NESI Article

Student & ECR spotlights - Evi Van Ekris tells us all the different skills being developed as part of her doctoral work

29 October 2018

Please tell us about your career pathway to date. 

I’m very passionate about sports. From the age of twelve I have practiced sports almost every day. As a teenager I became very interested in the effects of nutrition on health and performance. That is why I decided to study Nutrition & Health at Wageningen University (the Netherlands). During my study I enjoyed conducting research and writing my master thesis. This experience made me want to develop myself as researcher. After my graduation I worked for short time as research assistant at Food & Biobased Research Wageningen. I’m currently employed as a PhD student on the topic of children’s sedentary behaviour at the VU University Medical Center (the Netherlands). I hope to finish my PhD thesis this year. Besides research, I’m involved in teaching and I coordinate a course on prevention for about 100 students in health sciences.


How would you briefly describe your current research to someone who is not familiar with your field of work? What is your main research interest?

My PhD project is titled ‘How sickening is sitting?’. I study children’s sedentary behaviour using different research questions and methods. For example, I systematically reviewed the longitudinal evidence for biomedical health effects and conducted a meta-analysis of prospective studies. I study tracking of sedentary behaviour in the International Children’s Accelerometry Database (ICAD). I study correlates of children’s sedentary behaviour by using cohort data and by performing concept mapping sessions with children. I also conduct research on the measurement of sedentary behaviour. I like this combination of different research methods within my PhD because it gives me the opportunity to develop myself as a well-skilled researcher with a broad expertise.


What are the main barriers you experience when conducting research, or what information/skills do you lack to conduct high quality research?

The obvious barriers of limited time and money. I’ve recently started writing grant proposals. I think this is a completely different skill which requires a lot of practice.


What could help you as a student/ECR to further develop in your current position?

I think that having good and caring supervisors is the most important aspect for me at the beginning of my career. I’m very grateful of everything I learned from my main supervisors prof dr Mai Chinapaw and dr Teatske Altenburg, for the research discussions we have and the constructive feedback that they gave me. Also, collaborations with researchers from other universities are very important to me. During my PhD I was happy to be awarded with a travel grant to visit the University of Cambridge (Esther van Sluijs, Andrew Atkin and Katrien Wijndaele) and the University of Bristol (Russel Jago and Emma Solomon-Moore) to work on joined research papers. These collaborations have enriched my PhD and broadened my perspective on how to do research of high quality. To develop myself more I hope that I can collaborate more with others in the future.


 What do you think will be the next most important development in the nutrition and/or physical activity field?

To date, research has focused on total volumes of sedentary behaviour and physical activity and their relationship with health. But the pattern in which sedentary behaviour and physical activity are accumulated and alternated throughout the day may be of crucial importance for health as well. I think that the development of methods to study such patterns in epidemiological studies is the next important development in our field.


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