Student & ECR spotlights – Maite Verloigne reminds us that those for whom we develop interventions are the real life experts

Please tell us about your career pathway to date.

In 2008, I obtained my Master degree in Physical Education and Movement Sciences at Ghent University (Belgium) and I haven’t left that department ever since. Immediately after graduation, I could start there as a scientific researcher on the ALPHA-project and after a few months, I got the chance to start my PhD-project, which was embedded in a larger European project, the ENERGY-project. This project had the aim to develop an evidence-based intervention to prevent overweight and obesity in 10- to 12-year old children. The project lasted for about 4 years and during this period, I was able to finish my PhD, entitled “Energy balance-related behaviours in 10- to 12-year-old children: a focus on physical activity and sedentary behaviour within the ENERGY-project”. Although postdoctoral positions are scarce, I luckily got granted by the Research Foundation Flanders for a postdoctoral mandate of three years (started in 2013). For this postdoctoral project, I developed and evaluated an intervention to promote physical activity in lower educated adolescents girls, by using a participatory approach. My second and current postdoctoral mandate was also granted by the Research Foundation Flanders (started in 2016) and focuses on the implementation of standing desks in the classroom.

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?

Although my projects have a slightly different focus, my research can be described as the development, implementation and evaluation of interventions to promote physical activity and to reduce sedentary behaviour in children and adolescents. When, for example, people outside the university ask what I do, I tell them that I do research about how to promote a healthy lifestyle and then they immediately agree that this is necessary nowadays! 

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

I think many researchers will agree that the main barrier is probably a lack of time. Although I really like the fact that our job is diverse (e.g. teaching, writing research projects, writing papers, collecting data, co-supervising PhD- and Master-students), it is sometimes difficult to get to the bottom of things or even get some things done. Another barrier which I sometimes encounter is that we, as researchers, are experts in the theoretical aspects of developing interventions (e.g. which behavioural techniques should be included), but not always the best in place to actually design appealing intervention materials (e.g. a mobile app). Therefore, it might be important to collaborate with experts in that field. 

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

Although I just mentioned “lack of time” to be a significant barrier, I strongly believe we should set some time aside to follow workshops, seminars, webinars, etcetera in order to further grow as a researcher. At our university, a lot of effort is put in organizing such initiatives for postdocs (e.g. three-day course on Leadership) and on an international level, NESI (and ISBNPA) are doing a great job as well!

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

I think new and innovative instruments or technologies to accurately measure and monitor people’s levels of physical activity and sedentary behaviour will arise, which would greatly contribute to our research field. More generally, I think the shift from developing top-down to bottom-up interventions (by applying a participatory or co-creational approach) will become more and more important in our research field. Although we are experts in what we do, it is time to acknowledge that the people for whom we develop interventions, are the real life experts. This will significantly improve our understanding of success and failure factors of intervention strategies.

You can reach Maite on email: [email protected] or follow her research group on Twitter@PA_Health_UGent