"Everything is going ahead – just differently."

"It takes some getting used to being at home every day. In the office, I get more done. Now I have to organise my time differently, because the whole family is at home. I’m also helping my children with their lessons," says Anne Roefs, Professor of Eating Disorders and Obesity at the Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience. Her research group focuses on eating disorders and obesity. Research themes include neural and cognitive processes around eating and food preferences, body image, cognitive behavioural therapy for eating disorders and obesity as well as the development of eHealth interventions.

No subjects

The research group consists of twenty scientists and they frequently rely on test subjects for fundamental research and patients for clinical research. Due to the government's corona measures, this research is no longer possible. What now? "We can no longer use subjects and patients. This means that this research will come to a standstill. Fortunately, most of my PhD students already have complete datasets. Their research with test subjects and/or patients was already completed before the crisis. For example, two PhD students have completed large fMRI datasets and now have their hands full analysing them. Also, we are not entirely dependent on research with test subjects in our lab. We also use alternative methods to collect data, like apps or online questionnaires. We are working with those methods anyway, but now a bit more than before. So that way we still get data", says Roefs.

And those complete datasets are necessary to continue working. Roefs is happy with the fact that many of her PhD students have more than enough work to do analysing the data and writing scientific articles in the coming period. "That means we won't fall behind schedule here either." Only one PhD student who still has to do her research with subjects will be somewhat delayed.  "She had just received approval from Medical Ethics Committee for her research with subjects. Unfortunately, this cannot go ahead for the time being. But she also needs to conduct thorough literature research; and she needs to write introductions and method sections for articles. So now, she's going to work on that.”

Online contact

Contact with the PhD students is now mainly via email and Zoom. "That takes some getting used to. Normally, they just walk into my office and we discuss problems or questions face-to-face. That's fast and efficient. Now, they first ask their question via email and I discuss it with them via Zoom. That requires some planning. Fortunately, everyone understands and we make the best of it." In addition, they also have a WhatsApp group. "We had set up this group during the cyber-attack and we have now renamed it the corona-support-group. We not only keep each other informed, but also give each other support. Fortunately, we are a positive research group constantly looking for solutions," says Roefs.

Education continues

"We're very busy shaping online education right now. We record lectures and share with each other what works and what doesn't work so well. The communication is good." For example, small educational groups use Zoom or Slack.  "I've been in contact with some of our tutors. They indicate that the number of students and their active participation in the tutorial groups is normal. Like in offline tutorial groups, some students are more actively involved than others. So there’s no difference with the classroom situation". Roefs is clear: "Everything goes on – just a bit differently. We also started recruiting new PhD students for September. A large number have already applied. We'll have to do the interviews online, but we'll just go ahead."


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