Doing research in 2024: faster and more promising than ever, but also more intensive

C building on campus Woudestein.
Three students conduct research on computers in the university library around 1980s.

On the occasion of our 110th anniversary, Professors Arnold Bakker and Loes Keijsers reflect on how doing research has changed over the years, from photocopying journals to diary studies on smartphones. “I’m hopeful that, within a few years, the new technologies and products we’re developing will be picked up by the market and become available to every young person. With our science-based technology, apps and campaigns, we will then be able to identify and support young people with mental health problems faster”, says Professor Loes Keijsers.

Stencils, floppy disks, dial-up, overhead projectors: these are things from a bygone era. Yet that era is only 25 years ago. At the turn of the century, it was perfectly normal for researchers to photocopy articles from a journal or store something on a floppy disk. During lectures, students could read your notes thanks to an overhead projector. And checking your work email at home was not possible, even if you had your own dial-up Internet connection.

Prof. dr. Arnold Bakker.

“When I was doing research 25 years ago, I would go to the library and look for suitable articles, and then I’d photocopy them. That would take me a whole day. If I go searching now, I immediately find an article, immediately start reading it, think about how it is relevant and get to work”, Arnold Bakker, psychologist and professor of Organisational Psychology, told the Dutch broadcaster NOS.

“These days, there is much less time for the easy tasks, like scanning, photocopying, looking things up, you name it. That’s really a sign of the times. The work has become intensified, and your attention is in constant demand.” He talks about it in the context of burnouts, which also existed 25 years ago. More intense or stressful work could eventually lead to a burnout. “Our recent research shows that people who already experience high levels of stress have more difficulty coping with their daily tasks and stressors, further increasing stress – a vicious circle.”  

Researcher with model of the brain in hand explains something to three students.
Researcher in 1986.

Diary studies by post

Not only have the tasks of a typical working day changed greatly, so too have the methods of conducting research. In the social sciences, for example, diary studies were often used in the past. “Diary studies used to be done with pen and paper. Participants wore a beeper, reminding them to fill in their booklet”, says Loes Keijsers, professor of Pedagogy. “Those booklets then had to be posted, and researchers would type everything out by hand. It was a life’s work to do such a study.” So for a researcher who has made research their life’s work, technology now allows them to accomplish a lot more in one lifetime. The downside, however, is that this makes the work more intensive. Baker says, “There’s no downtime to recover from the work effort required.”


Registration via app, data received directly

Nowadays, Keijsers uses smartphones and serious games to obtain insights into the lives of individual teenagers. Until recently, it was almost impossible to track individual teenagers directly and in real time in their daily lives. But now you can, thanks to smartphones. Young people install an app on their smartphone, get a notification and answer the questions immediately. This allows Keijsers to question teenagers several times a day about what they are doing, who they are with and how they are feeling. The researchers receive the data directly. She processes these valuable data using complex time series analysis. “As researchers, we then have the data directly on our secure servers.” She also works with psychiatrists, psychologists and designers to turn cognitive behavioural therapy into serious games, which have already helped thousands of young people cope better with stress. Loes Keijsers received the Dr. Hendrik Muller award for this work in 2023.

Professor gives lecture to group of students. Behind him, a patient lies on a table.
Lecture in 1981.

The future lies in transdisciplinary research

“I find fundamental academic research fascinating, but the future of my work lies in making an impact”, says Loes Keijsers. “Working with civil-society partners to improve youth mental health. That’s a huge challenge. But I’m hopeful that, within a few years, the new technologies and products we’re developing will be picked up by the market and become available to every young person. With our science-based technology, apps and campaigns, we can then identify and support young people who have mental health problems faster. We do this, for example, with the Convergence project ProtectMe. Together with data scientists, designers, psychiatrists, educators and psychologists, we are tackling a big challenge: preventing more young people from becoming depressed.”

More information

Erasmus University Rotterdam is celebrating its 110th anniversary. See how we’re celebrating!

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