Welcome to “DANWISE Role Model 2023” an inspiring and enlightening series of interviews that highlights the exceptional achievements and contributions of women in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine (STEMM). In this captivating series, we aim to bring you closer to the extraordinary journeys of these remarkable women who have defied societal norms, shattered glass ceilings and pushed the boundaries of knowledge and innovation.
Through these interviews, we will explore the personal stories, motivations, and challenges faced by these trailblazing women in their pursuit of excellence. We will uncover the diverse perspectives and experiences that have shaped their careers.
By sharing their inspiring stories, these women hope to empower and inspire future generations of women to fearlessly follow their passions and carve their own paths in STEMM. We invite you to join us as we celebrate the achievements of these remarkable women, challenge stereotypes, and foster a more inclusive and diverse future in the world of STEMM. Together, let’s explore the limitless potential and incredible contributions of women in STEMM.
Read about Rikke Opstrup Hansen’s interesting career journey from Denmark and back. Rikke pursued architectural engineering at DTU, specializing in indoor climate and building energy. Learn how she afterwards overcame challenges while working in France by setting inspiring goals. Uncover how Rikke’s international experience shaped her, and how mentors played a role in her journey and success. Discover how she finds joy in integrating work and personal life. Rikke’s valuable advice: seize opportunities and embrace the path.
Can you tell us about your career journey and how you got to where you are today?
It all started back in high school where my first thoughts about my professional life had to be shaped. Actually, I was looking into starting at the architectural school of Copenhagen, but finally, I noticed the education as Architectural Engineer at DTU. For me, this made the perfect match between creativity and technical knowledge.
Throughout my education, I specialized in indoor climate and building energy. Again, I found a good match between the technical knowledge and the field of indoor climate, where more soft and creative thoughts are necessary to find the best solution with the human in focus.
When I finished my education, I chose to move to France. I didn’t speak the language but had the hope that I could find a profession where English was accepted to start with. I defined some frameworks for my stay, i.a., that I would allow myself a year to find a job and fight for this, and until then, all concerns about whether it was a good idea should be packed away. Fortunately, I found a job at NNE (Novo Nordisk Engineering). I got a position in their construction department, where I had to work part-time in the department for Conceptual Design and part-time as a discipline manager for architectural work. Again, a good balance of technical knowledge and creativity. Even though the pharmaceutical field was completely new, and so was the language, I felt at home in this balance and was able to maintain the common thread.
Now I’m back in Denmark, and I’m working for a large consulting engineering company. I have returned to the field of indoor climate and building energy, and in addition, I have specialized in sustainable buildings. A subject I am passionate about and involves several of my personal values but is also technically interesting. I still stick to my common thread and try to implement this daily in my everyday life as a consultant, in the analyzes I do and in the solutions I come up with.
What initially sparked your interest in your field?
So, I am a rather hands-on person who is inspired by seeing what I’m working on take shape. As mentioned, already back in high school, architecture, and buildings started to interest me. The time from idea to real building is relatively short, and you can see the ideas you had come to life. The idea that something as simple as a brick can create art if you have the right creativity and the right knowledge is inspiring to me. Also, buildings are everywhere.
We spend 90% of our time indoors, and during that time, there is a fairly high chance that you are actually also looking at buildings. So, buildings are not just about numbers and calculations. It affects us and our mental health. Later, I also became aware that buildings are a great sinner when it comes to the “mental health” of the planet. This has definitely sparked my recent interest in my field.
What steps did you take to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge for your current role?
Of course, it is about taking the necessary education, taking the necessary courses, and continuing education that is offered in your field, but the most important thing is to find a mentor, at least in my field. As a consulting engineer, there is a great deal of knowledge that can only be gained through experience. This applies both to technical knowledge but also to how projects are structured around the client, contractors, and consultants.
Did you face any significant challenges or obstacles along your career path? How did you overcome them?
I did, of course. My biggest challenge was probably working in France – in a new country, in a language I didn’t speak, and in a field I didn’t know. I had days where of course, I found it very difficult, and the motivation was gone. But I learned to take the challenges day by day and set some framework regarding time, where I set some deadlines: against these, I worked towards the goal but otherwise put the worries away, aware that I could ask myself all the questions when I reached my deadline and knew what I was dealing with. This made it easier for me to overcome a new situation and challenge myself and to feel satisfaction from working towards a goal.
Were there any specific individuals or experiences that influenced your career decisions or served as mentors to you?
I’ve been in three companies, and in all three places, I’ve had some kind of mentor. These have both been department managers, like my manager in France, who was brave enough to bring in a foreigner but also experienced colleagues with whom I have had a close collaboration. Just don’t be afraid to ask questions!
Can you share any memorable or impactful moments in your career that have shaped who you are today?
The experience I have gained abroad is the one that has shaped me the most today, both professionally and personally. I’m not normally the type of person who likes to get out into deep water, but I carry this experience with me today, even in my everyday life, when I’m faced with a new challenge.
What do you find valuable in your work life, and what is your favorite aspect of your job? How do you manage to disconnect from work and find a work-life balance?
The above answers describe many of the things I appreciate, but I also think that finding the small joys in one’s work in everyday life at the workplace is key to recognizing that a “work-life” balance does not create joy if it means you have two parallels in life. Of course, you shouldn’t read emails on a Saturday night, but it has created joy for me to make my workplace a part of my life, to open up and be a part of a team. So, in addition to learning to say no to tasks to avoid stress, this is the right “work-life” balance for me.
If you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be?
I’m actually not the big dreamer and imagine where I am in 5 years, so I think I would reassure my younger self that if you just dare to enter through the doors that are open, you will develop and experience a lot.