LOVE IN THE TIME OF TINDER
11-2019 / # 19
for alumni & friends
Happiness Chief Happiness Officer Martijn Burger studies the phenomenon of happiness and what makes us happy. ‘By giving people evidence-based information about happiness, we help them make more informed choices.’
Elisabeth Timmermans (28, author of Love in the Time of Tinder) and Shangwei Wu (27) have researched the benefits and pitfalls of dating apps. A conversation about status, monogamy, stigmas and love.
My student days Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality Carola Schouten’s life was shaped years ago as a business administration student at Erasmus University. ‘It was the best time of my life.’
En ook 04 Family Portrait
13 Doing Good Work
27 Science in Practice
14 In Conversation
07 Into the Arts
18 In the Spotlight
46 Innovation in
24 My Office
09 Erasmus & you
26 Brilliant Minds,
10 Hence Rotterdam
Editor-in-chief Carien van der Wal Art director Anke Revenberg Dutch Editor Judith Postema English Editor Siji Jabbar Proofreader Sander Meij Editorial Assistant Hugo Koppe Advertising Crossmedia Graphic Design Ontwerpwerk, The Hague Printing De Bondt
48 My student days
Editorial Team Yasmina Aboutaleb, Pauline Bijster, Cora Boele, Claudia Broekhoff, Monique Broring, Claudie de Cleen, Lotte Dirks, Harriet Duurvoort, GettyImages, Eva Hoeke, Mark Horn, Anneke Hymmen, iStock, Inge Janse, Janneke Juffermans, Karin Koolen, Dennis Mijnheer, Jasper Monster, Moker Ontwerp, Marieke Poelmann, Anne Reitsma, Suzanne Rethans, Carolyn Ridsdale, Sanne Romeijn, Room/Unsplash, Erik Smits, Mark Uyl, Margot Vlamings, Sjoerd Wielenga, Monique Wijbrands, Maarten Wolterink
© Erasmus University Rotterdam All rights are reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system and/or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Please contact Hugo Koppe for any changes of address: firstname.lastname@example.org / 010-4081110.
COVER IMAGE: KRISTA VAN DER NIET
Negativity and ever-increasing conflict seem to be gaining ground within society. Thus an uplifting issue would appear timely. We are thrilled at the extent of academic research devoted to well-being at Erasmus University. Everything from comparing rural and urban happiness and exploring the business of remaining forever young to examining positive psychology, stress management and love. Academic researcher Elisabeth Timmermans recently published her book Love in the Time of Tinder, describing the way social media is affecting our love lives. Reason enough to ask this love guru to help compile our final issue of the year. And of course, an issue centred around love and friendship wouldn’t be complete without an interview with Elisabeth and fellow researcher Shangwei Wu. We were spoilt for choice for topics and could easily have compiled two issues, but we’re pleased with the final selection. With 2019 drawing to a close, we’d like to end by wishing you beautiful friendships and lots of love in the new year. Long live positivity! The editorial team
Both were students at the university, and were even on the same course. Moreover, Cara was buddies with one of Nicole’s friends. All the same, it took Rotterdam Pride and the efforts of matchmaking friends for Cara Sainsbury (left in the picture) and Nicole van de Vorst to get together.
ara and Nicole are sitting next to each other in NRC Rotterdam when we arrive for the interview. The Pride event of a couple of years before was indeed the decisive occasion, begins Cara: ‘Our friends were eager for us to get together, and they weren’t being particularly subtle about it either. Everyone was making out with
each other that day, but Nic and I just talked, and it felt wonderful! When I got home, she sent me a tentative text asking if I would, perhaps, if I felt like it, be up for a date. I texted back immediately: yes!’ Nicole: ‘The chemistry was instantaneous when we met up and time just flew by. We have similar views on lots of things and conversation flows easily between us. It made being together so comfortable. On top of that, Cara’s sweet, outgoing and very attractive, which made me fall for her all the more.’ Cara: ‘Nic is quite shy, but still fairly outgoing. So I find it both gutsy and adorable when she carries on socialising even when the occasion is getting a bit much. I fell in love first. It just spilled out
of me after our third date as we were saying our goodbyes. I just blurted out, “I love you”, and ran off.’ Nicole: ‘I always knew I liked women, but coming out of the closet in the village where I grew up would have been a bit nuts. It was only when I moved to Rotterdam that I dared be myself. A whole new world opened up for me and I blossomed! I’d really like to do more for LGBT acceptance in the future.’ Cara: ‘We go out together quite often, on our own or with friends, sometimes to LGBT parties, but actually just about everywhere. Rotterdam is a really gay-friendly city. Someone on the street did once utter a nasty remark as we were walking hand in hand, but luckily that was all.’
TEXT: Karin Koolen PHOTOGRAPHY: Erik Smits
‘We’ve got plenty of time to be together. But first graduate and work for a bit’
Nicole: ‘We see each other often but don’t live together just yet. I’m off to Barcelona on an exchange programme soon.’ Cara: ‘Shortly after we got together, I had to decide if I was going to go on a sixmonth exchange to New Zealand. It was a tough decision, but we both felt I shouldn’t deny myself the opportunity. I'm glad that Nic is going to Barcelona; it's within easy reach, but if she’d wanted to go to Australia, I’d have been just as supportive.’ Nicole: ‘In the meantime, Cara will be getting on with her board responsibilities. We’ve got plenty of time to be together. But first I need to graduate, work for a bit ... And then the next step. Because our desire to be a couple couldn’t be more certain.’
TEXT: Pauline Bijster
A NEW STRATEGY IN THE SPIRIT OF ERASMUS Diversity and inclusiveness Erasmus University strives to be diverse and inclusive, so it takes great care to ensure opportunities for people with disabilities. It currently employs thirty people with physical or mental disabilities. By the end of the year, it will employ 78.
The university presented its new strategy for the coming five years this autumn. The new mission: “Creating a positive societal impact the Erasmian way”. The university aims to be a driver of positive change, and intends to do so in the spirit of Erasmus, in other words: socially engaged, globally concerned, collaborative, entrepreneurial and open-minded.
HIGH-LEVEL COLLABORATION To better help address the major issues facing society today, Leiden University, Delft University of Technology and Erasmus University collaborate in a strategic alliance known as Leiden-Delft-Erasmus. The alliance researches four societal themes: sustainability, inclusiveness, health and the digital society. Visit leiden-delft-erasmus.nl to find out more.
prof .D an
PHOTOGRAPHY: L. BARRY HETHERINGTON
On 8 November 2019, the university will celebrate its 106th anniversary. This year’s edition will be dedicated to Jan Tinbergen. Professor Tinbergen was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics fifty years ago this year. The programme of events is themed around the importance of Tinbergen’s work in today’s economy. During the event, two prominent economists will be presented honorary doctorates: Professor Esther Duflo (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Professor Dani Rodrik (Harvard University). Esther Duflo was one of three people awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics this year.
Woudestein campus is constantly undergoing improvement. During this academic year, it will witness the start of two major construction projects: a new sports complex and a new multifunctional educational building with some 560 additional study places. Both buildings are scheduled to open in 2022.
DIES NATALIS ON JAN TINBERGEN’S ANNIVERSARY
PHOTOGRAPHY: ANDRZEJ BARABASZ
ADDITIONAL STUDY PLACES
As the university attaches great importance to a healthy working and learning environment, it is making Woudestein campus smoke-free from August 2020. During the transition period (from now until July 2020), smoking will only be permitted in five special smoking zones.
A smoke-free campus
INTO THE ARTS
TEXT: Harriet Duurvoort
The heart of a Nana This work by Niki de Saint Phalle is part of the Erasmus University Art Collection. Sweet and cheerful, Nana Power: Heart alludes to the strength and resilience of women. Is it just me, or are female artists often more socially engaged than their male counterparts? ‘The personal is political’ versus ‘the personal is personal’? This was certainly the case with Niki de Saint Phalle, one of the most influential artists, and one of the very few women, in the revolutionary art scene of the 1960s. Born in France in a Catholic, upper-middleclass banking family to a French father and American mother, de Saint Phalle rebelled from early childhood against the suffocating bourgeois norms to which she was expected to conform as a woman. When she was three, the family moved to New York. And at the age of eleven, she was sexually abused by her father, a trauma she would later incorporate into the disturbing surreal film Daddy. On display at the Tate Gallery in London is a prop from the film: a large phallus in a coffin. Initially making her living as a model, de Saint Phalle got married at the age of nineteen to the American writer Harry Matthews, with whom she had a tumultuous marriage and two children. She suffered a nervous breakdown, and while receiving electroconvulsive therapy at a psychiatric clinic in Nice, began making art to alleviate her trauma. This proved so effective that she was released in a matter of weeks. She knew now that art was key to her survival. In 1955, she began working with the Swiss artist Jean Tinguely, whom she would later marry. De Saint Phalle’s greatest fame derives from the large-scale, exuberantly cheerful, powerful and playful figures of women that she named ‘Nanas’. These works are the artist’s interpretation of woman as an icon. Her version of Eve, of Venus, of woman as Mother Nature, the primal force. The figures are huge, plump and voluptuous,
and don’t appear to be modelled on the delicate and petite de Saint Phalle. ‘I love roundness, curves, waves ... The world is round, the world is a breast. I don't like right angles. They scare me,’ she said. Nanas are empowering to behold. They allude to a cheerful, childlike zest for life, and at the same time to the strength and resilience of women. The work in the Erasmus University Art Collection, Nana Power: Heart, is sweet, cheerful, almost childish. It is the heart of a Nana. The powerful primal woman is, above all, loving. NB: Scheveningen’s Museum Beelden aan Zee is celebrating its 25th anniversary this autumn with a major retrospective of Niki de Saint-Phalle’s work, with the enormously popular Nanas taking centre stage.
THE COLLECTION IS GROWING
It was 1963 when Erasmus University began putting together its art collection. Initially, the collection had contemporary graphic art as its connective theme. After 2000, the collection expanded to include art forms such as photography, paintings, and installations. The goal? To bring students in connection with art, and to give the university something of an aesthetic. The main departure point was quality, defined by a certain level of artistry, originality, an art-historical significance, and technical execution. It’s not only famous artists whose work is currently being added to the collection, but also young, talented artists whose work shows promise.
TEXT: Cora Boele, Academic Heritage UB / SUHK foundation SOURCE: Quod Novum, Vol. 29, Issue 21 — 14 February 1996 PHOTOGRAPHY: Levien Willemse
Romance on Woudestein campus Valentine’s Day is the day when people show their love for their partner with presents, flowers and cards. And this day, 14 February, also gives secret admirers the perfect opportunity to have a gift delivered anonymously to the man or woman of their dreams. In the mid-1990s, the phenomenon spread beyond the AngloSaxon world for good and began leading a commercial life of its own in the Netherlands. It established itself at EUR immediately, in memorable fashion.
students, to enable them set up Valentine’s Day gift shops of their own, a demonstration of theory and practice going hand in hand. Whoever sold the most stood to win 1,000 guilders. The fourteen participating students staffed their tables in pairs, offering suitable gifts for the day. These two are hoping their nicely packaged offerings will tempt prospective shoppers. We can guess the contents. In addition to a bottle of wine, they will undoubtedly have included a box of chocolates or some other such treat. In any case, they’ve got heart-shaped sweets as bait. Quod Novum — ea magazine’s illustrious predecessor — doesn't reveal if this entrepreneurial duo took home the first prize. But the journalist who penned the piece did wonder if this was a case of pure love or the pure pursuit of profit.
In echo of the underlying philosophy of the faculty of business administration, Valentine’s Day gifts were on sale in the Woudestein lecture hall for no less than three days in 1996. A budget of 800 guilders was split among the faculty’s first-year
ERASMUS & YOU
TEXT: Pauline Bijster PHOTOGRAPHY: Sanne Romeijn
‘Children are not safe in orphanages’ Orphanage tourism is fuelling child abuse and illegal adoption. Kristen Cheney has been studying the phenomenon. ‘The real problem is not one of orphans, but of poverty.’
he International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) is involved in a global campaign to discourage people from going off to volunteer in orphanages in Africa or even visiting them for any period of time. Hence its signing of the #StopOrphanTrips pledge. Kristen Cheney, an associate professor of children & youth studies at Erasmus University Rotterdam, plays an active role in this campaign. The emergence of orphanages as a business model and the phenomenon of orphanage tourism have resulted in many children being separated from their own, still living, families. Cheney: ‘The real problem is not one of orphans, but of poverty, and scarce protection for children.’ Social welfare Cheney did her research in Uganda, with funding from the Fulbright Commission. ‘At the height of the country’s HIV epidemic, in 1992, when children were actually being orphaned, the country had just a handful of orphanages. Most of these kids were looked after by an aunt or grandmother. There was a fairly well-functioning system of social welfare in place, a culturally rooted mechanism that protected the children. But the number of orphanages inexplicably shot up after 2007, at the same time in which a legal loophole was helping to facilitate the rise of an international (illegal) adoption industry, despite a drop in the number of actual orphans.’ Cheney published a book about this in 2017, titled: Crying for Our Elders: African Orphanhood in the Age of HIV/AIDS.
these institutions as orphanages, while they are promoted locally as free schools run by friendly foreigners. Children from poor families are lured to these places, and parents are signing forms handing over custody, sometimes never getting their children back again.’ The rise of orphanage tourism led to the rapid increase in the number of orphanages, and the practice of illegal adoption was given free rein. Unsafe places Aside from that, orphanages are not safe places. ‘Child abuse is common in orphanages. We also know from literature on the subject that orphanages are not conducive to child development — it’s not for nothing that we no longer have them in the West.’ Cheney is referring to the sexual abuse that befalls children in these institutions, but also to the attachment problems they create. Research has shown that children from orphanages often become homeless later on. They are also more likely to end up leading lives of crime or engaging in prostitution, and their suicide rates are much higher than average. ‘Children need a family, not a revolving door of orphanage personnel.’
The money needs to go to the families Visiting these orphanages encourages the growth of a horrific industry. Cheney does not believe there is any such thing as a “good” orphanage: ‘It's never a good place for children to grow up. Fortunately, UNICEF has now declared that no child under the age of three may be kept in an orphanage for more than three months. ‘I think we can eradicate the orphanage industry in our lifetime. We will, however, need to alter the discourse to do so. Orphanages can be turned into community centres. And the money will need go to the families supporting the children, not to the orphanages. All of which is less “instagrammable” than orphans in orphanages, but very important. Rwanda, for instance, has already declared that all the country’s orphanages must cease operations by 2020.’
NAME: Kristen Cheney EDUCATION: Anthropology
(MA & PhD) at the University of California, Santa Cruz FUNCTION: Associate professor of children & youth studies at the International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam
Children are lured to orphanages The key to this puzzle? Money. Cheney: ‘In 1992 there were maybe 3,000 children in orphanages in Uganda. Now it’s 50,000. Most of these, at least 80 per cent, still have living and locatable relatives, who even often live nearby. We in the global north refer to
vrijstaand maken svp
TEXT: Karin Koolen PHOTOGRAPHY: Anne Reitsma
‘The app helps students expand their world’ Imagine an app that gives students a complete overview of all student-run events on and off campus. The app in question, Uni-Life, was the brainchild of Thomas Smulders and Joep Annega. ‘Students typically join just one student association, and miss so much as a result. We believed things could work better.’ We plant ourselves at a table in the Erasmus Pavilion and Thomas Smulders whips out his phone and launches the app. ‘You create a profile,’ he explains, ‘which includes information about which university you’re at and your interests: sports, culture, consultancy, etc. The app suggests events based on those preferences, and you swipe left or right to reject a suggestion or add it directly to your calendar.’
approval, we teamed up with an external app development company and got down to business.’ From multiple disparate groups to a single community Then followed a year of testing. How did that go? ‘Freshmen were pretty open and easy to reach,’ says Joep. ‘We spoke to lots of them during Eurekaweek and many were immediately sold on the idea. Third- and fourth-year students were a bit more difficult. This was to be expected, given that students are usually members of one association or the other by that point, and have their own networks and media channels. So they assume they already know what’s going on.’ ‘But,’ stresses Joep, ‘they’re actually missing out on loads of events.’ And that, according to the duo, is one of the app’s biggest selling points. Thomas: ‘Students typically join one association and acquire a steady group of friends in their first few weeks on campus. And nothing much changes for the next few years. This app gets them involved in an array of events and associations that they wouldn’t otherwise have known about and expands their social network.’ In short, it overlays, and perhaps replaces, the multiple disparate associations with a single Erasmus community network. ‘The transition requires some time,’ says Joep. ‘First-year students take to it immediately, because they don’t yet have a routine to adapt. We’re hoping to make recruitment run even smoother for the incoming freshers,
95 per cent go straight in the bin A straightforward and efficient creation, Uni-Life, as the app is called, is already quite a success. Friends and business partners Thomas Smulders and Joep Annega’s story began almost three years ago. Both were studying international business administration at Erasmus. Joep: ‘I remember us having yet another flyer thrust into our hands as we left a lecture hall. How, we wondered, was this still the standard way to promote events? We did a bit of research and discovered that 95 per cent of flyers are binned within five minutes.’ Thomas nods in agreement: ‘We put together a business plan, merely as a theoretical exercise, and as business students, we had a lot of fun doing so. But at some point in the process we suddenly realised, “Hey, this could actually work!”’ Joep: ‘We spent six months pitching the idea to the university, but it took joining the executive board to finally get the support we needed. And when we did, they said we should make it the university’s official events platform. Once we’d secured this stamp of
‘Uni-Life must continue to expand. Into America, but also, naturally, across the Netherlands’
including via social media. It would be fantastic if this became the sole platform on campus, and if every student used it routinely. Students would start meeting familiar faces wherever they went on campus — library, Erasmus Pride, the Food Plaza — not just at association events or during lectures.’ The app is already having an effect. Thomas: ‘Association membership is rising and more people are turning up at events. The associations thank us for this.’ From the Maas river city to the rest of the country Things are going swimmingly for the young entrepreneurs, and the app has now extended
its reach to six other university colleges, including Leiden University College The Hague, Amsterdam University College and University College Groningen. Ideal target groups, says Thomas, as while these colleges are relatively small, they are each part of a much bigger university. ‘The uptake at these colleges gives us an additional selling point when we approach bigger universities. And its current success is proof enough of its merits, and its readiness for implementation on a larger scale.’ Joep: ‘The first meeting always demands a bit of fact-finding: NAME: Joep Annega who do we need to see? EDUCATION: Bachelor’s What platforms are already in degree in business place, if any? Where is there
a gap and what are the specific needs? We usually find that there is a platform in operation, but a basic one that just lists the events; nothing with a social component. It’s also important that the university assumes responsibility for content updates, to ensure the app’s listings are indeed up to date. Because if people don’t use the app, or don’t use it often enough, it’ll reflect badly on us, which will do nothing for our ambitions.’ And they have pretty big ambitions. ‘We want to grow the company,’ says Thomas. ‘Not just in the Netherlands, but right across America. Dutch universities are of course key, as they are all highly placed in the global 100 rankings.’
administration, and now finishing off his master’s degree FUNCTION: Co-founder of the Uni-Life app
Erasmus has made up for lost time How does Erasmus University compare with the others? ‘Every university is striving to be sustainable and innovative, each in its own way,’ says Joep after some thought. ‘It’s a major priority here at Erasmus, which wasn’t always the case, but we've made up for lost time in a big way, and the campus is evolving at breakneck speed. The international composition of Erasmus makes it more difficult for people to experience a closeknit sense of community, because people are arriving and leaving all the time. But that’s something this app helps address.’ How could the app’s founders have benefitted from their creation, had it been available when they were freshers? Joep: ‘Well, I’m currently working on my master’s thesis. But all my old friends and classmates have graduated and left, and I know hardly anyone on campus now. Things would probably have been different with the app, as I would have had a much broader social network.’ Thomas: ‘I joined Antibarbari football club as a fresher, and that pretty much determined the extent of my network. But I now come across all sorts of cool events and activities on Uni-Life. For instance, I recently discovered that the sailing club has an annual open day with free lessons. I’d definitely have signed up for that had I known about it.’
NAME: Thomas Smulders EDUCATION: Bachelor’s
degree in business administration and master’s degree in marketing management FUNCTION: Co-founder of the Uni-Life app
DOING GOOD WORK
TEXT: Marieke Poelmann PHOTOGRAPHY: Mark Uyl
Paradise lost Shirley Nieuwland doesn’t just want people to travel sustainably (by avoiding climate-polluting air travel, for instance), but also to support local populations, cultures and economies when they do. In short, socially conscious vacations!
ow do you effect a positive influence the mindset of travellers? This is the question that preoccupies Shirley Nieuwland (28). For her PhD, she’s been researching sustainable and responsible models of urban tourism. And in relation to this, she’s hoping to narrow the gap between academic research and what’s happening in the real world via her website, paradisefound.nl, and inspire both tourists and policymakers. ‘There’s no single solution to the problems of mass tourism, but awareness is key to everything.’ Should we be promoting tourism? Three holiday flights a year to tick off all the hotspots. If we carry on in this manner, the risk won’t be limited to the loss of charm that these destinations are likely to suffer. Mass tourism also endangers the natural environment in these areas as well as the local population’s culture. Not to mention the fact that air travel is by far the most climate-intensive mode of transport. “Paradise found almost always means paradise lost”, states Shirley Nieuwland’s website. ‘That quote speaks volumes,’ she says. ‘Many people travel in the hope of finding their own secret patch of paradise. But as soon as you find this, others quickly follow and it loses its charm. I witnessed this self-defeating process in action when I volunteered to promote tourism in Kyrgyzstan. It felt kind of perverse. The place was beautiful, with lots of nature and hardly any tourism. But once you start promoting it, it’s over. I began to think more about this once I returned home.’
NAME: Shirley Nieuwland EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree in arts and culture studies from Erasmus University Rotterdam and a master’s degree in human geography from Radboud University Nijmegen. She is currently doing a PhD in the Department of Arts and Culture Studies at the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication FUNCTION: Founder and manager of the website paradisefound.nl
‘As soon as you find your secret patch of paradise, others quickly follow and it loses its charm’
From one of the masses to one of the locals Nieuwland launched the website paradisefound.nl at the beginning of 2019. ‘I began my research at Erasmus University two years ago and was learning so much that I felt a strong need to do more with the knowledge. The site has two objectives: to allow me share the insights from my research with a broad audience and help narrow the gap between academic knowledge and what people are doing in the real world. I also hope my site can develop into a platform for policymakers and marketing agencies that promote leisure travel and urban destinations. I want to build a bridge between research and practice.’ In so doing, Nieuwland is hoping to make people more aware of the beneficial impact they can have as tourists. ‘You could stay in one place for longer and get to know the locals properly, for instance, instead of rushing from place to place to tick off the highlights. You can make quite a difference by living like a local instead of skimming the surface like a tourist.’
IN CONVERSATION TEXT: Inge Janse PHOTOGRAPHY: Mark Horn
‘COMPARING OURSELVES WITH OTHERS KILLS OUR HAPPINESS’
Chief Happiness Officer. Was there ever a better job title? It’s Martijn Burger’s, or to give him his official title: Academic Director of the Erasmus Happiness Economics Research Organisation. He and his team study the phenomenon of happiness and what makes us happy. ‘We overestimate the connection with money and underestimate the value of face-to-face contact.’
hy do you study happiness? ‘As a research institute, we have a social mission, which is to contribute to greater happiness for a greater number of people. By providing evidence-based information about happiness, we help people make more informed choices.’
‘If you took at face value what the Dutch system affords us, you’d assume we were all very happy’
Why is happiness research important? ‘Well, thankfully, it happens to be something we all want as human beings. Happiness isn’t the same thing as having fun. What we’re interested in is something more sustainable: what’s a person’s quality of life? And how can they enjoy a satisfactory quality of life? Our research can give people insights into this. And our findings are also useful from an economic standpoint: happy employees make for a more productive, creative and healthy workforce. Useful for the government, too: happy citizens make better citizens. They cause less trouble and are more likely to pay their taxes.’ Your team is currently studying the difference in reported happiness between urban dwellers and their rural counterparts. Why this particular differentiator? ‘I have a background in regional economics and have always wondered at the migration of people to cities. They’re supposedly great places to live. But when you look at the statistics, you find that urban dwellers report much lower levels of happiness than their rural counterparts. In the Netherlands, this disparity is largely due to the selection effect of cities in that they tend to attract more single people, more people looking for work, and more ethnic minorities, all of whom are unhappy for a variety of reasons. At the same time, cities tend to show a wider spectrum of happiness. Young, successful, highly educated people who make frequent use of what cities have to offer are usually happier in cities than in the countryside.’ According to forecasts, two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2050. So the reasons underpinning this trend are based on an illusion? ‘The psychologist Daniel Kahneman has done some fantastic research in this area.
He interviewed two groups of students, one in Midwest America and the other in California. When you picture California you imagine beaches, Disneyland, palm trees and lively entertainment. But in reality, the state is home to lots of poverty, and the cost of living there is relatively high, which means people have to work long hours to survive. So when Kahneman asked students how happy they were, you couldn’t tell the difference between the two groups. But when he asked the students from the Midwest how happy they thought they’d be if they lived in California, they said they’d be happier there. In contrast, the ones in California thought they’d be unhappier in the Midwest. He calls this a focusing illusion. In other words: it’s practically impossible to consider every aspect of a situation when making a choice, and we typically focus solely on a few elements that stand out. As a result, we incorrectly gauge how happy we are. The Midwestern students were probably thinking about the Californian nightlife, palm trees and beaches when they answered, but not about the high cost of living.’ Let’s assume the average ea magazine reader is over thirty, educated, reasonably well-off, and has two kids. Where would be the best place for him or her to live? ‘To be happy in a city, you need to be young and highly educated, and able to afford the city’s amenities. The elderly, and to a slightly lesser extent families with kids, report slightly higher levels of happiness in the countryside. For the other demographic groups, it makes no difference where you live. Unemployed people, for instance, are just as unhappy in the city as they are in the countryside.’ So what are main factors influencing happiness? ‘First, your health and social relationships. Followed by the combination of work and income; thus, having money and a sense of purpose.’ Are there any common misconceptions about what makes us happy? ‘The connection with money is overestimated. In the U.S., the relationship between happiness and income reaches its limit at about $70,000, above which more
‘When people find a new job after a period of unemployment, they don’t rebound to their previous level of happiness’
NAME: Martijn Burger EDUCATION: Bachelor of Arts in Social
Sciences (Utrecht University, 2000-2003, with honours), Master of Science in Economics and Business (Erasmus University Rotterdam, 2003-2005, cum laude), Master of Science in Sociology and Social Research (Utrecht University, 2004-2006, cum laude), PhD in Regional Economics and Economic Geography (Erasmus University Rotterdam, 2007-2011, cum laude) FUNCTION: Assistant Professor at the Erasmus School of Economics (2011-present), Academic Director of the Erasmus Happiness Economics Research Organisation (EHERO) (Erasmus University Rotterdam, 2014-present), and Chief Happiness Officer at the Erasmus School of Accounting & Assurance (ESAA) (2017-present)
money does not make people much happier. But materialism is deeply ingrained in our system. At the same time, we often underestimate the value of face-to-face contact. We’re having lots more online contact than we’re doing face-to-face, but the former’s contribution to happiness is largely marginal. In fact, for lonely people the effect is actually negative. Comparing ourselves with others who seem happy kills our happiness. And that's the big problem: we always compare ourselves to those who have more. The lowest score I’ve ever come across on the happiness index was from Chad, at 2.5. People there suffer from armed conflict, poor health, loss of loved ones, unfulfilled basic needs, absence of job opportunities, etc. On the other hand, if you took at face value what the Dutch system affords us, you’d assume we were all very happy. But instead of counting our blessings, we continually compare ourselves with people who have even more.’ To what extent is happiness possible despite misfortune? ‘We become accustomed to good fortune quite quickly. You see this when people get a pay rise, win the lottery or get married.
But we don’t get used to misfortune, like unemployment or poverty. What makes it even worse is the scarring. When people find a new job after a period of unemployment, they don’t rebound to their previous level of happiness. They remain scarred by their loss of self-confidence.’ Is our combination of democracy and capitalism the most favourable system for happiness? Or would we be better off under communism or in a dictatorship? ‘Democracy might not be the ultimate system of government, but it still rates above all others according to the figures. The happiest countries are all places where people have the freedom to make personal choices, where there’s a strong system of social welfare and where incomes don’t differ widely. Think of Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Iceland. The Netherlands also ranks high on those lists. This is why it’s important to ensure that as many people as possible benefit from any growth in a country’s wealth.’ Which major issues would you still like to explore? ‘The first relates to the fact that happiness research often yields very broad statements, such as: “cities are worse for happiness”. What we’d like to know is what works for whom and under what circumstances. Imagine an app that helped people make choices based on their personality profile. Governments, too, would benefit from this as they’d be able to monitor more nuanced measures than economic growth. It would contribute to a better quality of life at the individual level. Then I’d like to research the knock-on effects of happiness. If we can demonstrate this empirically, we’d be better placed to convince more political parties to include it in their decision-making.’ Finally, on a scale of 0 to 10, how happy are you? ‘Well, I’d say 8+, which is slightly above the Dutch average of 7.6. Around 15 per cent report a 6 or lower. Most people say 8. The Dutch are generally quite happy with their lives.’
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
TEXT: Eva Hoeke IMAGE: Krista van der Niet
‘Tinder turns dating into a game’ We’re swiping like crazy on Tinder and Grindr. But are we looking for love or merely sex? Or perhaps just ego boosts and amusement? Elisabeth Timmermans (28, author of Love in the Time of Tinder) and Shangwei Wu (27) have researched the benefits and pitfalls of dating apps. A conversation about status, monogamy, stigmas and, yes, love.
How does one end up exploring love in the time of Tinder? ELISABETH: ‘As a communication researcher, you’re studying the impact of media on society, among other things. When I was in America in 2014, I noticed that everyone was on Tinder, and I knew then that the subject was ripe for a dissertation. However, my supervisor was a little concerned: how could I be sure that Tinder would still be around a year later, let alone for the four years it would take for the dissertation. He had a point: platforms like MySpace and Pokémon Go were very popular for a short while, and were abandoned just as easily. But I was willing to take the risk, because even if Tinder ceased to exist, similar apps would soon step in to fill the gap left by its demise.’ Tinder was launched in 2012, but when did online dating first begin? SHANGWEI: ‘Mobile dating began in 2009 with Grindr, the first dating app for gay men to appear in the App Store. Jack’d, Blued, Tinder and the others were inspired by Grindr.’ ELISABETH: ‘But of course the internet had made online dating possible even before that, in the nineties. The problem back then was that internet connections were still so slow that it could take hours or even days for pictures to load so you could see what the other person looked like. Which was why anyone dating online
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
NAME: Elisabeth Timmermans EDUCATION: Media and Communication FUNCTION: Postdoctoral researcher
But hadn’t it already lost much of that stigma with the launch of websites like Relatieplanet and Lexa? Hadn’t those normalised online dating? ELISABETH: ‘Not among eighteen-year-olds, they hadn’t. I interviewed lots of students as well for my research and their view was that it’s okay to use dating apps, but not for finding a girlfriend or boyfriend. That’s why they’ll often say they’re just using it for amusement. The stigma remains, but in a different form.’ SHANGWEI: ‘It’s a different matter in the gay scene. Most of those I interviewed found partners through dating apps. And that’s because it's harder to find a partner offline if you’re gay. Hence the early introduction of Grindr, which turned out to be a godsend for people averse to broadcasting their sexual orientation to the world.’ Are there any significant differences between how men and women use dating apps? ELISABETH: ‘Yes. For instance, on Grindr, you can immediately start chatting and sending pictures to one another; whereas on Tinder, you need to match before you can do that. It has to do with safety. Women are taught from an early age to beware of strangers. Another interesting gender-related aspect of Tinder is that it places women in a position of power: instead of having to deal with an avalanche of emails from men, they get to decide who’s permitted to contact them and who isn’t.’ SHANGWEI: ‘Gay men also worry about their safety. Although when Chinese men talk this with respect to online dating, it usually has
more to do with the risk of contracting HIV. Anti-gay hate crimes are rare in China. Or at least rarer than they are in Europe. It’s a surprising finding, given that homosexuality is far from embraced in China, a consequence of which is that uploading profile pictures remains a barrier for gay men who care about their privacy.’ Have you tried dating apps yourself? SHANGWEI: ‘Jack'd, the dating app for gay men, had quite negative connotations among my friends in China when it was first introduced, sometime in 2010. We’d always been very discreet about our sexual orientation, and didn’t want just anyone to be privy to our lives, not even amongst ourselves. We just didn’t talk about it. But in 2014 I went to Paris on an exchange programme, and was suddenly among complete strangers and no longer had to worry about going public on a dating app. Because I’d of course been curious all along.’
Eighteen-year-olds are happy to admit using dating apps, but not for finding a girlfriend or boyfriend Was it a happy experience? SHANGWEI: ‘I’m not really sure; it was all so new and I was still learning about myself. I did go on a few dates, but they weren’t particularly successful.’ ELISABETH: ‘The first part of my research involved interviews with people who had Tinder accounts, so I didn’t really need to have one myself at that point. But once I got to the questionnaire design stage, I needed to know how the app worked in order to ask the right questions, so I created a profile. But I was always open about my motives for being there.’ What’s the main insight that emerged from your research? ELISABETH: ‘Gosh, there were loads! I went in thinking there were only three motives for being on Tinder: sex,
PHOTOGRAPHY ELISABETH: CARMEN VOS
at the time was considered a bit weird, because you had to know a lot about computers to do so. That is in addition to the stigma that already came with the practice, i.e. if you’re dating online, you’re probably a bit of a loser in real life. Tinder dismantled those associations by making online dating seem like a game.’
love and maybe friendship. But I identified thirteen, which included everything from curiosity to peer pressure, and ego boosting to amusement. That’s what I mean by “Tinder turned dating into a game”. Only about half of the more than 1,000 respondents in my study had actually been on a Tinder date. What I also found remarkable was that 23% of my respondents were already in committed relationships, but still used Tinder. That means there’s also a group out there who use it to check their market value.’ SHANGWEI: ‘There’s a reason these apps are known as hook-up apps, but I wanted to know if there was actually any truth to the accepted narrative of men only using them for one-night stands. And if it was true, how do they make the transition to serious relationships. What I discovered was that single gay men are usually open to both, and as a result don’t go in with one or the other motive. Consequently, they don’t particularly welcome so-called matchmaking chat, i.e. conversation aimed at discovering the other person’s socio-economic status. They hate that.’ ELISABETH: ‘Is that common in China?’ SHANGWEI: 'Yes. It’s common for straight people to attend real-life matchmaking events, and they’re always about work, money and income. Very pragmatic, which many people don't like at all.’ ELISABETH: ‘Especially if you don’t earn much.’ SHANGWEI: ‘It surprised me, because everyone always claims the apps are just for hooking up. Yet they seem to long for real connection. The next finding that struck me was that a lot of gay men continue to use their dating apps when they’re in steady relationships. Not necessarily because they want to see if they still “have it”, but because they’re curious to know who else in the vicinity might be gay. And it's a good way to keep up to date with what's happening in the gay community.’
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
There’s Minder for American Muslims and Bristlr for those into bearded men Does this need result from the lack of representation of gay people on television and in music and films? Are there, for instance, well-known Chinese role models who happen to be gay? SHANGWEI: ‘No, there aren’t. Of course there are gay people among China’s celebrities, but none of them are openly gay. So you do indeed have to look elsewhere for representation. A third motive for gay men using dating apps is to learn about different types of relationships.’ ELISABETH: ‘Monogamy is very heteronormative. And that's logical, since straight couples usually start families and barely have time for each other, let alone for someone else. Whereas gay couples often reason that since they don’t have children committing them to a family unit, why make their relationship exclusive?’ SHANGWEI: ‘Monogamy is a social construct. Being gay immediately makes you a member of a minority. This causes you to not only question your own sexual orientation, but also heterosexual norms and values such as monogamy. I, for instance, was also very interested in gender studies while at university. Being gay makes you curious about yourself and about how society reflects your identity. And this makes you aware of the alternatives.’ ELISABETH: ‘You see shows on Netflix in which straight couples experiment with different forms of relationships, but these portrayals rarely end well. Take the series You Me Her, in which a couple (a man and a woman) falls in love with another woman. They decide to form a polyamorous unit, but a monogamous one, whereby they’re only allowed to have sex as a unit. I imagine some viewers must be watching this in disbelief.’ What’s the best thing about social media? SHANGWEI: 'In China it offers the benefit of being a wonderfully convenient way to explore your sexuality, even if not all your online experiences are pleasant.
NAME: Shangwei Wu EDUCATION: Media and Communication FUNCTION: PhD candidate
Life in the real world doesn’t offer as many opportunities for doing that.’ ELISABETH: ‘One of the best things about Tinder is that it’s free, and thus very democratic: someone who’s poor can quite easily get into conversation with another who’s rich via Tinder, and maybe even start a relationship with them; whereas previously our potential relationship pools were more or less fixed by social class. I consider this a good thing: our view of the world expands as we mix with people who are not exactly like us.’
and having fun, but you’re also partly preoccupied with the other people you’ve been chatting with. On top of that, the expectations that people place on first dates are often unrealistic: if the fireworks aren’t instant, they move on to the next date. Whereas in real life, we usually give people more of a chance.’ SHANGWEI: ‘Many people end up becoming frustrated with dating apps. They discover the way the apps replicate society’s hierarchies, with the resulting forms of segregation and exclusion. To give you an example: I’ve noticed that I’m not especially popular with Dutch men. With Mediterranean men, sure. But not Dutch men. And I’ve heard the same from other Asian men. It makes you very self-conscious.’
That said, there’s also a fair amount of pillarization happening on social media: the so-called bubbles in which people mainly see and hear information that agrees with their opinions and preferences. Have you noticed anything similar happening on dating apps? ELISABETH: ‘There’s a dating app called The Inner Circle, created by a Dutch company that bills itself as an online dating platform for highly educated professionals. Anyone’s free to sign up, but a ballot committee decides whether you are indeed smart enough and attractive enough to participate.’ SHANGWEI: ‘The same thing’s happening in China. Blued is the country’s most popular dating app for gay men, with over 40 million registered users, but everyone says Aloha is classier.’ ELISABETH: ‘Makes you wonder what being rejected by such apps does to people’s self-confidence.’
Finally, tell us some of the most interesting stories you heard during your research? ELISABETH: ‘Couples who met via dating apps say they regret not having an exciting, romantic story of how they met to tell their kids later on. One of the couples I interviewed came up with a solution. While they were still wooing each other via Tinder, before meeting for the first time, they devised a bunch of scenarios in which they could have met in real life without the app. One of these was set in a supermarket. So they arranged to meet for their first date in a supermarket, in the breakfast aisle. The plan was that she’d initially ignore him, but then he’d accidentally put his pack of muesli in her cart, and they’d end up chatting by the vegetables, and so on. So that’s what they did, and had such a good time that they arranged a second date: in Ikea. I heard another delightful story from a woman who’d always dated men and had never quite understood what all the fuss was about: she’d never been in love. Then one day, one of her male friends asked if he could use Tinder on her phone, which had the app installed. Being a straight man, he was of course only swiping right for women he fancied. One of them responded and they began chatting, with the other woman thinking she was talking to a woman, since the profile picture told her it was. Anyway, the male friend eventually left, and the woman picked up her phone and saw that she’d ostensibly been having a pleasant conversation with this other woman, so she continued the conversation. Lo and behold, they clicked. Long story short: they went on a date and she finally understood why she’d never really been in love. The two are still together.’
Constant rejection is a fact of life on Tinder too, though. ELISABETH: ‘It is, but most people understand that not everyone can like you. Whereas with these other apps, who exactly gets to decide whether you’re good enough to be admitted, and on the basis of what criteria? I’ve heard that men who aren’t white stand little chance of being admitted to The Inner Circle. If true, it shows why vetting people is problematic. And there are now lots of dating apps catering to specific niches: Dig for dog lovers, Minder for Muslims; you even have one for people who fancy men with beards: Bristlr. Don’t the seemingly endless options on offer via these apps make it hard to choose? ELISABETH: ‘They do, particularly as you’re usually chatting with several potential matches at the same time. As a result, you might be on a first date with one of them
TEXT: Karin Koolen ILLUSTRATION: Monique Wijbrands
Peeking around the corner Hub Zwart was a professor at Radboud University Nijmegen for almost nineteen years. Leaving his position to become dean of Erasmus University’s Faculty of Philosophy in October last year meant waving goodbye to a spacious office with huge windows. Was that hard? Apparently not. ‘I’m not here for the view.’
From the fifth floor of the Bayle Building, Hub Zwart’s view of the small square near the Spar supermarket is constrained on either side by tall buildings. Looking out of the window and nursing a black coffee, he describes the view as ‘a glimpse’. This somewhat oblique perspective, he says, is actually a decent metaphor for the way philosophy works. ‘Other academics typically examine subjects directly, whereas we observe the way these academics interact with their subjects. We peek at things from around the corner, so to speak. Just as I’m doing now.’ Head buried in books The office, previously occupied by Zwart’s predecessor, was assigned to him before he arrived. It’s a simple room like any other in the department, with the difference that Zwart doesn't have to share it with anyone. ‘It’s no big deal. I usually have my head buried in a books anyway, if I’m not at my computer. I didn’t come here for the view or the lovely offices.’ The first thing that catches the eye is the well-stocked bookcase. Organised chronologically: ‘As befits a philosopher,’ he says laughing. ‘I keep most of my books at home; these are mainly my own works
and those of PhD students and colleagues.’ Among the books is a photo of Radboud University. Next to it is another of a group of cheerful PhD students, with Zwart in the middle. The fossil collector How important is it for the new dean to make the room his “own”? ‘Your office should reflect who you are,’ he concludes after some thought, ‘reflect your world. After all, people come to see me here, and I’d like to feel at home when they do.’ Pointing at the bookcase, he explains: ‘Look, I may be the dean, but I’m not a bureaucrat. The books show that I’m still active in my field.’ He gets up and walks past the fossils that litter the room, some on shelves, others hanging from the ceiling. ‘I’m an avid collector,’ he says, by way of explanation. ‘Fossils are a record of time. The world is infinitely larger and older than we can imagine, and our importance within it is often overestimated. Fossils remind me not to forget that longer time horizon.’ A talent for painting On the wall above the table, among the many loose picture hanging cords, hangs a photograph taken in 1999 of Zwart and his
children observing a solar eclipse. Next to it is painted portrait of Freud, one of his great sources of inspiration, and Lacan. The painting is by Zwart, who as well as being a philosopher is also a psychologist. He modestly brushes off my compliment about his talent for painting: ‘I just dabble a bit. I’ll dabble some more once I retire.’ It never gets boring Finally: Rotterdam. ‘A truly cosmopolitan city,’ says Zwart. ‘The only proper city in the Netherlands.’ He cycles to work each day from Rotterdam Central station. ‘The campus is as dynamic as the city itself; everyone on their own mission, and yet operating in harmony like a single organism. The sight never gets boring!’
‘The books show that I’m still active in my field.’
BRILLIANT MINDS, GREAT IDEAS
TEXT: Marieke Poelmann PHOTOGRAPHY: Supplied by interviewee
‘WE’RE GOING TO INCREASINGLY CO-EXIST WITH MACHINES’ Rajarshi Chakraborty kept wondering during lectures why the focus was solely on past technological developments. So he founded the Erasmus Tech Community and was soon joined by fellow student Kevin Bojan. Their goal: to inform and inspire students to shape the future themselves. Technology is rapidly changing the way we live and work, in that we are increasingly having to co-exist with machines. Rajarshi Chakraborty and Kevin Bojan spotted a gap between the new technological developments and their understanding at the university and within society as a whole. So they decided to take action via the Erasmus Tech Community. They hope to inform and inspire students to shape the future themselves. The leaders of today When Chakraborty began his business information degree at Erasmus University, he assumed he’d soon be immersed in a sea of future-oriented learning and insights. What he discovered instead was an academic world that largely lagged behind what was happening in the tech industry. ‘I found myself wondering during lectures why the focus was solely on past technological developments. What of new developments like artificial intelligence? It gradually dawned on me that the academic world was in no shape to set the standards, so I decided to address the situation.’ Chakraborty believes that universities exist to prepare students for the jobs society will
need in the future, not those it needed in the past. It is for this reason that he and Jonathan Pfaffenrot got together in 2017 to found the Erasmus Tech Community. Kevin Bojan joined them shortly afterwards and worked as a board member from 2018 to September 2019. He, Chakraborty and the rest of the board are committed to inspiring students to take up the reins in the field of technology by exercising their curiosity and thinking ahead. ‘We founded the Erasmus Tech Community to get the leaders of today into our lecture halls and help us create the leaders of tomorrow.’ NAME: Rajarshi Chakraborty EDUCATION: Master’s degree in
business information management at the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University FUNCTION: Innovation Manager at Erasmus University
NAME: Kevin Bojan EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree
in international business administration (currently in his 3rd year) at Erasmus University FUNCTION : Was president of the Erasmus Tech Community until September 2019
Lifelong learning To achieve their objectives, the Erasmus Tech Community organises a host of events. These have helped create a committed network of over three thousand students. The community has also managed to win the collaboration of an impressive array of industry giants, including Google, Microsoft, IBM and Deloitte. Its most ambitious and most successful event to date is the annual Erasmus Tech Summit, which attracts upwards of 600 guests, thereby making it the largest student-organized conference in Rotterdam. Bojan: ‘Our hope is that students internalise the idea of lifelong learning, and in so doing become accustomed to embracing the unknown. No one knows precisely how technology will change the way we live. But instead of living in fear of what we don’t yet know, our hope is that students themselves will be the architects of how things unfold.’
SCIENCE IN PRACTICE
ILLUSTRATION: Moker Ontwerp
SCIENCE IN PRACTICE
TEXT: Jasper Monster ILLUSTRATION: Carolyn Ridsdale
FOREVER YOUNG Developments in cosmetic medicine have proceeded at a rapid pace in last few years. But are all the developments equally welcome? And are all their practitioners real doctors? Three experts have their say.
rasmus MC offers botox lessons. Tamar Nijsten knew the decision to set up the country’s first formal training course in cosmetic dermatology would cause a stir. So the head of the department of dermatology at Erasmus MC chose his words carefully when making the announcement. But when the first headlines with the words “botox lessons” hit the front pages three years ago, the board of directors was on the line immediately. ‘I got the call at half past seven that morning — I still remember that,’ he says with a smile, now that he can laugh about it. ‘But I’d still make the same decision. Developments in cosmetic medicine were proceeding at such a rapid pace that Erasmus MC could not afford to be left behind. After all, training is one of our core duties.’ Things occasionally go awry Fillers to plump up the lips or botox to remove wrinkles. These procedures have been around since the 1980s, but their exponential rise in popularity only occurred in the last ten years. Hence the launch of Erasmus MC’s cosmetic medicine complications consultation in 2011 — because, as with all other medical procedures, things occasionally go awry when you inject someone with filler. But it soon became clear that a half-day service would not be enough. The consultation now opens two and a half days a week. ‘Unfortunately, there are lots of cowboys in this field,’ explains Nijsten. ‘Furthermore, since we were turning out lots of dermatologists each year, why shouldn’t some of them too have the opportunity to work as cosmetic doctors? Training them to do just that was Erasmus MC’s responsibility.’ Thus, since the course began in 2016, medical students have been able to learn everything there is to know about cosmetic medicine. Every six months, two students get to immerse themselves in the world of
NAME: Peter Velthuis EDUCATION: trained as a dermatologist
at UMC Utrecht, where he also undertook his PhD research FUNCTION: dermatologist and founder of Velthuis Kliniek (Velthuis Clinic), dermatologist at Erasmus MC, tutor on the cosmetic dermatology training course
NAME: Tamar Nijsten EDUCATION: studied medicine
at the University of Antwerp FUNCTION: head of the department of
dermatology at Erasmus MC; managing director of DermaHaven, an outpatient clinic that grew out of the Havenziekenhuis (Port Hospital); involved in Erasmus MC’s ERGO study
NAME: Shai Rambaran EDUCATION: studied medicine at Erasmus
University, initially focusing on urology but switched to cosmetic dermatology after his second year FUNCTION: cosmetic dermatologist at the Van Rosmalenkliniek (Van Rosmalen Clinic) in Rotterdam
‘I think it’s great that twenty-year-old women are having their lips filled. You get more out of it when you’re young’ botox, fillers and wrinkles at DermaHaven, an Erasmus MC outpatient clinic of which Nijsten is director. The first Velthuis Clinic One of those who witnessed the exponential rise in the popularity of these procedures at close quarters is dermatologist Peter Velthuis. He was one of the first doctors to go work for “the other side”. He left the hospital world in the mid-90s to set up his own laser clinic. ‘I’d begun to get a bit bored sometime after a promotion, and using laser therapy to combat wrinkles was on the rise, so I came aboard.’ His dermatologist colleagues didn’t take his decision to go over to “the other side” well. ‘They considered it too cosmetic. I managed to straddle both worlds for a while, but that eventually grew impossible, which was why I took the leap.’ But blood is thicker than water, and Velthuis has been back in the familiar world of hospitals since 2015, and is now at Erasmus MC. ‘I’d become more CEO than doctor. And I really love training young people. So when Erasmus made the offer, I didn't have to mull it over for long.’ Few can explain the developments in cosmetic medicine better than him. ‘The innovations often lack scientific foundation. Filler and laser equipment manufacturers have no interest in doing years of research. New products are often launched for a quick return on investment, before whatever the thing is becomes outdated. Thus, the necessary research is mainly left to universities, and that’s what we’re trying to do.’
Rotterdam’s wrinkles investigation A case in point, Nijsten and some colleagues, including Professor of Genetic Identification Manfred Kayser, are involved in the largescale cohort study known as ERGO (Erasmus Rotterdam Health Research). This is a longterm population study by Erasmus MC designed to track the health of 15,000 people over the age of 40 in the Ommoord district of Rotterdam. ‘Our “wrinkles investigation”
than average in an industry that competes largely on price. The impossibly low offers are why some are still tempted to visit the cheaper clinics where people are carrying out procedures without medical training. A two-year training course in cosmetic medicine had been in existence for a while, but the title of cosmetic dermatologist had never been officially recognised. So the KNMG (Royal Dutch Medical Association),
‘At last! People offering these procedures without medical training can now no longer call themselves cosmetic doctors’ came in for a bit of ribbing when it first began,’ says Nijsten. ‘But we want to know whether there are, say, predictive genes that cause wrinkling. Knowing something like this could yield very interesting insights for cosmetic medicine, as you’d finally be able to substantiate your findings empirically.’ Who’s legitimate and who isn’t? But alongside the positive developments raised by the dermatologists are persistent downsides: ‘We maintain pretty high standards at DermaHaven,’ says Nijsten. ‘No low-cost offers, giveaway stunts or radio jingles. We’re also a bit more expensive
which had been harbouring concerns, stepped in. The title gained official recognition on 1 July, and anyone without medical training was no longer allowed to use it.’ Velthuis and Nijsten aren’t the only ones breathing a sigh of relief at this development. Qualified doctors who work in private clinics have also welcomed the move. ‘This puts what we do on a professional footing,’ says Shai Rambaran. After qualifying as a doctor, he completed a two-year course in cosmetic medicine, and has been practicing at the Van Rosmalen Clinic for the past six years. ‘It’s difficult for the public to know who’s legitimate and who isn’t.
Mishaps by unlicensed practitioners tar the entire industry with the same brush. I recently had a patient who’d had filler injections administered by a beautician with zero medical training.’ The taboo is lifting The three have noticed a further development in recent years. Their patients are getting younger and younger. ‘Young women, in particular, are having their lips filled,’ says Velthuis. ‘Nineteen- and twentyyear-olds. This is quite worrying from a societal perspective, and represents a crossing of certain boundaries. More could be done to address this, including running public information campaigns.’ But Rambaran see things differently. ‘It pleases me to see younger patients. It means people are becoming more and more aware of their appearance and that the taboo of cosmetic procedures is lifting. The older you get, the more difficult treatment becomes. So you get more out of it when you’re young.’ What the three do agree on is that the development of cosmetic medicine on so many fronts is a good thing. ‘What we do isn’t life-saving,’ says Velthuis, ‘but it has merit. Patients gain self-confidence and start to feel better after the procedures. And that, after all, is the point of being a doctor.’
SCIENCE IN PRACTICE
TEXT: Sjoerd Wielenga PHOTOGRAPHY: Erik Smits
Stress resilience Medical students, especially those at Erasmus MC, are prone to burnouts. As a result, Professor Myriam Hunink has been researching the matter. ‘If they are to provide effective care later on, it’s important that they are resilient.’
ack of energy, a detached and cynical attitude, feelings of personal inadequacy, insomnia and emotional exhaustion — these are the main symptoms of stress and burnout. And medical students at Erasmus University are found to be the most prone to burnouts and related symptoms of all Dutch undergraduates. This came to light in a 2017 survey by De Geneeskundestudent (The Medical Student), the national advocacy body for medical students. In response, Erasmus MC launched the DESTRESS study (destress.info) at the beginning of 2019 under the supervision of Professor Dr Myriam Hunink. The professor and her researchers are studying and tracking the severity of symptoms, risk factors and the progression of symptoms among students. They also monitor what the students are doing on their own to combat stress. In addition, some students are offered the chance to participate in stress-reduction interventions, such as mindfulness training, yoga, running, aikido (a Japanese contact sport that teaches self-defence) and musicmaking or -listening sessions. Hunink herself runs some of the aikido classes. ‘It’s about
gaining awareness: why do I respond the way I do? A physical response is a reflection of what happens in the mind. If you mentally flee or strike out when you feel under attack, you will do the same on the mat. I teach the students to harmonise and, as it were, dance with their attacker.’ What do you hope to achieve with this study? ‘Erasmus MC produces future healthcare professionals. If they are to provide effective healthcare when they go into practice, it’s important that they are resilient. Thus we’re running this study not just for the well-being of current students, but for the healthcare sector as a whole. If the stress-reduction interventions prove effective, we’d like to implement them in the curriculum.’ What are students stressed about? ‘Medical students tend to have high expectations of themselves, which is exacerbated by their studies. They, like other students, suffer exam- and deadlinerelated stress. And they often have a lot on besides their studies. Medical students in particular have side jobs and research to do, both of which they do in the hope of securing a training position in their preferred specialisation. In addition, students these days are very active on social media. The constant checking of smartphones taxes the brain, which causes yet more stress.’ Is medical training itself stressful? ‘Yes, it is. Medical students are confronted with illness and death at a younger age than most people, and that’s not easy. And working in a hospital can be very stressful by the very nature of its demands. Moreover, night and weekend shifts can be gruelling. Add to that the uncertainty surrounding every decision: did I do okay? Did I do something wrong?
Because, don’t forget, the work is about the well-being of your fellow man, and deals with matters of life and death. What's more, I know from experience — having worked as a radiologist myself — how easy it is for doctors to get burned out. The electronic patient system and administrative burdens cause doctors a great deal of stress. “Too many clicks”, as the Americans say.’ Mindfulness, yoga, relaxing music and Japanese martial arts. Magazines like Happinez cover things like these. So what’s the academic value of this research? ‘We use lifestyle interventions that have been scientifically proven effective against stress: yoga, mindfulness, running and music are good for relaxation. We don’t yet have empirical proof for aikido, but the sport includes elements of yoga and mindfulness and is a vigorous form of exercise.’ The researchers have noted that many
‘Yoga and mindfulness have been scientifically proven effective in reducing stress’ students find it hard to remain in the study for long; lots drop out. Is that part of the problem? That participating in a study like this makes an already busy life even more stressful? Hunink: ‘Some students have indeed said they don’t have time for aikido class, for instance, because of the demands of their side job or upcoming exams.’ Nevertheless, she hopes the study runs its course. And in the meantime, she is also preparing to expand the research to cover newly qualified doctors. ‘We need to ensure that new entrants to the field have the resilience necessary to do their work happily and healthily.’
NAME: Myriam Hunink EDUCATION: Medical
training at Leiden University, PhD in clinical decision analysis at Erasmus University Rotterdam FUNCTION: Professor of clinical epidemiology and radiology at Erasmus MC and adjunct professor of health policy at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
SCIENCE IN PRACTICE
TEXT: Marieke Poelmann IMAGE: Margot Vlamings
BREXIT HAS ONLY LOSERS Fabian Amtenbrink (50) and René Repasi (39) have been jointly and individually studying the legal, economic and political ramifications of Brexit for several years, starting even before the 2016 referendum. ‘Brexit is the dumbest idea since the Second World War. Nobody wins.’
n 23 June 2016, the UK voted to leave the European Union by a slim majority. ‘Since then, British and European negotiators have been trying to make the impossible possible,’ says Amtenbrink. ‘While the UK have sought to reclaim its sovereignty and maintain access to the EU’s internal market, the EU have tried to protect the right to freedom of movement and avoid border controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.’ Impossible objectives, says Repasi, that ultimately led to a rejection of the withdrawal agreement by the UK House of Commons. ‘The danger of a no-deal Brexit is greater than ever before,’ says Amtenbrink. How did you meet? Repasi: ‘We met in 2014, as fellow speakers at a conference in The Hague on the European Economic and Monetary Union. We began talking and discovered we had shared academic interests. Fabian was already a professor at Erasmus University, so I set about moving to the Netherlands.’ Amtenbrink chips in: ‘We were in the process of setting up the European Research Centre for Economic and Financial Governance (EURO-CEFG), a collaboration between the universities of Leiden, Delft and Rotterdam, and had room for a postgraduate position
that was a perfect fit for René. And so began our initial collaboration.’ How did that lead to you researching Brexit? Repasi: ‘At the EURO-CEFG, we investigated the legal, economic and political issues surrounding the European debt crisis. Early in 2016, we received a request from the European Parliament to investigate the “new settlement deal” between the UK and the EU. So we began thinking about Brexit and its possible implications, before the actual referendum.’ How did you expect the referendum to go at the time? Amtenbrink: ‘It’s easy to present yourself as clever after the fact by claiming you saw it coming, but you’d be lying. I didn’t foresee the possibility of a pro-Brexit majority until the day before the referendum. I was at an academic conference in the UK, and my British counterpart from the organising university was absent. When I asked where he was, I was told he was out distributing flyers to get people to vote Remain. That was when it dawned on me.’ ‘I didn't see it coming either,’ says Repasi. ‘We prepared two blog posts for the EURO-CEFG the day before the referendum: one for each scenario. We simply couldn’t tell which way it would go.’
NAME: Fabian Amtenbrink EDUCATION: Studied law at the
Freie Universität Berlin, earned a law doctorate from the University of Groningen, completed the German two-year traineeship for judges and lawyers (Rechtsreferendariat) at the Berlin Court of Appeals (Kammergericht Berlin) FUNCTION: Vice dean and professor of European Union law at the Erasmus School of Law, visiting professor at the College of Europe in Bruges
‘British and European negotiators have been trying to make the impossible possible.’
What were the main findings of your investigation? Amtenbrink: ‘There are different elements to the findings and different scenarios: legal, economic and political. One major political implication of Brexit is of course that it runs counter to the idea of European integration. One could argue that the door was left ajar with the inclusion of Article 50 in the Treaty on European Union. The dissemination of falsehoods about the potential consequences of Brexit is a major problem in the UK. It’s up to us, as academics, to set out the facts and figures and to analyse the real legal, economic and political consequences. For citizens, businesses, the
‘The dissemination of falsehoods about the potential consequences of Brexit is a major problem in the UK.’
NAME: René Repasi EDUCATION: Studied law at the
Ruprecht Karls University of Heidelberg and at the University of Montpellier, completed the German two-year traineeship for judges and lawyers (Rechtsreferendariat) at the Palatine Higher Regional Court in Zweibrücken (Oberlandesgericht Zweibrücken), earned a law doctorate from the Ruprecht Karls University of Heidelberg FUNCTION: Assistant professor at the Erasmus School of Law, scientific coordinator of the European Research Centre for Economic and Financial Governance (EURO-CEFG) of the universities of Leiden, Delft and Rotterdam
government and the economy.’ ‘The overall picture suggests that things are going to get worse for everyone after Brexit,’ adds Repasi. ‘It’s the dumbest idea since the Second World War, because nobody wins.
The Brits will suffer, but so will the rest of Europe. The whole point of the EU was to avoid the potential consequences of our previous divisions. I’m not saying war is likely, but Brexit will be disastrous.’ What does Brexit mean for students? ‘As we lawyers like to say,’ says Amtenbrink, ‘it depends. We still don't know if the UK House of Commons will decide to accept the withdrawal agreement, or whether we’ll end up with a hard Brexit. In the first scenario, students' rights will remain the same until the end of 2020. A future UK-EU agreement will determine what happens afterwards. In the latter scenario, all the current rights of EU students in the UK and British students in the EU will end.’ ‘This is why both the EU and the Member States have passed emergency regulations,’ says Repasi. ‘These measures cover and protect all students in exchange programmes on the day of Brexit right up until they complete their studies. EU funding is also guaranteed on condition that the UK pays its share of the EU budget in 2019.’ ‘The termination of exchange programmes for students and academics on account of Brexit will be a huge intellectual loss,’ concludes Amtenbrink. This interview took place in July 2019, three months before the stipulated 31 October departure date, with or without an agreement.
SCIENCE IN PRACTICE
TEXT: Suzanne Rethans ILLUSTRATION: Claudie de Cleen
Assistant Professor Sophie van der Zee
move more lying’
‘People when they’re
Sophie van der Zee is an assistant professor at the Erasmus School of Economics and is conducting research to develop a foolproof lie detection system, something the police could use in interrogations. In the process, though, she has identified Donald Trump’s telltale signs, and can even tell when he’s lying in a tweet.
on’t try playing amateur detective,’ says academic researcher Sophie van der Zee. If there’s one thing she’s learned in the ten years that she’s been researching the most foolproof method of lie detection, it’s that you can’t tell with the naked eye. Signs like looking away and fidgeting don’t tell you anything. ‘We often look away when we’re thinking, whereas someone who’s lying will likely look you in the eye in the hope of convincing you they’re telling the truth.’ The request that led to this research originally came from the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (cpni.gov.uk), in 2010, asking: how can police interrogations be improved? How do you determine trustworthiness? Should you focus on non-verbal cues — what people do — or on what they say? Van der Zee hypothesised that non-verbal cues would be more telling, reasoning that when she herself tells a lie, she typically has a fair degree of control over what she says, but not over what her body does. Lying for a good cause Unfortunately, our bodies don’t respond as obviously to lying as Pinocchio’s does. ‘You’re actually searching for the holy grail of cues, the human version of Pinocchio’s nose,’ she says. But there’s no such thing. ‘We might raise our chins a bit when we lie or wiggle our fingers, but nothing stands up to scrutiny once you start going through the pile of possible signs of lying.’ That was the conclusion from years of studying video footage of truth-tellers and liars. All potential cues were coded and monitored: moves right hand, glances sideways, changes position. But these could just as well have been indications of other motives. It makes a difference if you’re gesticulating wildly while telling a story or lying for a good cause. In 2011, Van der Zee learned that Ronald Poppe, a computer science researcher at the University of Twente, was hoping to generate algorithms on human behaviour from image sequences, so that movements could be measured objectively and automatically. She teamed up with him to develop a method for automatically measuring physical expressions of human
NAME: Sophie van der Zee EDUCATION: BSc in social psychology at Utrecht University, MSc and PhD in legal psychology at Maastricht University and Lancaster University, respectively FUNCTION : Assistant professor of applied economics at Erasmus University
‘When we’re lying, we don’t assume the other person believes what we’re saying, so we do things to convince them we’re telling the truth, including exhibiting agreeable behaviour.’
moved more when lying, as previously revealed, while those who knew what was being monitored modified their behaviour to conceal their lies, but were unable to do so convincingly. Lying is harder than telling the truth Then, in 2013, they took the show to Cambridge, where Van der Zee was able to study the dynamics between two subjects when one of them is lying. The rationale for this was that we always lie to a second person. It turns out we mirror the person we’re talking to more when we’re lying. ‘We don’t assume the other person believes what we’re saying, so we do things to convince them we’re telling the truth, including exhibiting agreeable behaviour. The person lying experiences emotions such as guilt and fear that they will be found out, that is unless they have psychopathic tendencies. Lying imposes a cognitive burden in that it is more difficult than telling the truth as you cannot draw on your memory, although that doesn’t always apply. If you had to tell a friend that her husband is cheating on her, you might find it easier to lie. And since liars want to be seen as honest, what happens when someone starts to believe their own lies? Then it’s no longer lying.’
behaviour and apply it to lie detection. So began a fruitful collaboration at the cutting edge of psychology and computer science. And not only in an academic sense, as they’ve since become a married couple and had a baby. All sorts of things happen under the table They repeated her original research, but this time with subjects wearing full-body motion capture suits lined with highly sensitive sensors. The previous footage had barely shown what people were doing with their lower halves, because the subjects were seated at tables that concealed these parts. But the motion capture suits revealed that when lying, most people moved more, and moved various parts of their body, including their legs and feet. But the movements were imperceptible to the eye. Which meant motion capture suits were necessary to detect lying, but these are quite expensive. There are alternatives, such as the Xbox Kinect, but they are less accurate. Moreover, would motion capture suits still be foolproof if the wearer knew they were being monitored? Lawyers could easily instruct their clients to remain as still as possible when questioned. Thus in their follow-up research, they monitored two groups: one with subjects who were told what the suits detected and one with subjects who were told something else. Both groups were given the same task: try to beat the suit. It turned out the group that was kept in the dark
Trump knows when he’s tweeting a lie Since 2015, Van der Zee has focused on multimodal lie detection and language analysis. Do people use language differently when they lie? A case in point: she has analysed Trump’s lies on the basis of his tweets, in collaboration with fact checkers from the Washington Post. That he states factual inaccuracies is a given. But does he know that he is lying or is he just poorly informed? Van der Zee’s linguistic analysis revealed that he uses very different words in factually accurate tweets when compared with those that appear in his factually inaccurate ones. Which means he usually knows when he is lying. Implementing these findings in real-life applications is still difficult. A multimodal approach works best: the combination of non-verbal, verbal and physiological cues. But several authorities have expressed interest, including not just the police, but also border services and the insurance industry.
SCIENCE IN PRACTICE
TEXT: Janneke Juffermans PHOTOGRAPH: Supplied by interviewee
Not: you can do better than this But rather: well done Marianne van Woerkom’s academic enquiries don’t focus on why people don’t do well at work, but rather on what’s going on when they do. Hence the name positive psychology.
What is positive psychology? ‘Positive psychology aims to counterbalance the overemphasis on things not going well, as characterised by things like depression and burnouts. While it’s important that these are studied, it's equally important to study what’s happening when people are happy and doing well. This allows us to better understand the circumstances in which people flourish, feel motivated, and so on. Fixing someone who’s had a burnout won’t increase their motivation.’ As a positive psychologist, are you perhaps not something of a lone voice in the wilderness? ‘Haha, it’s not that bad. More and more organisations are starting to employ it. Businesses are starting to focus more on the well-being of their staff, not only to prevent burnouts, but also to boost loyalty and ensure that people feel good at work. It’s gaining more attention in the non-corporate world too, such as in education, whereby the focus isn’t solely on performance and educational attainment, but also on tracking how well students are dealing with their emotions, and on how we can help them to boost their self-esteem and discover their talents.’ Why do we have a tendency to focus on things that aren’t going well? ‘We humans have a “negativity bias”, which is the tendency to pay more attention to negative experiences than to neutral or positive ones. This can be explained by our evolutionary desire to manage anything that threatens our well-being. You don’t have to do anything about things that are going well in order to survive. But we now know from research that reinforcing positive emotions is also very important. Taking a moment to reflect on what you have, for example, makes people happier. So does expressing appreciation for the people you value, such as your colleagues.’
Marianne van Woerkom EDUCATION: Graduated as a pedagogist from the University of Groningen, with a focus on vocational and business training; obtained her doctorate in 2003 with the thesis ‘Critical reflection at work. Bridging individual and organizational learning’ FUNCTION: Professor of Positive Organizational Psychology in the Centre of Excellence for Positive Organizational Psychology, Department of Psychology, Education and Child Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam
‘When workers are allowed to focus on their strengths, they typically manifest lower rates of absenteeism.’
two groups: one group was asked to draw up personal development plans and the other was merely asked to discover what their strengths were and see if they could find new ways to use them. When we checked back three months later, the latter group scored much higher in terms of their level of interest in their personal development, even though we hadn’t even asked them to think about that.’ What are the knock-on effects of this? ‘One is the established connection between how we feel at work and illness-related work absences. Healthcare workers who state that their work allows them to focus on their strengths suffer less from work pressures and emotional strain. They also call in sick less often. Thus this approach benefits both organisations and workers.’
Are organisations doing too little of that? ‘The focus within many organisations is often on improving what individual workers aren’t good at, their weak points. Most performance appraisals are about just that, with training and courses offered as a fix. But positive psychology takes the opposite approach by focusing on people’s strengths: what are you good at, what motivates you and how can we better tap into that? We investigated this by comparing
SCIENCE IN PRACTICE
TEXT: Suzanne Rethans PHOTOGRAPHY: Room/Unsplash
CONFORMITY Tom Mom researches workplace camaraderie. What has he discovered? Friendship among co-workers is important, but there’s a tipping point. ‘It should not result in uncritical group conformity.’
ew business development requires an exploratory mindset. A logical research question, therefore, would be: how do you foster this mindset? Having a good network within your organisation turns out to be very important in this respect. Tom Mom: ‘The larger the network, the more often its members encounter new ideas.’ And when the network is characterised by trust, perhaps even genuine friendliness, then the sharing of information will naturally be even greater. ‘Colleagues will approach each other without hesitation, and will find it easier to say things like: hey, this looks like your area of specialty — what can you tell us about it? The one being approached will also be more willing to take the time to share what he or she knows in greater detail. And in so doing, you make greater strides and break new ground as a team.’ Some companies believe that workplace competition is a great motivator, but that is a misconception with potentially disastrous consequences, warns Mom. ‘Foster a competitive corporate culture and people will guard their interests in isolation, trust no one and won’t collaborate with colleagues.’ A logical response to companies in that situation, or to any company, in fact, would be to suggest they invest in group outings, encourage Friday afternoon drinks down the pub, sponsor corporate ski trips, and so on. But watch out: the beneficial effects of workplace camaraderie have a tipping point. And according to research, this occurs when the same group of people have been together for about a year and a half to two years. ‘When the bonds of friendship within a team are longer than this, the room for divergent opinions starts to diminish accordingly. It becomes a closed shop with a bias for group consensus rather than new ideas.’ How do you strike the right balance? Managers must facilitate trust-building and cooperation, so that their employees share information willingly,
but at the same time they must avoid allowing them to become so close that their thinking becomes uniform and no one dares break ranks. How do you achieve this? Ensure diversity within your teams, advises Mom. ‘Change the composition of your teams and move people around within your organisation, or let people participate in different teams, so there’s a continuous injection of new blood. You need diversity in age, specialisms and personality types.’ In addition, it’s important to foster a corporate culture that allows for dissenting opinions. ‘People need to know that they’re allowed to learn by making mistakes. Diversity of opinion is a good thing. Life is moving faster and faster, and that demands continual responsiveness.’ Two-yearly changing of the guard In addition to all of that, the corporate culture and identity mustn’t feel too imposing. ‘If you impose strict rules on your employees about how they must think and act, they won’t be motivated think for themselves.’ Finding the right balance can be hampered by factors such as competition within the industry. When this is fierce, companies often turn inwards and put all their energy into what they do best, whereas times like these are precisely when you should be looking to seize new opportunities, says Mom. ‘And the freedom to think differently is important then as it stimulates your employees’
desire to explore. It also helps organisations stay flexible and change direction, which involves a learning process that will be all the more difficult if you’ve gone collectively blind. That’s why you need a changing of the guard every two years at the very least. Companies that operate this way constitute many of today’s scale-ups. Young, fast-growing companies such as Coolblue, Takeaway and Young Capital. They keep their teams fresh and motivated.’
NAME: Tom Mom EDUCATION: Master’s degree in
strategic management (cum laude) from Erasmus University Rotterdam; master’s degree in international management (cum laude) from the Community of European Management Schools (CEMS) with an exchange year at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland; PhD in strategic management from the Rotterdam School of Management FUNCTION: Professor of Strategic Growth and Implementation at the Rotterdam School of Management
SCIENCE IN PRACTICE
TEXT: Yasmina Aboutaleb ILLUSTRATION: GettyImages
WE NEED A POLICY FOR INFORMAL CARE The demand for caregiving is growing, and as a result care is increasingly being delivered by a mix of formal and informal providers. One of Job van Exel’s areas of interest is the beneficial effects of providing informal care. ‘But we shouldn’t make a mountain out of a molehill.’ Once when he was still a young and naive researcher, Job van Exel included his telephone number on a questionnaire he was sending out to a sample of a few hundred informal carers. He found himself fielding calls from full-time carers for the next three weeks. Some were calling with simple queries about the questionnaire, or to say that it was nice to have someone finally pay attention to carers. But some were calling in desperation, and were on the phone for up to an hour and a half telling him about how they’d been referred from one agency to the next or about the ways they’d been taken advantage of. The young researcher quickly deduced that there was a much bigger story behind the ones he was hearing. The accounts also motivated him to do something to improve the visibility of the four million informal carers in the Netherlands. Now a professor at the Erasmus School of Health Policy & Management, Van Exel remains just as devoted to this objective. Do you have any personal experience of caregiving? ‘My sister has Down's syndrome, so my parents have been informal carers since I was a boy. Thus I’ve had a close familiarity with caregiving for quite a while. I helped, too, with babysitting and other chores, though I wouldn't really call that caregiving.’ When may someone be considered a caregiver? ‘According to the Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP), an informal carer is anyone who provides informal care for at least eight hours a week for three months. Informal carers often provide unpaid care to a friend or family member because that
person is old or sick and needs help. This caring relationship arises from a social relationship, so the carer is always someone you already know. The social relationship makes it different from volunteering, because that’s something we usually do for strangers. Most people don’t immediately consider themselves carers, especially if what they’re doing doesn’t feel especially demanding. People will often say they’re just helping their brother or mum. They see it as something that comes with the territory, and the fact that what they’re doing has a name often isn’t something they’re aware of. The term “informal care” is policy language.’
stressful elements claiming prominence. But many caregivers also say they’re happy to do what they do, because they too would want someone close caring for them if they needed it. Some derive satisfaction from being caregivers; it gives them a sense of purpose. So it's a mix of pros and cons. And the weighting of the various experiences changes over time. It takes a while to get used to the situation when it's new, so it all feels negative; but you slowly begin to see the positives. That said, if the situation goes on for long, and the prospects of the recipient’s recovery look slim, the outlook can tilt back to negative.’
How does providing informal care affect people? ‘Many informal carers spend up to twenty hours a week providing care, with some doing so round the clock. As you can imagine, if your charge has advanced dementia, you need to be on hand 24/7; you can't leave them alone for a minute. Or if your son has respiratory problems, you have to be there to make sure he doesn’t suffocate. So it’s not surprising that some carers feel that this is a full-time job. Fortunately, they’re in the minority. When you delve into people’s experiences of providing care, you find it comprises a mix of positives and negatives. Regarding the latter, people often find the experience stressful and physically demanding, and it can have a major psychological effect. You find yourself suddenly having to do all sorts of things for someone close to you that you never did before, like giving your mother a bath, for instance. That’s psychologically demanding. Living with someone who’s sick on its own affects us negatively. These negative aspects often overshadow the positives, with the
Does informal care have a bad image? ‘In informal care surveys, we often ask people to grade their level of happiness. Then we ask: suppose you could have someone of your choosing relieve you of all of your informal care tasks; how happy do you think you’d be then? About a third to half say they’d be unhappier. This is why we shouldn’t make a mountain out of a molehill, but rather try to emphasize the positives so that more people are willing to provide care. And care-related policy must aim to support people, especially those providing long-term care, to help them stay the course. That was part of our reason to give informal care more visibility. The effect of caregiving by people outside the formal healthcare sector never used to be considered, but that has changed, particularly as an increasing number of people are doing it. Our ageing population is resulting in more and more people needing care, while the number of people who can provide care is falling. And the latter are also the ones that we rely on to earn an income.
NAME: Job van Exel EDUCATION: PhD in economics at VU
Amsterdam, MSc in economics at Erasmus University and BSc in mathematics teachers training at the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences FUNCTION: Professor of economics and values at Erasmus School of Economics and at Erasmus School of Health Policy & Management and Erasmus School of Economics
The circumstances thus create a dual responsibility for the younger generation.’
‘When you ask informal carers how they’d feel to be relieved of the burden of caring, almost half say they’d be unhappier than they are now’
What’s the current focus of your research on informal care? ‘We and the SCP have done quite a lot of research on informal care for specific debilitating conditions, and on informal care in general. But there remain a number of interesting issues to explore. Given the changing composition of the population, it would be interesting to study informal care from a cultural perspective. Are their differences in the way people providing informal care see themselves depending on their cultural background? Does the motivation to provide care differ? We know too little about this. Research has shown,
for example, that Surinamese and Moroccan carers are less likely to consider what they do unusual. There are cultural components on both the giving and receiving end of the informal care equation. Would you like someone to care for you? Would you like to provide care? Are you part of a network of carers or will one person be primarily responsible? Having a parent come live with you isn’t common in the Netherlands, whereas it is in many other countries. The entire social network is different. And that determines whether informal care will or won’t be a problem, and whether it is likely to be voluntary. We don’t have a specific policy on this at the moment. The demand for caregiving is growing, and as a result care is increasingly being delivered by a mix of formal and informal providers. Who, then, bears primary responsibility for caregiving? A home care assistant or district nurse is often responsible for monitoring the condition of the person receiving care. If others at the same address also perform this task, coordination of the role may prove somewhat difficult. Another problem is that of contracting regions, areas where young people are leaving while a relatively old population remains, which is likely to result in a limited pool of informal caregivers. People in these regions will likely have to organise themselves differently, with older people looking out for each other more. But they will probably also have to go without care more often than their counterparts in other regions. We would like to know how networks in these regions are organising themselves, and how best to coordinate policy with this.’
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ILLUSTRATION: Moker Ontwerp
TEXT: Pauline Bijster ILLUSTRATION: Lotte Dirks
Rewarding non-sm kers Around Erasmus MC are signs bearing the message: ‘This hospital is working towards a smoke-free generation’. From 1 September 2019 onwards, the hospital and its surroundings are to be completely smoke-free. Gone are the smoking rooms and public ashtrays. The ban also applies to smoking outdoors. PERSIST was initiated to help the university achieve its anti-smoking objective, including amongst hospital staff. PhD student Nienke Boderie is a key figure in the study: ‘When you make a hospital smoke-free, you also have an obligation to help people quit.’ Boderie specialised in disease prevention for her research master's degree in health sciences. Now she’s helping to make and keep the hospital and its staff smoke-free. As part of her intervention study, any member of staff who smokes is offered free smokingcessation coaching through SineFuma, which specialises in this. ‘PERSIST assesses the effect of personalized incentives on people trying to quit for good,’ she adds. Choose your reward She elaborates: ‘Participants are tested at intervals over the course of a year to check that they haven’t started smoking again. Each time this is ascertained, the participant is given a reward with a monetary value, say a Bol.com voucher. There’s an important personalised element to the reward: research has shown that the most effective reward differs per individual. So we’re offering a selection of reward schemes, along with advice as to which of these might suit a participant best. We’re running four schemes in total. The first offers a reward of a fixed monetary value at each interval. The next offers rewards of diminishing monetary value over the course of the year. The third does the opposite: starts low and ends high. And the last is a deposit scheme: participants deposit 100 euros of their own money at the start of the study. If they fail to remain
abstinent, they lose their deposit. But if they remain abstinent for the duration of the study, they stand to make 450 euros. This last one will likely prove to be the most effective of the lot, because not only do people earn nothing if they slip up, they also lose their stake.’
‘We’re assessing the effect of personalized incentives on people trying to quit for good’ Less likely to start again The study is based on the idea that people who manage to remain abstinent for an entire year are less likely to start smoking again. The testing intervals occur at three, six and twelve months into the study. Boderie and her fellow researchers are hoping for participation from at least 220 of the hospital’s staff. They also hope their findings can be implemented on a larger scale in the near future: ‘Might we be able to guarantee that people quit for good? And could such a reward system be offered by companies in the future, or by health insurers?’ Rotterdam leads the way The goal is to make smoking-cessation programmes effective at getting people to quit for good. A national prevention agreement by the government has declared that all educational institutions must be smoke-free from 2020 onwards, and all Dutch hospitals from 2025. That means that Rotterdam’s institutions are actually
ahead of the curve. The Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Sliedrecht is already a smoke-free zone, along with its streets and surrounding neighbourhood, and the Ikazia Hospital and Maasstad Hospital are preparing to do the same. A smoke-free generation Figures from the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment show that the number of smokers in the Netherlands has been dwindling for years. So, given the downward trend, does the problem still require this additional effort? ‘We’re still a long way from where we need to be; thirty per cent of the population in Rotterdam still smokes. And there’s a marked difference between high and lower socio-economic groups: our reward system works somewhat better for people in the latter groups.’ As stated by the signs around Erasmus MC, the ultimate goal is a truly smoke-free generation.
NAME: Nienke Boderie EDUCATION: Master in
Health Sciences at Erasmus University Rotterdam FUNCTION: Working on PERSIST as a PhD student
CHOOSE SMARTER PERSIST is part of the universityâ€™s Smarter Choices for Better Health initiative, and is supported by the Erasmus Trust Fund Foundation. Erasmus University Rotterdam aims to contribute to better health worldwide through smarter choices. As health and healthcare are complex issues, the initiative focuses on long-term multidisciplinary research.
TEXT: Pauline Bijster
The endowment circle • Doing well together
CALLING ALL ALUMNI
The Erasmus Trust Fund has been committed to the growth and prosperity of Erasmus University Rotterdam since 1913. It demonstrates this by providing financial support to projects and activities that contribute to even better education and research at the university or that support students and staff in their professional development. The university desperately needs this additional funding to maintain its global ranking. Here are a few examples for which the Fund is grateful:
♥ Inner Circle for Entrepreneurship Raymond and Colette Cloosterman (CEO of Rituals and CCO of Jumbo, respectively, and fellow alumni) founded this endowment circle for young entrepreneurs at and around Erasmus University. ‘We’re both responsible for great companies. And when you look
back, you realise how much of this you owe to Rotterdam and EUR. It’s nice to be able to give something back, and especially to be able to continue the legacy.’ ♥ Inner Circle for Medical Innovation Frans van Houten (CEO and chairman of the board of Philips and alumnus of the economics course) is an ambassador for medical innovations: ‘You need to distinguish yourself to qualify as a premier university. And you need resources to do that. It’s customary in America, England and Belgium to donate to your alma mater, but we don’t have this tradition in the Netherlands. We’re somewhat spoiled, in a way. I believe that contributing to the provision of education and research makes society better for future generations.’
PHOTOGRAPHY: WILLIAM WHITE
♥ Inner Circle for Sustainability The Impact for Sustainability Fund was founded by Rob van Gansewinkel, CEO of Van Kaathoven and an alumnus of the business administration course: ‘Contributions to this endowment fund may allow us to facilitate research on the long-term effects of a circular economy. Or to research wastestream containment. Imagine, a waste-free society! Now that’s something to aim for.’
The Erasmus Alumni Trust (EAT) exists to strengthen the mutual connections between all the university’s alumni and their connection with the university and the city of Rotterdam. EAT was established on 1 January 2019 from a merger of the Erasmus Trust Fund and the Erasmus Alumni Association. Prospective members can join EAT and guarantee themselves invitations to inspiring and informative events by visiting erasmusalumni.nl.
HIT THE DANCE FLOOR WITH OLD FRIENDS Everyone who cares about the university is welcome to join us at the Erasmus Trust Fund benefit gala. Indulge in a bit of nostalgia with the Hermes House Band, grab yourself a drink and chat the night away with old friends. Visit trustfonds.nl for more information about the gala.
New Year’s party The Erasmus Alumni Trust’s New Year’s party is happening once again, thanks to its ongoing success. The next one is set to take place at Erasmus MC on 16 January 2020. Guests will also enjoy a guided tour
COME JOIN US
of the radiology department, the emergency room and the SkillsLab (the surgical training room).
The Erasmus Trust Fund invites all alumni who haven’t visited any of the campuses for a while to join us on a tour or get together. The varied itinerary includes a visit either to the new hospital or the renovated Woudestein campus, an art trail, a meet-and-greet with young entrepreneurs at the Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship or high tea with the rector magnificus. For more information, visit: trustfonds.nl.
INNOVATION IN EDUCATION
TEXT: Dennis Mijnheer PHOTOGRAPHY: Anneke Hymmen
‘I see the Education Council as the memory and conscience of our education system’ Professor of urban sociology and education Iliass El Hadioui was appointed in January to the Dutch Education Council, the ten-member independent advisory body of the government concerning education. As a council member, El Hadioui is directly involved in providing requested and unsolicited advice to the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.
was indeed one of the lucky ones,’ says El Hadioui with some pride as he recalls his appointment to the Education Council earlier this year. Upon being appointed, the urban and educational sociologist received an important message from his predecessor, Kristel Baele. ‘She gave me a really useful piece of advice: “Exercise your freedom to question and explore whatever you wish, irrespective of Erasmus University policy.” Her backing was very reassuring, as I attach great importance to academic and spiritual freedom,’ says El Hadioui, who recollects his first months on the council with satisfaction. Above party affiliations and ideologies ‘The Education Council meetings constitute valuable opportunities for me to learn a great deal about lots of things, as my fellow members are people with incredible amounts of in-depth knowledge and expertise in a range of highly specific fields. It fills you with intellectual humility to sit at the table with, and receive continual enlightenment from, education lawyers, public administration specialists and psychologists.’ El Hadioui joined the council with a clear picture of the independent advisory body. ‘I see the Education Council as the memory and conscience of our education system. The council is above party affiliations and ideologies, and is focused on the public interest.’ He cites as examples the fierce media debates on topical issues such as the right to education and language policy in the Netherlands. These are highly sensitive issues that require more in-depth and historically informed understanding within the discipline of education.’
NAME: Iliass El Hadioui EDUCATION: Bachelor’s
and master’s degree in urban sociology and policy, Erasmus University Rotterdam FUNCTION: Professor of urban sociology and education at the Department of Psychology, Education and Child Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam; programme director of cultural change and professionalisation programme The Transformative School; research director of Transformations in Urban Schools at the Department of Sociology, VU Amsterdam; member of the Education Council
Moral responsibility As a member of the Education Council, he is now in a position to shape educational innovation. ‘But every reformation begins by defining what you want to keep.
I am not a huge fan of innovation fetishism. If you change every single thing, you risk throwing out the baby with the bathwater. At the same time I’m not one of those who believe that everything used to be better in the past. For instance, I see room for a new reality that is highly culturally diverse and digitised. And teachers, school administrators and other professionals will need to find solutions within that reality.’ As an academic, El Hadioui has a central concern: equal opportunities. ‘I want every child in the Netherlands to have the same educational opportunities to make themselves valuable in and of themselves and as citizens. And for that you obviously need a system designed to ensure it happens. With inequality of opportunity on the rise, it’s my firm belief that educational academics have a moral responsibility to avail society of their knowledge of how to improve equal opportunities in education.’
INNOVATION IN EDUCATION
TEXT: Dennis Mijnheer PHOTOGRAPHY: Mark Uyl
differently next time? When you consciously plan, monitor and reflect, you are regulating your learning process.’
We can learn
TO LEARN Everyone knows how to summarise while taking lecture notes or studying. But there are several other techniques for learning. Educational psychologist Martine Baars has done years of research on learning to learn.
e often overrate our abilities while learning,’ says educational psychologist Martine Baars. ‘We’re quick to think, “Okay, got it.” Only to be disabused of this when our knowledge is tested and we’re awarded disappointing marks.’ Most students will recognize this. Baars has been engaged with this subject for years. She is an assistant professor of educational psychology at the Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences, and obtained her PhD in June 2014 on the subject of self-regulated learning in primary and secondary education, for which she received a grant from the Dutch Research Council (NWO). Baars explores how people can make their learning sessions more effective by using different strategies for studying, practicing time management and regulating their learning behaviour. ‘Research shows that children and adults are both bad at regulating their learning behaviour and learning processes,’ says Baars. According to her, this is a shame, because effective learning is becoming an increasingly important skill for both current students and alumni. ‘Learning to learn is important for the kind of jobs society is increasingly going to need, because it is almost no longer possible to remain in the same job for the entirety of our working lives. Lifelong learning is becoming a prerequisite for success.’ Planning, monitoring and reflection In self-regulated learning, the learning process is split into three stages: planning, monitoring and reflection. ‘It begins with the preparatory stage: what is the task, what’s my goal and which strategy will I use? This is followed by the execution stage, in which we implement the studying strategy and monitor ourselves: how am I doing? Do I understand the material? Am I enjoying the experience? Once the session is over — say a morning of studying in the library or writing an essay — you proceed to the reflection stage. How did the session go? What went well? What didn’t? And what should I do
An app with studying strategies To put these empirically grounded insights into practice, Baars has developed a free mobile application called Ace Your Self-Study. ‘In building the app, I reviewed the educational psychology literature on studying strategies. This yielded a total of 22, which are explained in a short film.’ One of these recommends spreading the workload. ‘You’re better off having three one-hour study sessions a week than trying to cram everything into one night. It’s more effective: you remember more and understand what you remember better.’ The app takes you through the three stages and allows you to keep track of the details of your study sessions. ‘It also challenges you to the next round of studying, in a similar way, actually, to how Strava and Runkeeper challenge you to work out more often and more effectively.’ Baars hopes the app will help students better regulate their learning processes and learn new strategies for studying.
‘Most of us were taught how to summarise while taking notes at school. But most people aren’t aware that there are several other techniques for learning, such as making a sketch of the mutual relationships between concepts, or creating a concept map in which concepts are defined in separate boxes that are then connected to one other with arrows. This allows you to tell an entire story in a single overview. Anyone using the app is likely to discover a whole range of useful studying strategies that they probably weren’t aware of.’
NAME: Martine Baars EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree in
pedagogical and educational science at Radboud University, Nijmegen; master’s degree in educational science at Radboud University, Nijmegen; PhD in educational psychology at Erasmus University, Rotterdam FUNCTION: Assistant professor of educational psychology at the Department of Psychology, Education & Child Studies (DPECS), Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences
‘Learning involves three stages: planning, monitoring, reflection’
MY STUDENT DAYS
TEXT: Karin Koolen PHOTOGRAPHY: Mark Horn
‘I thought I’d end up a hard-nosed businesswoman’ As Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, Carola Schouten (1977) works day in day out on behalf of Dutch farmers, horticulturalists and fishermen. Who she is today, she says, was shaped years ago as a business administration student at Erasmus University. ‘It was the best time of my life.’
arola Schouten's parents ran a farm in Giessen. But her father died young, so she and her siblings began helping their mother wherever they could. Schouten: ‘What held my interest wasn’t so much the farm itself as its managerial underpinnings: what processes were involved in its running, what must you pay attention to, how were decisions made ... . My mum and I would often discuss these issues, and I knew before long that I wanted to know more about things like these.’ Thus in 1995, at the age of seventeen, Schouten left the farm to study business administration. A Brabant native to the core, she’d deliberated for a while between Groningen and Rotterdam, but in the end chose the ‘down-to-earth’ port city with its promise of international allure.
with over a thousand first-year students. That said, we were somewhat on the periphery of the main campus, so you had to guard against becoming invisible. I did this by promptly joining the VGSR, a Christian student association. Walking around campus today brings back nothing but good memories. It’s almost like returning home. I had the best time of my life here.’ You mentioned how eager you were to drink it all in; what did that mean in practice? ‘I’d been pretty studious in secondary school and had always pushed myself to get the highest grades. But I relaxed a bit in my first year at university. I still wanted to pass every exam, but felt I didn’t necessarily have to come top of the class in every subject. My studies were important, but so was my personal development. So I studied hard and immersed myself in VGSR life. Public debates, long discussions into the night, ... . Not just casual conversations in the pub, but serious discussions with friends about how the world worked. Nothing escaped our attention, from theological and philosophical issues to what was happening in China, and the chats could go in any direction. It was through all of this that I began to discover myself.’
Back then, though ... (laughs) ‘True, Rotterdam wasn’t nearly as heady as it is now, but it was on its way. I found lodgings in the western part of the city, in a neighbourhood that was just starting to rid itself of drug dealers. I’d arrived as the city was starting to come into its own, and I loved it. Things were happening! I’d grown up in a small, quiet village and was dying to experience the big wide world. That said, it was also sometimes a bit scary; we never cycled alone at night.’
And what did you discover about yourself? ‘That I was deeply interested in society. Meanwhile I’d entered university with the idea of joining the corporate world and perhaps working for a multinational company somewhere abroad. But I remember scoring top marks in something called “introduction to the business administration of public bodies”. I’d been completely hooked by
What do you recall of your first impressions and experiences on campus? ‘Well, in my view, going to university meant going out into the world, so I was buzzing with eager anticipation. The business administration course was already well established by then,
MY STUDENT DAYS
NAME: Carola Schouten EDUCATION: Business
Administration, Erasmus University FUNCTION: Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality in the third Rutte Cabinet
its content. How do businesses operate in relation to society? They don’t function in a vacuum, after all, but in relation to people, the government, society. What’s a company’s reason for being? What’s its goal and motivation? What role can companies play in addressing social issues? Everything suddenly fell into place once I saw the connection between business and society, and I promptly signed up to major in businesssociety management. I also began taking additional minors, in things like social history and reformational philosophy. The business-society management group was pretty small at the time, so we had to do a lot on our own. And we did it all as a team, and went out together on field trips. It was hugely inspiring, and I became increasingly aware of what drove me. It's a wonderful feeling when all your interests and impulses start to gel, and you finally have the clarity to follow your true path and deepen your knowledge in an area that resonates with you.’ What from those days remains with you in your role as a minister? ‘It’s nothing subject-specific. I've never worked in business; it’s always been in government and politics. You know, I entered university thinking that since I was very business-like by nature, I was probably meant to be a hard-nosed businesswoman. But in the end, it’s about what truly resonates with you. And for me it wasn’t marketing or strategic management. I used to occasionally wonder if I’d picked the right course. But I finally decided that I had, because I do have a business-like side to my character — a way of approaching things in a clear-sighted and professional manner while also trusting my own convictions. It’s how I work now: first I want the facts, and then I use my political and personal beliefs to inform the options and trade-offs. You need to be prepared to challenge your beliefs and each other. And to follow your intuition.’ Are you still in touch with people at the university? ‘I’m still in touch with people in the businesssociety management department. I was invited not long ago to speak at the department’s 20th anniversary celebrations, which I did with pleasure! I’ll be forever grateful to the people in
‘Your education includes what you learn from those you meet along the way who show faith in you and help you along.’ that department. I fell pregnant during my studies, following an exchange period at a university in Tel Aviv. I was yet to write my thesis, but had to postpone it. I needed a job, a house ... . The department staff supported me all the way, and kept reassuring me that they would get me through it. I can never thank people like Lucas Meijs and Rob van Tulder enough for what they did for me. They saw me through to my graduation and for that will always mean a lot to me. Your education includes what you learn from those you meet along the way who show faith in you and help you along. Being here taught me that.’ Your son is about to follow in your footsteps as a business administration freshman. Coincidence? ‘His decision had absolutely nothing to do with me! (laughs) But of course I’m not unhappy about it. I have to resist spoiling the surprise of what lies ahead; that’s for him to discover. Besides, things have changed quite a bit since my time. If I had just one thing to tell him and, in fact, all freshers, it’d be this: these are the best years of your life. At no other time will you have as much freedom to develop as an individual. So use the time to find out where your heart, passion and talents lie, and blossom!’
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