Vilde Coward got involved in student politics after she lost friends in the terrorist attack on Utøya. Her advice for those who want to succeed in working life is: Get enough sleep.

Text: Lisbet Jære

Alumni portrait:

Vilde Coward

Position: General manager at the communications agency Sannum & Bergestuen
Education: BA Social Anthropology, BA Political Sciene, MSc Science, Technology and Society

April 1st this year, Vilde Coward became general manager at the communications agency Sannum & Bergestuen. She left a position as a political adviser in NHO, where she worked with business, industry, and the green shift.

– We are a new communications agency that stands out a little, partly because we operate with open client lists and because our employees participate in the public debate. It is incredibly exciting to work with such skilled employees and together help companies and social institutions bringing Norway into the future, says Coward.

She has also worked at The Royal House of Norway, in The Church City Mission and as a leader of the Welfare Council. Coward can do most things – as long as she gets enough sleep and doesn’t’ do too much multitasking.

Rarely at the library

Coward came to Trondheim in 2008 just after high school. She has studied social anthropology, political science, and holds a master’s degree in Science, Technology and Society

– How were you as a student?

– I was probably a type of student who did not spend so much time the library and lecture hall. I did a lot of other things there and had to work efficiently when I first studied.

The common thread in her education, and the most important thing she has brought with her from NTNU, is the broad knowledge of how people work together and build a society.

Fell quickly in love with Trondheim

Coward is from Oslo where she lives today but fell quickly in love with Trondheim where she ended up living for ten years. She appreciated that the city has nature, culture, sports, a bustling business life, and an incredible number of opportunities for students.

– The student society Samfundet is a world of its own. It is one of Norway’s largest cultural scenes and is run by people in their spare time who study full time. It is a small miracle that it works so well, says Coward, who has held several positions at Samfundet.

The advice she will give to other students, such as her brother who is now studying in Trondheim, is to embrace the unique opportunities that student life provides and spend time on everything that happens outside the reading room. Then she has a mini tip; go to a concert at Knaus.

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Utøya made her get involved in student politics

In the autumn of 2011, Coward’s world fell apart. It was that autumn after she had lost several good friends in the terrorist attack on Utøya.

– I was supposed to start studying political science but struggled and was not able to carry out what I was supposed to. One of the issues that was up for discussion in the parliament at the time was the introduction of a scheme for part-time sick leave for students. It was an important moment for me to do what I could for those who were worse off than me, and at the same time I also felt it applied to me. And all of a sudden, I was a student leader and worked with education policy full time.

The scheme came into place. Coward sees it as a good example of how much you can achieve by getting a bit involved. Students, more than others in society, struggle with psychological problems and loneliness. Such schemes are necessary for more people to complete their studies.

Coward became so involved in student politics that she became a student leader in the Welfare Council between 2012 – 2014, and has also been a representative for the Labour Party in the city council of Trondheim

Success is overrated

– What do you think it takes to succeed in working life?

– I’m not that concerned with succeeding; I think it’s quite overrated. First and foremost, you should have fun, learn new things, and have some visions for what you want to achieve. Then you need to be bold enough to make mistakes, have the desire to learn new things, and to be able to distinguish between work and private life. I think an important key to achieving all that is getting enough sleep, it’s as simple, and as complicated, as that.

At the same time as the importance of sleep is constantly underestimated – today’s society is not designed for us to get enough sleep – society’s constant disruption requires that we rest far more than before.

Brain not made for multitasking

The interest in sleep and how the brain works was awakened in Coward during the pandemic and during the working from home period. She learned the value of multitasking less.

– Today we try to do too much at once, it is exhausting for both the brain and the body. I have become interested in doing things more slowly, and in focusing at one thing at a time. I practice shutting the world out a lot when I’m working on something.

Coward thinks it is ironic how little knowledge about how the brain works is emphasised in society today, and has a small bone to pick to knowledge institutions such as NTNU:

– I think it’s quite ridiculous that we ordinary people do not know more about how our body and brain work. I spent a lot of time myself finding understandable information about it. I think that an institution like NTNU, which spends a lot of time on research, should also be able to balance it with sharing their knowledge. The expertise of institutions such as NTNU is only becoming more and more important in the chaotic information society we live in.

8 a bit on the side

What was your dream job when you were 10 years old?
– Firefighter. But it’s never too late.

Your biggest mistake as a student?
– It took me three attempts to complete the Examen philosophicum. It was only on the third attempt I managed to get up early enough to pass the exam.

What talent would you like to have?
– The ability to stop time.

Which 3 qualities do you value most in others?
– Humility, dark humour, and the ability to cheer others on.

This makes me happy
– To see the sunset from Bymarka in Oslo or Trondheim. And karaoke.

I’m afraid of
– To stop longing to learn new things.

Favourite travel destination
– India, where I studied for six months.

One or more legendary book tips
– One for the mind: Uro by Finn Skårderud
– One for the society: On Tyranny – Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century of Timothy Snyder
– One for the soul: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami