Former rector Kjeld Møllgård: “I’ve never done as much research as now” – University of Copenhagen

Health > News > 2018 > Former rector Kjeld Mø...

01 August 2018

Former rector Kjeld Møllgård: “I’ve never done as much research as now”


Brain researcher Kjeld Møllgård’s first job at the University of Copenhagen was as student assistant in the early 1960’s. Since then, he advanced to professor, dean and rector. In august, he celebrates 50 years at the University of Copenhagen.

“I became a student assistant in 1961, when I started medical school, and I was paid DKK 5,50 an hour for sorting bones at the Department of Medical Anatomy,” says Kjeld Møllgård about his first job at the University of Copenhagen. The student position was followed by tenure as scientific assistant at the same department on completion of his studies in 1968. That was 50 years ago. If you also count the student position the anniversary amounts to 57 years. Since his first job, he worked his way up to the position of rector, “and luckily, all the way back down again,” as he himself puts it.

It has been five decades with several scientific highs for the now 75-year-old Kjeld Møllgård, who has dedicated his research to solving the riddles of the human brain. More specifically, Kjeld Møllgård has focused on the early embryonic stage. His interest in the highly complex brain stems all the way back from his childhood in Copenhagen, where he was born and raised.

“When all the other children wanted to be firemen, I wanted to find out how the brain worked. Ever since childhood, I have been completely absorbed in the functions of the human brain. To me, it’s still the greatest mystery of all,” explains Kjeld Møllgård, who today holds the title of external associate professor.

And his interest in the brain has stayed with him all the way. In 1968, Kjeld Møllgård became Candidate of Medicine and soon afterwards, in 1972, he became Associate Professor at what was then called the Department of Medical Anatomy. In 1989, he became Professor of Neuroanatomy. During his years at the University of Copenhagen, Kjeld Møllgård has spent quite a bit of time teaching, indeed he still does.

“I love teaching in a large auditorium with 400 medical students, teaching them about the development of the human brain. Just recently, I was at a conference in the US, where I spent a week teaching young, international students,” he explains.

Contested election for the position of rector
Kjeld Møllgård did not spent all his years at the university teaching and researching though. For four years, he was Dean of the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, and in 1994, he became Rector of the University of Copenhagen. This was at a time when staff and students would elect their rector.

“It was a very big day for me, the day I was elected rector. And not least four years later, when I was re-elected after a hard fought contested election. I’m very proud to have been elected rector, and two times at that. Those were exciting times,” Kjeld Møllgård elaborates.

One of the things he wanted to do was reform the recruiting system at the university, to make room for and attract new talents and researchers in the making, while simultaneously enhancing interdisciplinary research. After a long struggle, he eventually managed to secure the means to do it, which resulted in the establishment of the biomedical research centre, Biotech Research and Innovation Centre (BRIC).

In 2002, after eight years as rector, Kjeld Møllgård thought it was time to return to his research, before it was too late. To him it was never about rejecting the position of rector, it was a question of choosing research. And so, at the age of 60, he went back to being a researcher.

“It took a few years, before I was up to speed, but now I’m doing well. Many good colleges here at Panum and in my international research network made it easy. It was a great moment for me, returning to science at the age of 60, being allowed to start again. I’ve actually never done as much research as I’m currently doing,” Kjeld Møllgård elaborates. In late July, he was at a meeting in Oxford, UK, talking about the development of the human brain.

Research as a way of life
In his research, Kjeld Møllgård has always been driven by curiosity and the joy of discovering something new. Currently, he is external associate professor at the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine. And although he will be celebrating 50 years at the University of Copenhagen this year, Kjeld Møllgård has no retirement plans as yet.

“Whenever people ask me whether I’ll be retiring soon, I always answer that to me, research is a way of life, and you cannot retire from your life. And I love my workplace. My wife has always said that I have the best job in the world. And I would tend to agree,” says Kjeld Møllgård who will turn 76 this autumn.

The anniversary at the University of Copenhagen is not the only celebratory occasion on the former rector’s agenda this year; it’s also a private 50th anniversary. In 1968, he married his wife Hanne Møllgård. The couple celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in the Swedish archipelago with their close family, which includes three grandchildren.

External associate professor Kjeld Møllgård
Phone: +45 24441628