Connecting over pizza with fellow early-career researchers

Connecting over pizza with fellow early-career researchers

Last November the annual VNOP-CAS Research Days took place. The emphasis of the event is on early-career researchers – the first day is only open to PhDs and postdocs – so it’s a perfect opportunity to connect and form lasting connections.

The VNOP-CAS Research Days 2023 – what the event entailed

Every year, the Dutch Society for Developmental Psychology (Vereniging Nederlandse Ontwikkelingspsychologie, VNOP) and the Centre for Child and Adolescent Studies (CAS) join forces and host the VNOP-CAS Research Days: a conference about a wide range of topics in developmental psychology. The two days are filled with workshops, symposiums, poster presentations, a panel discussion and – this year - a very inspiring keynote talk by Dr. Lysanne ten Brinke. This was my first time attending the Research Days, which I would characterize as a success. Why? In the paragraphs below I will highlight a number of aspects which stood out for me.

Focus on early-career researchers

Although interesting keynote speakers and large conference halls are also very exciting aspects of any regular conference, the VNOP-CAS Research Days provided a more intimate ambiance, with many opportunities for early-career researchers. The event kicked off on Thursday afternoon with a session especially aimed at PhDs and postdocs. It included three workshops on the topics of experience-sampling methods, teamwork, and grant writing. As a PhD candidate myself, I felt that these topics were very much applicable to me in my current career stage, and the workshops provided me with knowledge I can directly implement in my own research. I attended the workshop about experience-sampling methods (ESM), given by two very experienced researchers from Tilburg University: Dr. Nessa Ikani and Dr. Dominique Maciejewski. Not only were we provided with the latest theory about ESM but, even more interestingly, we actually spent the larger part of the afternoon practicing with ESM statistical analysis in R studio. This hands-on practice really made this first afternoon of the Research Days a success for me.

A social activity for making new connections

At the end of the first afternoon of the Research Days, there was a social activity for any attendees who were interested (and, yes, I was interested!). Most of the other workshop attendees also joined in, and together we took part in a pub quiz and went for pizza, which was a nice and informal way to actually get to know fellow early-career researchers from other universities. On the morning of the second day of the conference, it was evident how much this social activity had paid off in terms of making new connections, as the people who had met the evening before could be seen happily congregating over morning coffee.

Participatory research as the road to success

While the attendees of Thursday evening’s social activity were still wiping the sleep from their eyes, we were joined on Friday by a group of assistant, associate, and full professors who were welcome on the second day of the Research Days. The day started off with a very inspiring keynote talk by Dr. Lysanne ten Brinke about adolescents’ need to contribute to society. Lysanne described the added value of youth participatory research, where adolescents are actively included in some or multiple phases of the research cycle. The need to include stakeholders in research has become apparent over the last couple of years, and during this second day of the Research Days this theme was visible throughout the day. I personally am a big fan of participatory research, as I also adopt these methods, and I was really happy to see that this rather innovative form of research had already reached such a large audience. To me, this showed that the content of the Research Days was focused on the latest, state-of-the-art developments in our field. In the panel discussion, which concluded the final day at the end of the afternoon, the topic of participatory research returned to the stage as six expert speakers (Dr. Denise Bodden, Dr. Lysanne ten Brinke, Dr. Natasha Koper, Dr. Yvonne van den Berg, and Prof. Leonieke Boendermaker) shared their insights about how to bridge the gap between science and society. The overall message from the panel was evident: start including stakeholders in your research process and start now.

Concluding thoughts

As an early-career researcher and attendee, I look back on the Research Days with great happiness. I was able to form new connections and listen to and be inspired by very knowledgeable colleagues. But above all, I had a lot of fun. If you are a researcher (especially an early-career researcher) looking for an interesting conference to attend, I warmly recommend putting VNOP-CAS Research Days 2024 on your calendar for the new year!