Student & ECR spotlights – Meet Joreintje Mackenbach, researching how the food environment influences food choices

tell us about your career pathway to date.

studied health sciences in Rotterdam and completed my research master in Public
Health in 2012. I applied for a position as PhD student at the VU University
Medical Center in Amsterdam during the last months of my research master. I got
the job and started in August 2012. During four years (PhDs in the Netherlands
normally take four years) I thoroughly enjoyed being a PhD student in the
European Spotlight consortium. I am very thankful for my supervisors who
arranged for me to continue to work as a postdoctoral researcher after I
defended my PhD thesis in 2016. During this year I was able to secure funding
for further research, which means that I will continue my work as a senior
researcher/assistant professor at the department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics
at the VU University Medical Center.

How would you briefly describe your current
research/job to someone who is not familiar with your field of study/work? What
is your main research interest? 

I am
currently a senior researcher/assistant professor and spend most of my time on
research. I am also involved in teaching some courses for medical students and
the supervision of Health Sciences master students. During my PhD, I studied
the role of environmental factors (such as neighbourhood facilities and social
networks) for lifestyle behaviours and obesity in adults. In my current
research, I mainly focus on the role of the food environment (what is
available, how easily, and at what cost) for food choices and diet-related
chronic diseases. I would like to get a better idea on how we should measure
‘exposure’ to the food environment, and why some people are much more
vulnerable to environmental influences than others.


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

One main
barrier I encountered after finishing my PhD was that, although I learnt a lot
of ‘soft skills’ during my PhD, I had not spend much time thinking of the
skills I would need to obtain funding that would allow me to continue my work
as a researcher. As this really requires practice, it would be helpful if you
could be involved in a grant writing process during your PhD.

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

contact with colleagues from different departments and universities, such as
during the ISBNPA conference, helps me sharpen my research ideas and get a
sense of what others are working on. Also, in depth discussions about
methodology and conceptual questions are really helpful for conducting meaningful

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

I think
methodology will remain very important; not only for the measurement of diet
and physical activity, but also for the link between potential determinants or
health outcomes with these behaviours. So I suspect that statistical and
methodological advancements will grow to be even more important. 

E-mail: [email protected], Twitter handle: @JoreintjeM