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What we know and understand, we care for

The stay-at-home mom and sustainability enthusiast who chose to use her powers for research in science education. An interview with Katrine Bergkvist Borch, PhD student at the Research Center for Science Education and Communication at the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, SDU.

By Ursula Lundgreen, , 1/4/2024

What is your PhD project about?

My project investigates how different learning environments impact students' interest in science. I'm focusing on two projects: 'Bælt i Balance' and 'Geo- and Bio Science Center Syd' as primary cases to understand how these settings can transform the way students engage with and perceive science. It's not just about academic curiosity; it's about connecting students with nature and igniting a spark for lifelong learning in science, so in the end we can create a generation that will take better care of our planet.

Why did you decide to pursue a PhD?

I have to say that it was more luck and coincidence that I became a researcher, than something that I had planned for. After I finished my degree as biologist, I got the possibility to become a high school teacher. I loved being a teacher, but I realized there was something missing – a gap in how we teach science. I wanted to bridge that gap, to find innovative ways to make science education more engaging and relevant. However, I thought that I could do that by becoming a very good practitioner – be in the field, so to speak.

In my opinion there are two ways that you do research: As a theorist who explores the practical field, to get proofs that either confirm your theories or contradicts them – and as a practitioner who explores the theories to understand everything better and thereby become capable of creating new things. I will always be a practitioner at heart - but a practitioner who has seen the light in what research can do. One that goes still deeper into the world of theories.

As a high school teacher I had two children but with the birth of my youngest, I decided to be a stay-at-hom mom. When my youngest child was one and a half year old, a position as research assistant became available at FNUG. At that time, I didn’t think that I wanted to become a researcher – I preferred the more practical approach. But after experiencing the environment at FNUG, that is co-creative, collaborative, and indeed very often deeply rooted in actual cases, I saw that a PhD is my path to making a tangible difference in the educational landscape, blending my passion for science with a desire to inspire the next generation.

The PhD. project is closely connected with the way that me and my family has chosen to live our lives. We live on a farm, as far as it is possible to be away from everything in such a small country as Denmark. At our farm you can see the stars at night, we grow as much as we can ourselves, we have our own chicken coop, our two children know what it’s like to pick berries from the bushes, and they have seen a calf being born and a chicken being hatched from the egg. I understand that we all have different possibilities in life and for many people this way of living is not an option or a possibility. I am grateful that it has been for us!

So, when people ask me about my PhD. Project – they could just as easily ask me how it is going with our newest experiment to breed chickens (chickens are not the brightest animals – so it’s not easy!) – it’s all interconnected. It’s who I am.

What did you dream of becoming as a child?

I dreamt of being a day-care provider – what could be more important than taking care of our children, the next generation?
But life has a funny way of revealing our true passions. When I was home with my own children, I realized that while I loved being a mother, I craved intellectual stimulation and challenge, and I missed having collegues. This realization steered me away from that early dream towards a path where I could continue to grow and be challenged on a personal and intellectual level – but without losing sight of my overall plan – to help make the next generation stronger and more able to take care of our planet -the clouds are darkening, and we really do need to do something, it’s a fact.

My grandfather all-ways told me: “You will change the world one day”. And maybe grandparents normally say those kinds of things to their grandchildren, but he said it in a way that both held a lot of love and positive expectations for my competencies, but at the same time told me that it could not be any different – “the one that holds the ability has the responsibility”. I believe that I am now on that path – I am using my competencies in the absolute best way that I can.

How do you think your PhD project can impact our society?

I believe my research can reshape how we approach science education. In my first year as a PhD student I have participated at conferences where sustainability in science education with the vision of global green transition has been a theme. I contributed to research based development of science education. Already in 1973, 15 years before I was born, two researchers, Rittel and Webber, defined the term "Wicked Problems" which are complex and systemic problems that cannot be solved. Problems that take a lot of different professions and researchers to solve. One of the early contributions from my PhD project to the scientific world is the development of the term "Wicked Problems" to "Wicked Heritage". "Wicked Heritage" is about climate crisis, biodiversity crisis and all of the other crisis the World is facing right now. These are no longer just systemic and complex problems, they are a complex and systemic legacy that we, the societies of the World, pass on to future generations. I believe that my research can contribute to change the way we teach in natural science subjects.

How can we teach children and young people about these crisis without taking away their hope for the future?

By creating learning environments that are more interactive, immersive, and connected to the real world, we can foster a generation of students who are not just knowledgeable, but also passionate about science and its role in addressing global challenges, especially in sustainability and environmental protection.

I have this wonderful example from one of my field observations – a class that was filled with teenage boys that were wild and unruly, came with me to catch crabs. For doing that they needed to have waders on. At the beginning they did not know what to expect – so naturally they were a bit sceptical. Just joking around and not really paying attention, but as soon as they got into the water, they became quiet. They had never before experienced the way the water felt with waters on. The weight of the water – the way it slowed them down. It cooled and stilled all their wild behaviour and made them calm and observant. After the field trip was over many of them told me, in an interview, that what have impacted them the most was not the catching of the crabs – it was the experience in the waders. By being in the water that way, instead of just swimming, they suddenly became aware of the way the water felt so heavy. They got to know it by feeling it. And suddenly the ocean was not just the water at the beach where you went to have fun and play in the summertime. It was a place where massive amounts of water exist. They got to feel the abstrusity of the ocean on their own body.

Maybe that experience also thought them to be more curious about the ocean. When you know something and understand it – you care for it.

Meet the researcher

Katrine Bergkvist Borch is PhD student at the Centre for Research in Science Education and Communication.


Meet the researcher

Connie Svabo is a professor and director of Centre for Research in Science Education and Communication, where researchers in education and media work with mathematicians, physicists, chemists, biologists and other scientists to create inspiring educations.


Editing was completed: 04.01.2024