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”.

A matter of social attitudes?

Snoby Tamira Sno / Reading Time: 9 minutes



From May 23 until 28 2014, I attended the annual meeting of the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) in Tampere, Finland. The ISSP is one of the major international social sciences projects around the world and measures attitudes on a socially relevant theme. ISSP data are an important source for international comparative social scientific research. The survey has a different theme every year. This year’s theme is Citizenship. A total of 70 participants from 39 countries around the world, ranging from Australia to Canada and from Suriname to Russia, attended the meeting.

Since last year Suriname has become an associate member – ISSP-SR is incorporated in my PhD research. One of the conditions of the ISSP is conducting the survey every year, with a response of at least 1000 respondents. For Suriname I am in charge of the data collection and meeting the requirements of the ISSP.

The agenda

ISSP members meet annually. At these meetings decisions are made in a strictly democratic way (ISSP has no governing body or principal investigator). Amongst other topics, a main issue was to decide on the content of the questionnaires for the upcoming 3 years. During the conference I took part in the discussions on the content and wording of questions for the upcoming 2015 module “Work Orientation IV” and the 2016 module “Role of Government V”, as prepared by the Drafting Group. It was interesting to find out how questions could have political consequences in some countries, which questions were not relevant for all countries and how members would interpret questions. For example: in Suriname the question on left and right wings parties would not be relevant because our political system is not structured that way.  After 2 days of discussions, where members gave their comments, the questionnaire for 2015 and the list of topics for 2016 were brought to a vote and were accepted after some adjustments. With this, the members can now conduct the survey for 2015.

Also, a proposal for a theme for 2017, made by several countries, was presented and accepted by vote. The theme for 2017 will now be “Social Relations and Social networks”. This is a new theme within the ISSP.

Research session

Traditionally, the Sunday before the start of the meeting, a research session is organized, in which participants are given the opportunity to present papers that are (preferably) related to the themes of the ISSP modules. Together with my supervisor Harry Ganzeboom I prepared a presentation on “Post Stratification and Efficiency Weights in the 2012 ISSP of Suriname”. The paper describes the construction and use of post-stratification and efficiency weights in my survey on Social Mobility in Suriname that included the ISSP Social Inequality IV module.

Post stratification weights are used to correct biases, caused by selective non response. In my survey we found for example an overrepresentation of women so it seems relevant to think about using weights or not. Efficiency weights adjust for the fact that the sampling design deviates from the commonly assumed Simple Random Sampling design, but is clustered in multiple stages. In my sample, first there was a systematic sample with a random beginning, where some 60 primary sampling points were drawn; in each sampling point a cluster of 80 respondents were then selected.

The most important results and conclusions of this presentation were:

  • We found the Surinamese survey to be fairly representative with respect to district, ethnicity, age, education and occupation, but with a strong overrepresentation of women (65%), instead of an expected 50-50% distribution of men and women. This has arisen mostly from substitution within If the targeted respondent was a man and was not found at home, some interviewers immediately substituted him with a woman who appeared to be at home, despite of the instruction that substitution was not permitted in this case. The use of post-stratification weights to repair this, turned out to be of little value, because gender has a minor influence on social attitudes and usually is a control variable in the analysis.
  • Efficiency losses were found to be very strong because of the large cluster size in the sample and are reinforced because in certain areas interviewer portions were very large. These interviewers had an impact on the quality of the survey for example if they would substitute incorrectly or have made mistakes with the coding of occupations, etc. In the next survey we will use smaller clusters and smaller interviewer portions to cope with the efficiency loss.
  • In this presentation we have shown that interviewer effects can also be significantly reduced when respondents used write-in modes and thus answer questions without the intervention of an interviewer. Unfortunately, in Suriname we cannot use write-in modes on a large scale because there is a relatively high level of illiteracy in the interior, compared to the capital. Therefore we have to hire interviewers and conduct face-to-face interviews.

The construction and use of weights is currently of strong interest within the ISSP. A special working group is installed at this meeting for mapping this problem within the ISSP data and to come up with recommendations. Ganzeboom and I plan to contribute to this methodological research in future meetings.


On the last day, shortly before the closing of the conference, the representative of South-Africa showed a video to promote her country, because South Africa will be the host for the next ISSP conference in 2015. The audience reacted with approval. After some final remarks, the conference came to an end.

ISSP appeared to be indeed a matter of social attitudes.


Tamira Sno is PhD candidate at the department of Sociology. Her research ‘Status Attainment and Social Mobility in Suriname’ focuses on studying patterns of occupational status attainment among Surinamese in Suriname and elsewhere.



Why On Earth Should I Visit A Conference?

David Firmansjah  by  Firmansyah David / Reading Time: 5 Minutes /

Why should I go to a conference? This is a question which always comes in my mind when I got many of those “call for conference” invitations in my email inbox. I am interested to go, however, there are always thoughts that come to my mind that there’re might be some problems if I decided to go. First, I would spend a lot of money, for instance for traveling, accommodation, conference fees, etc. Then, I would also spend much time to prepare a presentation or a paper and be there at the conference’s places for couple days. Third, there might be many talks and topics in the conference which are not relevant to my work. So, every now and then, I would rather stay at my office and do work as usual, than planning to travel.

© Jorge Cham via
© Jorge Cham via

But after some time, I had an opportunity to be in a conference in Barcelona this April. It was a big conference relating to the topic of the interaction between universities, business and entrepreneurship. Last year, it was held in Amsterdam and involved 338 participants from 48 countries. With this year’s theme “Challenges and Solutions for Fostering Entrepreneurial Universities and Collaborative Innovation”, the conference in Barcelona attracted even more participants. In this conference, I presented my work together with colleagues from University of Valladolid Spain and VU University Amsterdam. Here you can find the paper which we had to present.

I was impressed while attending the conference because it was such a big one because of its multinational scope. It took me by suprise that this conference gave me a new experience that changed my view visiting a conference. Therefore, I will share some tips on how to get the most out of your conference visits:

New Conference New City

It is common that an annual conference is held in a different city or in a different country each year. So, it becomes important to make a plan in advance regarding the transportation, accommodation, and information about the conference venues. With these preparations, at least, you have a brief picture in your mind where to go and what to do once you arrive at the city where the conference is held. However, if you think with just having a map of your destination and you are ready to go, think again. I once failed to visit a conference in a country because there was not enough time to get a visa. It was quite a bummer! So make sure to check this out beforehand. While for some countries visas can be obtained with only one mouse click, other countries require some time and money.

New Conference New Topics

Each conference usually has a unique theme. To present your paper in a conference you should prepare a paper of which matches with the conference’s topic. Moreover, you can attend sessions or speeches which are relevant to your research. I do not suggest you to attend all the sessions, eventhough you think the rest is interesting as well. From my experience at this conference, attending all sessions would sometimes make you think too much. You’d have a lot of information that you may not need at the end of the day. I think less is definitely more in this case.

New Conference New People

This is the most important part that you could get from a conference. Instead of just enjoying yourself from sessions to sessions or presenting a paper, you can get out of your “comfort zone” and mingle with people. During the breaks, you can meet and socialize with other academics and researchers who might have a common interest with you. It will provide you with fresh perpectives (for example ideas and literatures) on your own research and may help you to find out what is new in metholodologies and operationalization of your research goals. And as a follow-up, try to collaborate with these people in the near future by simply sending them an e-mail. Do not forget to bring your business card, you will never know who you will meet there. At the conference in Barcelona, I got to know some PhDs and researchers with similar interests. After some talks, we agreed to keep connected through emails or social media. By this, we often exchange literatures and share new ideas and the possibilities to work on a paper together. Everytime I have updates or news from them, I always have a thought like: What a great thing to work with a multinational network!

Knowing all the benefits of attending a conference, now I’ve changed my mind every time I receive invitations for conferences in my email. I now read them one by one to see if any of these conferences are useful. Once I have a conference which I am interested, I take enough time to prepare it. If you ever receive invitations of conference to your email, do not rush to ignore or directly delete them. It may turn out that the one that you have been looking for is among them.


Firmansyah David is a PhD candidate at the Department of Organization Sciences. He also works as lecturer  at the Faculty of Industrial Technology Padang Institute of Technology, Padang Indonesia. His primary research area is  university-business cooperation, knowledge valorization, and technology transfer.




The worldwide health threat of physical inactivity: Things I learned in Brazil at the International Congress on Physical Activity and Public Health

Elske Stolte  by Elske Stolte / Reading Time: 6 Minutes /

Fresh off the airplane, still buzzing from the recent experiences in Rio de Janeiro and the lack of sleep I start writing this blog. I attended the International Congress on Physical Activity and Public Health where I presented a poster about the online physical activity intervention which is part of my research project. I learned a lot at the congress about the current state of affairs of physical activity research. Physical inactivity is a worldwide health threat. In this blog I will share some of the knowledge I gained at the congress about worldwide physical activity research.

Physical inactivity is not a luxury problem

That physical inactivity is not just a problem of well-developed rich countries was one of the biggest eye openers for me during this congress. The emphasis on less developed countries in the program had somewhat surprised me. In countries where poverty, crime and pollution are major problems along with diseases such as HIV I would expect physical activity levels of the population to be very low on the list of priorities. However, non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and diabetes are rising problems in these countries and effect public health in a major way. The importance of physical activity for public health worldwide has been illustrated by The Lancet with a special series on the topic.

More of the same is not enough

The ICPAPH congress has an overarching topic. Last time it was ´the elephant in the room´, which stood for the required awareness raising of the physical inactivity problem and was achieved in the form of The Lancet series. This time the overarching message was ´more of the same is not enough´. There is a big gap between what researchers are doing and what public policy makers need, as explained by Public health professor Adrian Bouman in his key note. There has been a substantial increase in research on the topic of Physical (in)activity, but the focus has not been optimal. Researchers need to take into account the big picture of public health instead of just focusing on tiny subsamples and stressing that more research is needed to answer even more questions. An effective intervention trial is nice but public policy is key when making real world changes to public health. There is a need for more collaboration between researchers and policy makers, this point was also illustrated by the fact that the conference was almost solely attended by researchers.

Brazil cares about physical activity

Brazil is one of the countries that has realized the impact of inactivity on its population and is taking a leading approach in tackling this issue by working on community programs and public resources for physical activity (see the article ‘Policies to promote physical activity in Brazil’ of The Lancet series). This was visible for instance at the beach where you find a wide boulevard for walking and running, a cycling lane and workout stations where people can stretch and do muscle exercises (which are used regularly). You will see many people jogging along the beach in the morning and afternoon, but even in the middle of the day ploughing through the sand in the burning sun.

Outdoor Gym in Rio de Janeiro
Outdoor Gym in Rio de Janeiro

Dutch infrastructure is a luxury

Attending presentations from people from all over the world who are working on the topic of physical activity promotion also made me more aware of the luxury position of the Netherlands where I live and conduct my research. In one presentation a video was shown of a cycling path that had been improved due to the Connect2 program in England. This program aimed to increase walking and cycling to work by improving the infrastructure. The presenter commented that ´depending on your frame of reference this is an excellent or quite bad example of cycling infrastructure but the point is that the situation has improved a lot´. England is able to improve its infrastructure but I can imagine many developing countries have much more pressing safety issues to deal with first. In Rio de Janeiro for instance, the nice cycling lanes next to the beaches do not always connect to the next neighborhood. Between some of the neighborhoods you see some very dangerous situations where cyclist are on a very narrow two way cliff road with many curves and busy traffic. The Netherlands on the other hand has an excellent infrastructure for cycling and walking, we have sidewalks and separate cycling lanes almost everywhere and the situation is still being improved. The Netherlands is also third in the list of the prevalence of cycling to work just behind China and Denmark. This obviously has an influence on the focus of health promoters. I can afford to focus on people’s motivation for physical activities as major environmental barriers have already been tackled mostly, while in many countries it might be more important to focus on improving the infrastructure and safety.

Standing tables at the conference
Standing tables at the conference

Walking the walk and using standing tables

It is important to walk the walk and not only to talk the talk. Especially on a research congress it can be difficult to be active enough during the day. So on the first day we had a half hour walk along the wonderful beach promenade (the so-called “agita mundo walk”). Also in every conference room at the back some tables for standing where provided. These standing tables were a great success and should be introduced to all conferences.

In Brazil, I learned how my research project fits into a worldwide context of the pressing issue of physical inactivity and its health consequences. My work focusses on a tiny piece of a puzzle that fits into the context of the global effort to increase physical activity in the world population. Also, I learned that as a researcher I should look for ways to collaborate with policy makers to be able to influence public health.


Elske Stolte MSC is a PhD candidate at the Department of Sociology. Her research revolves around motivating older adults to be more physically active. By means of an intervention trial she studies the effects of prompting on motivational factors and physical activity.