Brittany Charlton’s Blog

June 13, 2013

My two months in Copenhagen have now come to an end but what a privilege it has been. Our analysis of maternal oral contraceptive use and adverse fetal outcomes proved to be thought provoking and enabled me to implement analysis techniques that I don’t always use in other research (e.g., high-dimensional propensity scores). I am more proficient in my SAS programming since the programs run so quickly and I can move through the analyses. Being thoughtful about efficiently coding programs with macros is always a good challenge.

Although I was wrapped up with research, my partner visited halfway through my trip, which forced me to see the city. We enjoyed the new Nordic cuisine and the bike-friendly culture while basking in the beautiful weather and long sunlight (~4am-11pm). What a difference even a month can make in terms of weather and light! While a small city (and country), Denmark still has some gems including the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek and Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. For my last weekend, I also went to visit two colleagues at the Karolinska in Stockholm, Sweden. Harvard has many ties there so it was neat to see this in person and compare their experience to my own in Denmark.

I am excited to see what comes out of future collaborations. We will wrap up these particular analyses over the summer but new ideas are already taking shape for what we might do next!


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April 10, 2013

Upon entering the Statens Serum Institute, a large sign greeted me with quotes from Science that read “The Epidemiologist’s Dream: Denmark…When an Entire Country is a Cohort.” This encapsulates my first two weeks in Copenhagen quite well as I met with my collaborators, gained access to the registry data, and began running analyses. Just inside the Institute are large wall pieces displaying New England Journal and Lancet papers that have been published by the Institute’s faculty. The abundance of social services coupled with detailed data across the lifecourse truly make this setting an epidemiologist’s jewel.


As a little girl, I had dreamed of moving to Scandinavia because this is where the world’s best synchronized figure skating teams are based. Clearly my priorities have shifted from figure skating to epidemiology as I have grown up but I have still landed in Scandinavia. For years, I have read papers from all of the Nordic countries and been amazed at how creative researchers can be using massive amounts of nuanced data. I am only more impressed after seeing these resources in person. I will be linking individual-level data between registries using the Danish Civil Registration System’s unique personal identification number assigned to all Denmark inhabitants. The data is quite clean and intuitive so the learning curve hasn’t been terribly steep. Having trained in the Harvard system of the Nurses’ Health Study where there are more checks and balances, I am amazed at how agile the researchers can be here and yet the work is still thorough and thoughtful.

The cultural differences cannot be overlooked. Knowing about the quality of life, including the lack of major health disparities, I was eager to see this first hand. Similar to my expectations for the registry data, the quality of life is just incredible. For example, the differences in work/life balance in comparison to the US is staggering. Most of the Danish researchers work 37 hours/week, which likely contributes to the county continually being ranked one of the happiest countries in the world. Many of my colleagues leave work at 3pm to pick up their children from daycare and spend the evening at home with their families. When they return to work in the morning, they are hardworking and efficient since that 3pm deadline is always in their minds. The weather and light should not be overlooked either. Despite being in Copenhagen the first two weeks of April, it is still rather cold and dark but finding cozy restaurants and noks around my apartment is a good challenge.

In these two weeks I have been able to learn the data structure and run initial analyses so I’m eager to start drafting the manuscripts and plan further analyses for when I return in May.