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View from the East

Hans gregersen’s first experience with China actually happened in California in 1994. He was a visiting professor in a laboratory at the University of California San Diego where he was the only person who was not Chinese. It was a rapid introduction to a Hans Gregersen is a Scandinavian scientist-doctor-entrepreneur living in Beijing, China. He invites you to join him.culture he now lives everyday, as Executive Director of the Sino-Danish Center for Research and Education (sdc) in Beijing.

SDC, founded in 2010, is a joint initiative of the eight Danish universities, the Danish Ministry of Science and Technology, and the Graduate University, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Collaborative research projects with Nordic and Chinese scientists are underway and this year, the center begins master’s degree programs in neuroscience and imaging, water and environment, innovation management, and public management and social development. Next year’s life science programs will include genomics and proteomics.

All students accepted at Danish universities are eligible, and classes are in English, led by Chinese and Danish professors. By the end of 2013, the center hopes to have 100 researchers, 120 PhD students, and 330 master’s students, and be housed in its own building funded by 80 million Danish kroner from the Danish Industry Foundation.

Sino-danishcenter for education and reacearch

Life of a hybrid at SDC
“I’m a hybrid—part engineer, part mba, part medical doctor,” says Gregersen. He has research and clinical experience in biomechanics and pain, and is a medical device entrepreneur. Gregersen is convinced of the value of diverse work teams and brings this perspective to overseeing the sdc with his Chinese counterpart, SDC Principal Director, Zhu Xiangbin. Gregersen has worked in the United States, Ireland, and China, and after raising a family in Denmark, decided, “I wanted to go abroad again because it’s so stimulating for my life and my career.”

In November 2011, Gregersen moved to Beijing. After months of managing the center remotely and during frequent visits, he now interacts daily, in person, with his SDC colleagues. “We’re scaling up center activities,” he says, including enrolling 72 Danish PhD students to do part of their thesis at the center, and building a senior faculty. Currently, about 12 Danish professors are at the center, and the ultimate goal is to always have at least one professor onsite from each of the eight Danish universities.

“A big challenge so far has been starting the four master’s degree programs, wondering if we could recruit enough Danish students,” says Gregersen. He and his team toured Danish universities, highlighting the advantage of a degree from a program accredited in both Denmark and China, and convincing 106 students to apply for 60 spots to start in fall 2012, with 15 students in the natural science programs. Gregersen says for environmental science students, China unfortunately offers a research resource not available in most of Europe: polluted lakes and rivers. For scientists in molecular or medical fields, the attraction is equipment and high-tech platforms. sdc Chinese Principal Coordinator for Life Sciences Ding Wenjun says that opportunities at SDC will be in “neuroscience, ‘omics, biotechnology, bioinformatics”, and both Ding and Gregersen promote SDC’s access to advanced neuroimaging equipment.

Focus on tech transfer
Before moving to SDC, Gregersen worked in technology transfer, directing research and innovation at Aalborg Hospital and Aarhus University Hospital. He is now cultivating industrial partnerships, seeing SDC as the perfect conduit to match inventions from Danish universities with commercial opportunities in China, and vice versa. This effort has resulted in the greatest adjustment for Gregersen. He normally spends evenings on his own research, but in China, partnerships are cultivated over dinner, often three or four nights a week. Another adaptation, says Gregersen, is getting used to a business culture that relies on handshakes and networks rather than the more European tradition of formal contracts.

Bringing the two cultures together is the point of SDC, though, and Gregersen is definitely getting the stimulation he sought by moving abroad. Although so far he has seen China only on a few ski trips and on work trips ranging from eastern Shanghai to central Chongqing, he says.

“My best hobby is my work.”