Wearing two hats?

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Serving seniors or serving science: a dilemma game

MarijeBlokBubble1 by Marije Blok | Reading Time: 3-4 Minutes /

Serving seniors or serving science?
Loneliness is a serious problem among older people. My organization, the National Foundation for the Elderly, aims to tackle this challenge through different activities. My team works on innovations to support ageing in a meaningful way. We investigate wishes of older people in interviews; explore their ideas in co-design sessions and test prototypes. I love my job! And it only got better when I succeeded in creating a PhD position to enrich it: now I would even be better able to serve the elderly! However, soon I discovered that serving science is not always the same as serving seniors and I started to face ethical challenges.

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Dilemmas of a double role
All researchers face ethical challenges. Lucky us: there are guides to help us out. The Netherlands Code of Conduct for Research Integrity – the integrity Bible for (Dutch) researchers – provides methodological and ethical standards. It introduces a set of ‘virtues’ for good scholars, including honesty, scrupulousness, transparency, independence, and responsibility.

As a researcher working for an employer outside the university, I’m also supposed to take principals of my organization into account, including making a difference, being involved, flexible, connecting and distinct. However, both sets of principals sometimes conflict. I often feel like I’m wearing two hats, as values of my organization and science are not always aligned.

The Erasmus University developed the Dilemma Game, supporting researchers in practicing with hypothetical dilemmas. Inspired by playing this game in a course at the faculty, I reflect in this blog post in a playful way on dilemmas I faced in my work. Next to exploring what to do when interests of seniors and science seem to clash, I hope to motivate fellows operating both in science and society to reflect on their work as well. All blocks contain a dilemma (left) and the considerations I made (right).

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Representing a wellbeing organization, I felt responsible to make participating a pleasant experience for the older people (B). However, I also found the value of scrupulousness important and didn’t want to be flexible at the cost of this scientific value (A).  I choose A, as including new persons would anyway affect the reliability of the results (A+C). Unfortunately, this was not a happy-ending story. The collaboration was disturbed and another participant left because her friend wasn’t welcome.

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This dilemma forced me to choose between being flexible and connecting (A) – according to my organization’s values – or scrupulous and independent (B) – following scientific principles. C was a successful mix: beneficial for my organization without ignoring scientific standards.

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As an elderly organization, we joined this project to make a difference in older people’s lives and considered this approach (B) suitable for this. Our partners considered replacing participants at the cost of scrupulousness and not in line with ethical standards (A). We considered B, but first discussed this with the partners once again. This worked out surprisingly well, so we ended with C.

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Considering what would be most honest from a scientific point of view (A, B) I decided to be transparent in reporting, but to not use their input (A). Instead of interviewing her husband I spent additional time having coffee with the lady, as I felt responsible after her sharing her story (C). This mix was a good strategy and in line with both my organization and research

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A beautiful hat
I am not a talker at all, but I feel you really listen to me and that makes me share my story’ – an 85-year old lady when I finalize my interview. For a moment I feel guilty, as my primary interest was a valuable dataset. But then I realize that a valuable encounter can be valuable for my research at the same time. Reflecting on my dilemmas taught me that although my organization’s values are not always similar to those in science, decisions aren’t necessarily black or white. Am I wearing two hats, in my position? No, I’m not. I’m wearing a very special one and will do this with pride!


Marije Blok (MSc) is an (external) PhD candidate studying ageing and technology at the Sociology department (VU) and a project manager in the Innovation department at the National Foundation for the Elderly (Nationaal Ouderenfonds). Here she will share the experiences on her journey through science and society.

 

Conflict of interest: you vs. your research

Looking at the Netherlands Code of Conduct for Research Integrity with a qualitative eye

Lisa-Marie Krausby Lisa-Marie Kraus| Reading time: 6 Minutes / 

The replication crisis, questionable research practices, plagiarism and fraud. Anyone who is reading this blog post, is probably familiar with these buzz words. To promote and foster integer research, the Netherlands Code of Conduct for Research Integrity (NCCRI; KNAW et al., 2018) was introduced.

As a researcher, I have gone through both extensive quantitative as well as qualitative training. Thus, two types of methodologists reside in me. While reading the NCCRI for the first time, the code predominantly spoke to the quantitative rather than the qualitative researcher in me – which I think should not be the case.LMKAfb1

Let me explain why that is.

The code addresses topics such as Communication, Honesty and Transparency. Needless to say, all of these topics are important to academic research in general, but qualitative researchers would probably argue that there is more to Transparency than currently described in the code.

While conducting a study and when interpreting the findings, researchers bring certain values into the project, which are grounded in their own, unique worldview. Being aware of that, is a practice rather elementary to qualitative researchers. I would argue, however, that this habit is a valuable one just as much for quantitative researchers. It may be true that the epistemological assumption of quantitative research presupposes an objective reality that can be measured and described as such. Yet, the way surveys are put together – in terms of what questions are asked, and more so: not asked! – conducted and eventually interpreted by the researcher is a different story (here, also see Postpositivism). Hence, this “type” of Transparency, that is the elaboration on one’s positionality (O’Dwyer & Bernauer, 2013) is also advisable within the quantitative tradition to keep up comprehensive ethical standards.

Each person, regardless of their research approach looks at a topic through a certain lens, influenced by personal interests, preferences and world views. For example, a part of my PhD project (Becoming a Minority) is concerned with the reactions to growing cultural diversity of native, upwardly socially mobile individuals. Upward social mobility is the movement within the social hierarchy from a lower to a higher position in terms of social class. Since I am socially mobile myself, there are certain personal values and ideas that I hold and bring into my research. Needless to say that I do my best to be as objective as possible, yet it would be disingenuous to pretend my personal life trajectory has not shaped the view that I have on the topic.

In my research I hypothesize that the socially mobile could be more open to diversity. I do so since the socially mobile have experienced more heterogeneous types of contact throughout their life trajectory compared to socially stable individuals. Consequently, the socially mobile should be “used to” adapt rather easily to social change. At the same time, the upwardly socially mobile could have more negative reactions since their social position might be more sensitive to “threat” compared to other middle-class individuals who have inherited their social status from their parents.

I don’t think it comes as a surprise that, surely, the former is a finding much more appealing to me personally (to back-up this claim scientifically, check out Social Identity Theory (Tajfel & Turner, 2004) and the need for a positive image of the self). So what if I find a pattern revealing that in general the upwardly mobile do not “deal well” with growing diversity? Is it in my interest to reflected upon myself or the mobile as a group like that?

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I think that favouring one hypothesis over the other is not always a conscious process. But a first step is to be aware of your own background and critically evaluate it when conducting research. Your life trajectory influences the decisions you make as a researcher – and can pose conflicts of interest with the self. Hence, the NCCRI should also create awareness of these sometimes unconscious processes which can pose a threat to ethical research standards.

The NCCRI tries to tackle general integrity issues but the inference that can be made is that the “I” is in no way a matter that only applies to qualitative research. Also, more quantitative researchers face conflicts of interests. In order to be more inclusive of all types of methodologies as well as more exhaustive in general, the NCCRI should take the posed matters into account.

In conclusion, I propose to reformulate certain sections of the code. There is – to some extent – a guideline in the NCCRI that already hints at a topic related to the described issue. In the section for “Standards for good research practices” it states:

“Make sure that the choice of research methods, data analysis, assessment of results and consideration of possible explanations is not determined by non-scientific or non-scholarly (e.g. commercial or political) interests, arguments or preferences.” (number 18, p. 17)

And

“Be open and honest about potential conflicts of interest” (number 55, p. 18)

As these predominantly refer to 3rd party interests, I suggest to include the researcher’s position and personal gains in the statement:

“Make sure that the choice of research methods, data analysis, assessment of results and consideration of possible explanations is not determined by non-scientific or non-scholarly (e.g. commercial or political) nor your own interests, arguments or preferences.” (p. 17)

And

“Be open and honest about potential conflicts of interest”, by adding “[…], these include your own interests”.

References

KNAW; NFU; NWO; TO2-federatie; Vereniging Hogescholen; VSNU, (2018). Nederlandse gedragscode wetenschappelijke integriteit. DANS.

O’Dwyer, L. M., & Bernauer, J. A. (2013). Quantitative research for the qualitative researcher. London: Sage.

Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (2004). The social identity theory of intergroup behavior. In J. T. Jost & J. Sidanius (Eds.), Key readings in social psychology. Political psychology: Key readings (pp. 276-293). New York, NY, US: Psychology Press.


Lisa-Marie KrausLisa-Marie is a PhD candidate at the Sociology Department of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Her research is part of the Becoming a Minority project and focuses on how (socially mobile) natives react to and make sense of becoming another ethnic minority in European cities.

 

How to start loving your PhD again

DavidPassenierby David Passenier / reading time 5 minutes/

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David is PhD student at the Organization Department of the Faculty of Social Sciences at VU. His project is called “Improvisation and compliance with procedures in safety critical organizations”.

Hardest hit: The impact of digital disadvantage on recovery after a disaster

By Femke Mulder | Reading time: 7 minutes

“I wasn’t at home when the earthquake happened” Ashmita says, pointing to the pile of rubble that was her house only two years ago. “I was in the fields with my two daughters. Fortunately, we were fine.” Ashmita is one of 500,000 Nepalis who lost their houses in the 2015 earthquakes.

It took a week before Ashmita was able to phone her husband who works in Quatar as a labourer. “Our local power generator had been destroyed and there was no network coverage. A friend told me that it was still possible to phone out from the largest village in our area. I walked for hours to get there in order to phone my husband.”

Ashmita has struggled since the earthquakes happened. Her husband did not have enough savings to fly back to Nepal or help her out much financially. “I didn’t know what to do or where to get help” she says. “My neighbours were able to get tarpaulin in the market and together we built a tent. My daughters and I still live there now. It’s freezing cold in winter”.

The government of Nepal has made funds available to help citizens rebuild their houses but Ashmita can’t access it. She is absent from local government records. NGOs who use these records in order to identify people who need aid also have no idea of her existence. “Our house was registered in my husband’s name” says Ashmita, “I don’t have a marriage certificate or any papers to prove my identity. Sometimes I listen to the radio on my friend’s phone”.

“There is public information about the earthquake and about the government’s compensation scheme. None of the information is relevant to me however because I don’t have the necessary papers. I have no idea how to get money in order to rebuild my house and provide my daughters with a future. I don’t know who to turn to or what to do.”

Birendra had a very different experience. “I was on the second floor of my apartment when the earthquake happened”, says he. “I ducked under my desk for shelter. It was terrifying. After the shaking stopped I immediately ran outside. I spent the night in my car. The next day I quickly went back inside my apartment to grab my laptop and my cell phone. Fortunately, the mobile network in Kathmandu was up and running so I was able to get online through 3G. I phoned around to make sure that my family and friends were alright. I managed to get hold of everyone that very day.

One of my friends had set up a tent in his garden and I spent a week there, just streaming the news and Googling anything related to the earthquake I could think of. Via Facebook I found a local engineer who was able to check my apartment right there and then. Luckily, there was no major structural damage so after a week of camping outside I moved back into my apartment.”

Web 2.0: for whoever has, to him more shall be given…

In times of crisis, affected communities share a lot of information about what is going on, who is where and who needs what through social media and by phone. Through online platforms (like Facebook groups) they help each other find information about what to do, who to contact and where to go in order to address their specific needs. Governments and humanitarian organizations also make a lot of crisis information available on the internet. Search engines (like Google) make it possible for people to use all this information in order to find out exactly what they need to know. This is a lot more effective than listening to the radio or watching TV if you need information on how to solve your specific problems.

Indeed, having the mobile network up and running again within hours was very helpful to Birendra. Ashmita was not so fortunate. She lived in an area with poor ICT infrastructure and did not have a laptop or a smartphone. However, even if she had been able to get online, she would not have been able to use the information or meaningfully participate in online disaster community groups. Most relevant websites were written in English or Nepali. Ashmita does not speak either well. Her native tongue is Tamang, one of the 123 distinct language spoken in Nepal. Also, like 53% of women in Nepal, Ashmita is functionally illiterate.

As such, Ashmita is digitally disadvantaged: she is unable to use the internet in order to find the information and people she needs in order to get back on her feet. Digital privilege has a massive impact on people’s ability to cope when a disaster occurs. It also greatly influences how well people recover in the months and years following a disaster. Nine out of ten people who lack digital privilege are also disadvantaged in multiple other ways. Digital inequalities therefore mean that the web helps the relatively better off recover a lot faster, sometimes at the expense of those who are less well of. This can happen, for example, when aid gets channelled to groups who make themselves highly visible online and not to offline communities who are significantly less visible to humanitarian responders.

But there is hope…

A number of grassroots initiatives have sprung up that try to link the digitally disadvantaged to information and contacts available on the internet through human intermediaries. They use hand-held devices to help people like Ashmita find out who they should contact and what they should do to get access to relief services that are available to them. One example is the Accountability Lab in Nepal who I will be joining at the end of this month for a period of five weeks. I will observe the work of their community focal points in the field and carry out open and structured interviews with local people about how they accessed and shared important crisis related information after the 2015 earthquakes.


Femke Mulder is a PhD Candidate in the department of Organization Sciences. Her research especially focuses on how different humanitarian agencies map, interpret and govern (online) information networks in their efforts to respond to natural and man-made disasters and crises

If you are interested in how it went get in touch at f.mulder@vu.nl!

Call for papers

Get reacquainted with the Amsterdam Social Science: A postgraduate journal for publication of academic articles and essays on contemporary, everyday analyses.

Amsterdam Social Science (ASS) is a biannual journal jointly funded between the UvA, VU and Nuffic. The journal was founded in 2012 by students who wanted to create a platform for high quality work that often doesn’t go further than a marker’s desk. We are a multidisciplinary home for fresh perspectives, new ideas, tryouts, untested methods and unknown territory. Currently, ASS is organized by students and alumni from both participating universities. The journal publishes double-blind peer-reviewed articles and essays written by Master, PhD and postdoc students from Amsterdam and abroad. Available both digitally and as a hard copy, ASS is the leading journal in Amsterdam for discussions related to the Social Sciences.

The journal has a new board and the team is looking to bring it back up to speed with more frequent issues as of September 2017.

Submit!
Do you have an essay or article that you think should be read by a wider audience, do you want to publish the results of your thesis, or are you wanting to contribute to a future focussed publication? With ASS Journal, postgraduate students have an opportunity to realize these wishes.

During the revision process writers can expect excellent support from the our editors, working in tandem with them to ensure that our style and quality requirements are met. Due to our peer reviewed, double-blind process, published work in ASS obtains a mark of quality.

The journal is open to receiving papers all year round. More information can be found at socialscience.nl

________
Volunteer: gain hands on experience alongside fellow students by becoming a board member. When vacant, positions are listed at socialscience.nl/category/vacancies

We are often looking for editors and peer reviewers, e-mail: info@socialscience.nl


 

How to go from black tie to bathing suit? Gendered reflections on conference processes that shape our careers

By Luzan Koster & Thijs Willems | Reading time: 8 minutes

For many scholars, summer time means conference time. In winter we write an engaging abstract or paper to get accepted for a relevant conference. In summer we present our work to our scientific community who can challenge our line of thought. We hop from conference room to conference room to attend the presentations of others and engage in stimulating conversations during breaks and social events. Indeed, participating in conferences entails learning how to become a scholar and includes network activities that help sharpening our paper’s argument. The process therefore is a valuable and vital part of our work. But is this process as easy breezy as it sounds?

Smart debating does not only take place in the formal setting of conference buildings. Participants meet in various foreign countries, where one location is even more exotic than the other. In fact, so we argue in this blog, the informal events during conferences may potentially mark how our careers unfold. During such events, the boundaries between the formal/informal and professional/personal become blurred. This should urge us to be more aware of our role and that of others during conferences. We address this issue from one specific perspective: we show how our gender may shape how informal events at conferences are experienced.

Sunny setting

The following story takes place with the beautiful emerald blue Ionian Sea as its background. Here, at a yearly symposium, scholars gather to overthink theory and methods based on the theme ‘Process Philosophy’. The protagonists of the story are two PhD students, one male and the other female, who try to find subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways to blend in with ‘the professionals’. The convenor opens with: “This is not just a conference but a symposium, emphasizing the importance of good food, drinks, and company”. Work goals and holiday moods might seem contradictory, but scholars widely agree that the open and relaxed atmosphere is inspiring. Yet, it may be hard to follow work ethics when you are invited to after curriculum activities…

Conference evening of a woman: “Gender trouble”!

Tonight is the conference dinner, so I do my hair and put on a black springy gown. The long dress has a closed neckline and small see-through at the back, nothing too revealing. There normally are no strict dress codes, but most women do their best and bring their party clothes. When my Dutch colleagues and I arrive at the open-air venue, almost all tables covered with white linen at the seaside are already taken. The last table is held by only one man, so we ask if we can join him. We start talking and laughing, and when his group of friends arrives, we mingle. It turns out, the man is a renowned professor, but hierarchical positions do not matter now.

We move to a beach club to have more drinks. Everyone gets a big summery cocktail and sits down at the luxurious lounge. One of our new friends starts chartering everyone to go for a dive in the sea under the moonlight. While our group of the evening seems to have no problem to take their suits off, the rest of the conference participants raise their eyebrows. I feel somewhere in between, which presents a dilemma. On one hand, I do not want to be a spoiler and break the newly forged bond with an interesting group of scholars. On the other hand, I wonder how the image of my half naked body could harm my reputation in this scientific community! I hear a splash; the professor has dived in.

Conference evening of a man: Free your mind

Getting back to my room after an exhausting conference day, I take a cold shower to cool off. I unpack my suitcase to select the most fitting attire for tonight’s conference dinner. But what to wear? Stay on the safe side and wear something formal and too warm for the Mediterranean summer nights? “They won’t dislike me because of my choice of clothes”, I convince myself, “and besides, I’m a man and they would probably respect my laissez-fair attitude”. I hop on my comfortable short and airy t-shirt, and a few minutes later I am sipping a lovely local white wine with colleagues. Once seated, I notice that, while most women are dressed in a similar style as the luxurious setting of the restaurant, the other men wear their shorts, sandals, and half open shirts too.

At our table, theoretical approaches are casually merged in dinnertime stories. A heated discussion arises on Judith Butler’s ideas of ‘gender performativity’, referring to the fact that our gender is not given by nature, but very much socially constructed; the meaning of gender is created by humans as we act according to socially accepted and desired behavior. We leave the issue and move to the seaside bar where waves rhythmically hit the shore. When my mojito is almost finished, some part of our crew has raised the idea of a midnight swim. I waver for a second, hesitant to the idea of taking off my clothes in front of future colleagues. But the crowd clearly expects me to show some bravery, and shouts: “Come on man, don’t worry too much”. We jump in.

“Bodies that matter”: normative chains?

The work of Judith Butler (1990, 2011) shows that our gendered behavior is always to some extent prescribed by roles, gestures, clothing, and speech that are socially desired, depending on our male or female body. Our stories above indeed reflect how our body and gender influenced our thoughts, doubts, emotions, and choices for action. Whereas females usually ‘have to’ behave according to some undefined feminine standard, their scholarly male counterparts can break the rules as this portrays some undefined sense of ‘masculinity’. A woman may be frowned upon when dropping her dress, showing her body, to dive into the water, while a man may be applauded for having the guts to do so.

In no way, of course, we mean to say that women are determined to behave as women, and neither that there would only be one way that a man is expected to behave. The variations are endless and gender comes in many different shapes. However, what we want to address with this blog is that conferences are not some self-evident trips just for fun (in Dutch: ‘snoepreisjes’). When it comes to informal events at conferences, it matters ‘who we are’ and ‘how we are seen’. Especially so when we consider that there may be a difference, or tension even, between who we are as a scholar and who we are in private time. There are certain rules and expectations we should be aware of, which can play out differently for men and women.

In the process of becoming a scholar, PhD’s are often asked what kind of scholar we want to be. Seniors advise us to carefully think through our written work and to reflect on producing novel, exiting work as opposed to automatically following the main stream. However, what about informal factors? Who we meet at conferences affects our research perspectives and interests, opportunities for future projects and jobs. If conferences and informal networking are career changers, do we really have a choice to break conventions? What are the consequences if we do or don’t? How do these choices differ for men and women?

We hope this blog has inspired you to better reflect on your own role during informal events. For now: Happy conference season! 


Luzan Koster is a PhD candidate in the department of Organization Sciences. Her research focuses on ‘the interpretation of the new discourse by patients, professionals and informal caregivers and on the way this affects their identities‘.

Thijs Willems is a PhD candidate in the department of Organization Sciences. His research focuses on ‘The role of collaborative routines during disruptions in the Dutch railway system’. 

References

Butler, J. (1990). Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. New York: Routledge.

Butler, J. (2011). Bodies that matter: On the discursive limits of “sex.” London: Routledge.