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Having a network is an undervalued part of doing a degree

It was academic expertise that drew Guilherme Maciel from Brazil to Denmark to do a PhD, but it was his network and collaboration opportunities that made stay

Guilherme Maciel is briefly back at Aarhus University, where, between 2013 and 2016, he worked on his PhD called “The impact of some farming-related factors and pre-processing steps on milk quality for cheese production”.

It was here he spent three years exploring how agricultural practice and a cow’s genetic background affect the final cheese product. And it was here he discovered he could excel at more than pure academia, and that he in fact wanted to do something different. That he wanted to use his knowledge in business and industry. That it was here he wanted to create value.

- It just dawned on me that I am more of a generalist than a scientist, jokes Guilherme Maciel, who originally moved to Denmark from Brazil in order to do a PhD at Aarhus University – simply because it was here he could find a supervisor conducting research in the exact area Guilherme was interested in.

Gaining social knowledge

When you ask Guilherme what it was he actually found in Denmark, it is not his supervisor or academic expertise he highlights. It is his network, both inside and outside the university walls.

In connection with his research project, for example, he made contact with Arla, who helped to finance the project. And, at the university, he worked with several other students, which enabled him to gain social knowledge and collaboration experience.

- Working with a lot of other students, both Danish and international, where you are working together on one joint project but coming from different backgrounds and cultures, has given me so much I can use, explains Guilherme.
As a Brazilian, he comes from a culture with a stricter work ethic and a different hierarchy in the workplace. But he quickly took to Danish culture.

- Here all relationships are built on trust, so you are able to do more. You get more responsibility.

Much more than purely academic skills 

After his PhD programme, Guilherme got his first job at Arla, where he stayed for five years before moving to Novozymes to work as a research scientist in August 2020. A move from milk to the product development of washing powder – a move bound up in the knowledge he acquired during his studies. 

And in the ability to translate knowledge into practice.

According to Guilherme, it was almost as important as gaining academic knowledge that Aarhus University also taught him how to apply this knowledge in practice.

- You are so much more than your purely academic skills. At university, you learn to take risks, to process information quickly, and to take responsibility and lead projects – across departments and subject areas. You also learn to work under pressure and to meet new people, claims Guilherme, and he goes on to underline what he believes to be at the heart of what he and his fellow students can do:

- We are trained to solve very complicated problems, and we are good at finding solutions.

Guilherme came to Denmark expecting to pursue a career in academia. But it was something else he found, even though knowledge, academic expertise and an in-depth understanding of technology continue to form the basis of his professional life.