Andrea Rozema, first Impact Award winner: “We can all have an impact”
Andrea Rozema has won the first-ever Tilburg University Impact Award for her doctoral research into making school grounds smoke-free. She was awarded this accolade right after, on August 1, 2020, new legislation on smoke-free school grounds, based in part on the results of her research, had entered into force. Tilburg University Magazine called her to find out more.
Why did you decide on smoke-free school grounds as your topic?
"For me, it was of paramount importance to do research on a socially relevant topic and this project had societal relevance written all over it: the government had earmarked funds to establish how school grounds could best be made smoke-free. When I applied for this doctoral research position I had already engaged with the topic of smoking: I was evaluating a Quit Smoking training at the University of Groningen and I was involved in evaluating the smoke-free hospitality industry. Researching smoke-free school grounds to find out whether they can help push back or prevent smoking among young people mattered to me: the younger people are when they start smoking, the more difficult it is to stop."
What fascinated you about that effect?
"What intrigues me as a social psychologist is finding out how to design environments in ways that impact on people’s behavior. For example, we know that merely seeing a cigarette, or even just a cigarette butt on the floor, can trigger smoking. At secondary schools the smoking behavior of teachers and fellow students also matters. Before an environment is truly smoke-free many factors must be taken into account."
How did you set up your research?
"My research project consisted of two parts: in three large qualitative studies I explored how secondary schools were implementing the smoking ban, and I did a large quantitative study to find out what the effects of smoke-free school grounds are. That second question is a customary one in research, the first one not necessarily so. The qualitative studies supplemented the quantitative study and helped explain the effects found. For example, I interviewed janitors, principals, parents, and students of schools in three different stages of making their school grounds smoke-free: schools preparing for smoke-free school grounds, schools in the process of establishing smoke-free school grounds, and schools whose school grounds had become smoke-free. My research also generated wonderful recommendations that could be applied in practice straight away."
What are some of your findings?
"My research was not restricted to regular tobacco cigarettes, but also covered e-cigarettes with and without nicotine, and shisha pens, electronic water pipes. At the time there was a great deal of confusion about the effects of e-cigarettes, but one of the studies we did clearly showed that the use of alternative tobacco products by young people can be a first step towards smoking traditional cigarettes."
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What was your biggest challenge?
"In my research I worked together with parties from the field, including the Lung Fund, several municipal health services, and the Trimbos Institute. But that kind of collaboration is not as obvious as it sounds. For example, not everyone is always on the same page, speaking the same language: researchers often think in terms of variables that require verification or the research design, but those in the field are looking for specific answers to the very real question of how to deal with certain situations in practice."
How did you resolve that?
"In various ways. What is vitally important to gaging societal impact – and what I would also urge other researchers to do – is to invest time in talking to your partners in order to keep up to date with developments and to be able to engage with these developments. It is not easy to make time, because what you do is not always visible, and time is precious. But your presence in the field is also highly appreciated. It shows people you are human, not cooped up in an ivory tower."
Tineke Meeldijk, health care officer at GGD Brabant-Zuidoost:
"What also helps is a working environment that supports you and does not hold you to account solely on the basis of your research output. At Tranzo, the center for care and well-being of the Tilburg School of Social and Behavioral Sciences and my place of work to this day, collaboration with partners in the field is part of our mission. Knowledge gained through practical experience is worth as much to us as is knowledge gained through science. They complement each other, and I truly believe they are equally valuable. The maxim ‘you go faster alone, but we go further together’ is most appropriate here."
"It is also important to share research in clear language, that is to say in language that is specific and concise. For example, I have translated my research results into a succinct fact sheet and 13 tips for smoke-free school grounds. That was incredibly hard to do, because as a researcher I have a constant urge for refinement and nuance, but clarity does benefit society."
How did you manage to do all this in 4 years?
"Working together with parties from the field energized me tremendously. It fired up my passion for the research – and then things are easy and happen quickly. My supervisors and all partners contributed to the success of this research and therefore also to this award. We can all have an impact."
Liesbeth Naaborgh, research associate at the Trimbos Institute, 'the renowned independent knowledge institute for alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and mental health':
Photography: Gerdien Wolthaus Paauw