Student & ECR Spotlight – Christine Emmer investigates physical activity as a resilience factor in the face of migration-related stress

Please tell us about your career pathway to date (positions and institutes).

In September 2018, I started working as a research assistant and Ph.D. student at the University of Mannheim in an interdisciplinary research project. In this project, we study the relation between social integration and well-being of individuals with a migration background, paying special attention to the role of health-related behaviors. We examine if health behaviors – particularly physical activity – can improve the well-being of recent migrants, which is an important aspect of integration into host societies. I am specifically interested in the underlying psycho-social mechanisms and conditions under which physical activity can buffer against migration-related stressors. 

Before my Ph.D., I studied Psychology at the University of Mannheim, Germany, and at the University of Tartu, Estonia. In my Master’s thesis, I reviewed the association of weight stigma and well-being and moderators of this relationship via meta-analytical methods.

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

A challenge I encountered researching the area of migration is the recruitment of participants and the absence of standardized procedures for translating questionnaires. Further, the complexity of research material is an essential challenge when addressing diverse samples. With common methods, we usually achieve a rather homogeneous sample. My experience conducting systematic reviews confirms this, as a result shows that the sample composition was primarily ethnic majority students from U.S. universities. The problem with homogeneous samples is that some effects do not translate directly to other population groups. Some recent publications show that disadvantaged social groups are not only less likely to be reached by intervention and prevention programs, but the effects of these programs also differ for different social groups. To solve this problem and conduct high quality research, it is, in my opinion, essential to think about innovative sampling methods, standardized translation workflows, and reduced complexity of research and prevention materials. 

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

For me, the exchange in scientific colloquia is essential – especially in the early stages of study planning and conceptualizing research ideas. Although it may seem like a stressful evaluation situation at first, I quickly learned that attending a colloquium and presenting my research and ideas provides valuable feedback and offers important networking opportunities.

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

As dietary behaviors and physical activity are highly social activities, focusing on social determinants and outcomes in theory building and empirical and qualitative research is needed. One example I am exploring in my research is the role of culture and identity for health behaviors and vice versa, the role of health behaviors for cultural outcomes and identity. 


If you would like to get in touch with Christine, you can do so via e-mail [email protected], Twitter @EmmerChristine, or LinkedIn