Soldier or scientist? Here is the PhD supervisor of the year

Professor Jørgen Bjergaard Jensen of the Department of Clinical Medicine has been awarded the JCD Prize for 2023. With his unique approach and recruitment model – inspired by the military – he has created a very special sense of unity among the students.

Jørgen Bjerggaard Jensen is PhD supervisor of the year at Health. He received the prize and the accompanying personal award of DKK 25,000 at Health’s PhD Day on 20 January 2023.
Jørgen Bjerggaard Jensen is PhD supervisor of the year at Health. He received the prize and the accompanying personal award of DKK 25,000 at Health’s PhD Day on 20 January 2023. Photo: Simon Fischel

About the JCD Prize

  • Named after Professor Jens Christian Djurhuus, who was head of the Department of Clinical Medicine from 1978 to 2012.
  • Awarded annually (since 2012) by the PhD Association at Health to a supervisor who has done an extraordinary job.
  • Has been awarded to Helle Terkildsen Maindal of the Department of Public Health (2021), Christian Kanstrup Holm of the Department of Biomedicine (2020), and Ole Mors of the Department of Clinical Medicine (2019).

The JCD Prize, named after Professor Jens Christian Djurhuus, is awarded annually to a particularly dedicated and talented PhD supervisor at Health. This year the prize went to senior consultant, clinical professor and department chair Jørgen Bjergaard Jensen, and was presented on PhD Day, 20 January.

“Jørgen Bjerggaard Jensen is a perpetual optimist. We can present him with any challenge, and he always assures us that there is a solution. What’s more, we can sense his genuine interest in us as people – not just for our studies. He makes us feel like one big family,” write 14 of the professor’s current and previous PhD students in the nomination.

Devotes one day a week to supervision

The PhD supervisor of the year conducts research into cancer of the urinary tract and, together with his students, questions everything connected with the standard procedure in the course of such an illness.

“These might be references, treatments, follow-ups or a lot of other areas, where we look at whether we could do things a little smarter. Are there, for example, new ways of scanning, operating, or supplementing the treatment? A wide range of exciting projects are underway in our area, and I set aside a whole day every week to guiding the PhD students,” says Jørgen Bjerggaard Jensen.

The presentation of the JCD Prize came as a surprise to the professor, and even though, as a supervisor, he makes a virtue of following each PhD student closely, the great accolade from the students has made an impression on him.

“It is fantastic to receive so much praise, but the best thing is to see that the students actually feel that what they’re doing really does make sense. A large part of the job of a PhD supervisor is to find the right students and match them with a project that suits the individual. That takes patience, confidence and attentiveness,” says Jørgen Bjerggaard Jensen.

Jørgen Bjerggaard Jensen took on the role of PhD supervisor in 2012, and has been principal supervisor for twenty PhD students over the past decade.

Student recruitment with inspiration from the special forces

This year’s PhD supervisor of the year is not like other supervisors. At any rate, his approach to supervision is distinguished by a special recruitment system, which he has created with inspiration from the special forces of the military.

After having found it difficult to find the right PhD students for a number of exciting projects, which therefore failed to be realised, the professor decided to raise the bar in the application process, so that the students should actively apply.

“I looked at the Frogman Corps and was very inspired by the way they recruit people. They use a selection process which starts a long time before the applicants are taken into consideration as suitable candidates for the trainee school. I decided to introduce this method, and we now organise an annual boot camp, where potential applicants are selected even before they have the opportunity to participate,” he explains.

Boot camps for future PhD students

This year’s boot camp will take place in February, and both current and former PhD students are taking part as instructors. The trip lasts 3-4 days and creates a strong sense of unity among the students. However, the exact programme is kept secret, so that the applicants do not know in advance what it will involve.

“This is exactly the same as when you apply for the special forces. You have an idea of what will happen, but otherwise it should be a bit mysterious. They are thrown into a mixture of something physical and theoretical, and are given general instruction on what it means to be a PhD student. There are co-operation exercises, physical exercises and a little bit of everything,” says Jørgen Bjerggaard Jensen.

When the project started, he had a dialogue with the then head of the Frogman Corps, who also contributed to the first boot camp. Since then, the initiative has proved a great success, both in terms of recruitment and in relation to creating awareness of the job of researcher as a profession.

“There are a lot of rumours about what actually goes on at our boot camp. I’ve heard people talk about everything from helicopters to actual military exercises. Our budget won’t stretch to that, but the fact that there are some surprises in store does, of course, contribute to the attraction,” says Jørgen Bjerggaard Jensen.

It takes teamwork and hard work to write a PhD

This year’s supervisor regards both the prize and the fine words in the nomination as a big pat on the back, and as proof that the military recruitment model can do something special.

“Some people say there are too many PhDs in general, but I think that’s utter nonsense. If we didn’t focus on development and innovation, then we doctors would still be using leeches and bloodletting. But there’s no doubt that some students get started on projects that they neither want to do nor possess the commitment to finish,” he says, and continues:

“Willpower really means a lot, because at the end of the day, that’s what decides whether you will be able to finish your project. And that kind of willpower and commitment can easily be detected through an intensive process such as our boot camp.”

Jørgen Bjerggaard Jensen is pleased with the students’ praise, but he also points out that the students themselves are to a large extent responsible for the success of their own recruitment and the supervision process.

“The students make huge efforts, and are both individually talented and extremely good at collaborating and solving joint tasks. It’s fantastic to feel their dedication and see their work performance. I don’t actually think they realise how unique and talented they are – and I see it as one of my most important tasks as a supervisor to remind them of that,” says Jørgen Bjerggaard Jensen.


Professor, Department Chair and Senior Consultant Jørgen Bjerggaard Jensen
Aarhus University, Department of Clinical Medicine and
Aarhus University Hospital, Department of Urology
Mobile: +45 3091 5682