Chairs of Thriving & Healthy Youth focus on data, young researchers and theatre
Two of the three chairs were already well acquainted with one another. Over the past four years, Heidi Lesscher, a neurobiologist at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, and Sanne Nijhof, a paediatrician at the UMCU, have worked together extensively as part of their research into children’s play behaviour. “We are very pleased we are now able to carry on within the Dynamics of Youth Thriving & Healthy Youth - community with the help of someone from the social sciences, the developmental psychologist Odilia Laceulle,” says Lesscher. “Naturally we differ in terms of the research we do – but that makes the community more colourful. And all three of us do have the same focus: finding out how resilience works in children and how it can be strengthened.”
The three researchers – the chairs – of the newly instituted community already meet regularly. Nijhof says: “We meet at the 030Lab, which is a former nursing ward at the Wilhelmina Children's Hospital. The ward is now earmarked to facilitate collaboration between Utrecht University, the Wilhelmina Children's Hospital and the UMCU. Our domain operates at the intersection of those institutions, which means the 030Lab is the perfect place to come together.”
Optimising data linkage
At the 030Lab, the three scientists discuss a number of issues, including identifying and cataloguing all of the data available in the area of child development. “We all know that there is an enormous amount of data. However, that data is still not optimally linked up. In order to establish that optimal link, we first want to get a better understanding of all that data. That will be one of the things that our post-doc, Anne Margit Reitsema, will be tackling from January onwards. She will be compiling a roadmap of the existing cohorts”, says Laceulle.
The community also wants to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration. “I’m convinced that every faculty stands to benefit from our community. Of course, you have to be able to find one another and be open to collaboration. We will be helping with that. Facilitating will be our main role,” says Sanne Nijhof. In order to stimulate interdisciplinary collaboration, the three researchers are looking to start with young researchers. Laceulle observes that “too often [young researchers] are involved in strictly defined projects. Small grants might allow us to free them up for a few months within their contract, so they can do additional research. Research involving people they would otherwise never come into contact with during their PhD research.” “This allows the principle to sink into the young scientist’s DNA and normalises conducting interdisciplinary research and collaboration as part of doing science," Nijhof adds.
I’m convinced that every faculty stands to benefit from our community
Lesscher, Nijhof and Laceulle also wish to serve society through their community. They have, for example, held talks with a theatre company that has developed a show to encourage discussion of mental health among young people. Lesscher says: “We will be offering the show, called ‘What the f*ck is happiness?’ to our younger students on 8 and 9 December at Parnassos. Their mental health has been a major issue, particularly in recent years. This is another one of the tasks of our community: creating connections between civic partners and our own researchers and students. Once again to increase resilience – in this case among young adults”.