU's new overall strategy," he elaborates. Moreover, we also have to collaborate with the business community and work actively with the world around us to ensure that our knowledge comes into play and benefits society in general. And all this must be firmly rooted in our deep expertise. "

We’ll make the world a smarter place

In his role as dean, Kristian Pedersen wants to contribute to developing the opportunities that lie at the faculty, which he describes as one of the best in Denmark. He stresses that the role of a dean is very much as a facilitator for others, and his driving force as a leader lies in getting others to succeed.

"I feel lucky and I'm delighted that I've been put in charge of a newly formed faculty from its very beginning. What drives me is to see amazing research results and to see researchers and students flourish, and – as I often say – to help make the world a smarter place. That's our task at the university, both in the short and in the long terms," he emphasises.

He points out that, together with the faculty management team, and in close dialogue with the departments, he has an important role in establishing a good and strong framework for the faculty’s work, where our strengths are, where we can get better, and perhaps even where we can cultivate new areas.

"For example, some of our skilled staff are currently doing research into coronavirus, and they may be able to help solve some of the challenges we’re facing right now. And there's a lot of other research that we’ll have to wait for perhaps 100 years before we can see the dividends," says Kristian Pedersen.

Curiosity and natural science as the driving force

Kristian Pedersen has a background as an astrophysicist, and he has been interested in science and trying to understand how the world is put together since he was a child.

"As a child, I was fascinated by the starry sky, and I discovered that I needed to learn something about physics and mathematics to be able to understand and describe the stars, so I threw myself into this and I ended up with a PhD in astrophysics," he says.

The dean describes himself as the inquisitive type, who is interested in how things interact, whether this be the stars, how a car works, or the very tiniest particles in elements.

"I've always been captivated by the big fundamental questions, and I also find it interesting to see that even very abstract basic research into how the world is put together can lead to extremely useful results. Electronics has completely revolutionised our world through computers, telephones and so on, but this also started as basic research. So we never know in advance where exploration of the world can lead us, and this is what's so compelling," he explains.

Driven by success

Kristian Pedersen uses his innate curiosity in his management role, and he never hesitates to ask if there’s something he doesn’t understand, and then try to get to grips with it.

"Whether it's a question of how an economic model works or how a galaxy cluster is moving, it is a question of going into detail to find the fundamental mechanisms, and then finding out the best thing to do,” explains Kristian Pedersen.

The dean considers it crucial that daily life at the faculty runs smoothly, and that people spend their time in the right way. His ambition is to get as much as possible to work smoothly right where the tasks are performed.

"It's important for me to organise people as well as possible, so that no one has to waste their time because they’re not clear about what they actually have to do, or where they have to go. My goal is to get things to work smoothly, and a good indicator of whether I’m being successful is when as few things as possible end up on my desk," he says, and continues: "What drives me as a leader is to see things happen and see employees succeed with what they’re passionate about. Then, as a leader, I can help to push things that perhaps might not otherwise have been completely successful, or create contacts to facilitate new and exciting results."

We need to talk about what we’re doing

Throughout his entire career, Kristian Pedersen has spent a lot of time communicating in parallel with his research. He is a diligent user of Twitter and lecturer, and he is passionate about communicating the fascination and importance of science to people and policy-makers.

"Communication is something I consider very important. I believe that we have an obligation to taxpayers to tell them what they’re getting for their money. And if we want to compete internationally as well as nationally, the outside world, and not least policy-makers, have to know what Nat stands for. It's not just a job for me, the entire faculty has to communicate what we’re doing," says the dean, who will also work on establishing a good work environment and recruiting and retaining the best possible workforce for the faculty.

"Recruitment and career development are also much on my mind, because the good people we have, whether they be researchers, teaching staff or administrative and technical staff, are at the core of our activities and what will drive us forward. So I’ll spend a lot of my energies on getting the best people in at all levels, and forging an attractive workplace where you can develop and be challenged, but go home happily with a smile."

Dean during corona

Despite a busy start with online meetings and managing the corona situation, Kristian Pedersen has also had time to reflect on what the shutdown means for the faculty. And even though many things are difficult at a distance, he is also convinced that we have harvested a lot of learning from this unusual situation.

"I'm really impressed by how extremely adaptable and solution-oriented everyone has been under these unusual circumstances. This is the good thing about the situation. I personally am getting tired of everything happening at video meetings, but I have to admit you can meet with people, and actually get a lot done in this way. Perhaps the whole digitalisation agenda has been given a kick up the backside, and we’ve been given some experience we can build on. Perhaps we should consider whether it’s really necessary to travel around the country to physical meetings when we can actually come a long way with video meetings. However, having said that, I'm very much looking forward to being able to return to the offices, labs and classrooms and to getting back to normal," he says.

Read extracts from Kristian Pedersen's CV:

  • 2012-2020 Director, DTU Space
  • 2009-2012 Director of the Space Science Center at the University of Copenhagen
  • 2018 professor of space research and has a PhD in astrophysics.
  • 2013-2020 member of the board, Danish University Extension in Copenhagen
  • Member of the advisory board for several enterprises, including Space Composite Structures Denmark, a space technology company

Read more about Kristian Pedersen's appointment as dean