Interview | CSPS PhD dissertation | Dr. Marja de Jong

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On the 6th of December, dr. Marja de Jong successfully defended her dissertation entitled: “Voorstad on the move to better health”. Four questions to Marja about combining her PhD research with a job as advisor of the Municipal Health Service (GGD).

Why did you start this combination, a PhD in addition to your job at the GGD?

It actually started in 2015, I was working on a grant application for FNO for my work as policy advisor. I had asked Annemarie Wagemakers if she wanted to think along in the application for the evaluation part of the project. She said, “There might be a PhD research in that, wouldn’t you want to do that yourself?”  It was one of the things I’ve always wanted to do, so I didn’t have to think for very long. Looking back over those six years, I’m very glad I did it. It is incredibly nice to have such a focus on research. In my job as a policy advisor, I don’t get the chance to really immerse myself in something like this. I was both project manager and researcher on the same project. The combination of giving substance to the research from a practical perspective and vice versa – yes, that really added value.

Can you give an example of that?

In the neighborhood we worked, we asked people what health means to them and mapped that with the method of concept mapping. We gained insights from about 100 people into what is important to them when it comes to health. This in turn gave input for all kinds of activities. We also used the broader view of health that emerged to bring this to the attention of partners, members of the project group and the network. My role as a researcher helped to gain more depth and discuss much more. 

Do you have any tips for people considering such a combination?

It is a lot of work, so I did a lot on my own time. My children had left the house, so I also had some time to spare. I think if you still have a young family, such a combination is really tough. My motivation was also a big factor, I just really wanted this. I always enjoy learning new things. Practically, I was able to use part of the schooling I did at the GGD for PhD credits, so that makes a difference.

A practical tip from me would be to regularly take one or two weeks off to write, to focus on deepening your research instead of being caught up in the data collection and everything that comes with it. Exchanging with fellow researchers, reading up on the literature. It really work in your favor if you try to keep up with that.

What do you take away from those six years of research?

My research has made me even more aware of the question “What do citizens want? So really thinking from the target group, paying a lot of attention to citizen participation right at the beginning of your project. Taking time to get to know the different perspectives, and this also applies to your collaboration with partners. I will always keep emphasizing how important these points are.