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Simon Heisterkamp shares what he has learnt on his journey to working for Terma as a Systems Engineer in Defence & Security.

Simon Heisterkamp shares what he has learnt on his journey to working for Terma as a Systems Engineer in Defence & Security.

Originally from Germany, Simon studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge and then completed an MSci in Physics and a PhD in Experimental High Energy Physics at Copenhagen University.

Tell us about the decision process that led to you pursuing a career as a Systems Engineer. 
For the longest time it had been my plan to pursue an academic career with the goal of becoming a professor. However, the more I talked to current academics the less attractive this career path appeared. I felt the desire for more job security and greater self-determination with regards to the job-framework than the academic world can offer. I did some soul searching to isolate the activities and values that were important to me in my work as a PhD student. I realised that I wanted to be part of an industry that makes and delivers real world objects because a hands-on feedback from my work was something that I had been missing in my abstract research. Beyond these somewhat vague frames I did not want to set too many restrictions because I wanted to be open to the unexpected possibilities that might present themselves.

What was your experience of finding a graduate job?
I found it somewhat difficult because I had made up my mind to be in a certain type of position, namely an engineering position, which I am not formally educated for, and not, for example, a software engineering position at a financial institution. With this in mind I knew I would have to be more flexible geographically (I ended up moving from Copenhagen to Aarhus). In total I got about 8 rejections before I got this position.

What should students do to prepare for finding graduate employment?
Start to notice the activities that you like and do not like during your daily work. Not “I like research”, rather “I like statistical data analysis”, “I like presenting at meetings”, “I like tutoring” or “I like teaching”. Think about which of your activities you would like to see in a future job and how they are transferrable. Also, practice networking. Talk to everyone about your thoughts about your future job. (90% of students agree with Simon that building a network is important for finding a graduate job).

What advice would you give to current students struggling to decide on their career path?
Think about the life you want to lead. What values are important to you? Make a list of the widest possible circle of companies and industries that could be relevant. Start browsing some webpages. You will soon find that there are some directions that you can exclude already at this stage.

Talk to everyone about your future career. Friends, parents’ friends, people you just met… everyone works somewhere and has a different view on their company and their type of career.

If you cannot decide precisely what type of job you want then remember that you are probably not even aware of 90% of the jobs that you would enjoy having. Be open to the possibility that often the direction you end up in is determined by little more than random chance. If you embrace this possibility, it allows you to focus on other things. 

Are there working culture differences between companies in Denmark and your home country?
One aspect that has been very noticeable to me in every Danish workplace I have seen is how non-hierarchical and warm the working atmosphere is. Danes are very approachable and open to talk if anything is the matter.


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