15 February 2018

Head of Studies for Pharmacy: If We Are to Do Something Big for Denmark, then...

Associate Professor Tommy Nørskov Johansen

Over the next new weeks SUND Communication will shine a spotlight on the faculty’s talented heads of studies and their work organising the study programmes. This time we have talked to Associate Professor Tommy Nørskov Johansen, who is head of studies for the master’s and bachelor degree programmes in Pharmacy.

We have asked him:

Why are you the ‘right’ head of studies for Pharmacy? ‘I do not think there is just one “right” head of studies. But I put my soul into the programme and help define its profile by prioritising things that I believe are important and right. And I have a passion for contact with young people and experiencing how they evolve from they start until they are moulded and develop during the programme. It is one of the most important things you can contribute to. But the “right head of studies” is also something you become. When you work on getting a study programme to function as a whole, it gives you an overview that few others have’.

What do you consider your biggest success as head of studies? ‘We are rolling out a fundamental reorganisation of the study programme in pharmacy. We call it Pharma 2020. One of its goals is to get the students to reflect on the best way to plan their education early on. Therefore, the sixth semester has been changed and now consists of electives plus a BA project. This means that the students have to stop and make decisions already during the BA part. It makes them mature and pushes them to become more independent. For many, these choices come naturally, but we also have students who need to be supported and stimulated. It may be too early to say something definite, but I think it will prove to be a success’.

Which challenges do you experience in your work as head of studies? ‘I have been head of studies for a number of years, and in that period I have seen a huge development where political reforms and societal development have caused a big boom in the number of students at the university. This is especially evident from the academic range during the first year. Initially, many need help to find out what it means to study. Some are lagging behind academically from upper secondary school. Perhaps they have just moved away from home, have a long commute and are stunned by the high ambition level. That gives rise to some considerations regarding the education level. Who do you try to accommodate? Which is the primary target group? And how do you manage to stimulate everyone? Naturally, we wish to continue to be a study programme with high ambitions which challenges and develops talent. And we have fewer resources than before’.

What have you done in relation to the students who are struggling to keep up? ‘We work a lot with motivation and getting those who need it to turn over a new leaf. We were given an opportunity to get some UCPH funds for didactic development and during autumn we experimented with individual feedback for first-year students. If, as a student, you talk to one of your teachers and get some good advice, it helps keep you motivated and makes people contemplate what can be done in a smarter way. We have 240 students in one year group, so it really is rather demanding’. How can the teachers give individual feedback to 240 students? ‘In connection with our experiment, the students had to fill in a questionnaire about their work and well-being. Afterwards, they were offered a professional test. More than half of the students agreed and were ready to take the quiz on Absalon. Based on that, the teachers had individual conversations. The response has been good and I would like to continue the initiative. It is not just – and especially not for the students – about adding stuff and running faster. We need to figure out how the best of this can become embedded to make it resource efficient, while improving the learning outcomes. We may have to give priority to this, but we have not decided on a permanent solution yet. I often speak to the course coordinators about the solutions they feel comfortable with in order to ensure a good implementation’.

How do you deal with the demands placed by industry and society on your graduates? ‘For many years, we have prioritised a study programme with close contact to the labour market and have adapted to the competences that are in demand. It is a pleasure and a gift that we have a big industry in our backyard that really wants our graduates. It is easy for the students to get a study-related job and easy for us to create good relationships so that we can arrange internships and master’s thesis projects in different locations. We and our client base have also discussed setting up a mentoring scheme with partners in NGOs and the industry, just like the one we already have between students and teachers. We cannot just lean back because it is going well right now. It is important to ensure that the programme is trimmed for the future’.

What does the research future of today’s Pharmacy students look like? ‘If we are to do something really big for Denmark, then we need great variety in our cross-disciplinary research and work. We must teach this to our students.  As an example, if we are to develop new drugs and make a living out of them, it does not help to lock ourselves into our own professionalism. We need big, strong talents within a wide field and with different backgrounds. Within the health professional fields, we have a lot to give to each other’.

Read also: Responsibility PharmaSchool Takes Recruitment to the Next Level