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Member Highlight: Peggy Schyns

Peggy Schyns, researcher at the Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP), research group Sustainable Society, and mindfulness trainer (MBSR) for civil servants

Board member ISQOLS 2019-2020

Mentorship Program Coordinator ISQOLS (together with Jill Johnson, executive Director ISQOLS)

Describe your background, experience, and research as it relates to Quality-of-life studies. 

I studied Political Science in the Netherlands, and Sociology and Women Studies as an Erasmus exchange student at Lancaster University, UK. In 1995, I started my PhD on the relationship between income and life satisfaction at the Erasmus University Rotterdam, as Ruut Veenhoven’s first PhD student. From 2000 till 2003, the quality of life of the city of Amsterdam was my new area of research, where policy relevant research made its entrance in my daily work. Next, as an assistant professor at Leiden University, I studied political cynicism among Dutch students and adults, where the link with quality of life was a bit harder to find.  

In 2008, I started my current job as a senior researcher at the Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP) on various topics: from social cohesion to moral issues, and from informal health care and care volunteers to sustainability issues. In 2016, I published a report on political consumerism in the Netherlands, to draw attention to bottom-up sustainable behavior and initiatives of consumer-citizens (see https://www.scp.nl/Publicaties/Alle_publicaties/Publicaties_2016/Kiezen_bij_de_kassa, with an English summary). I also became a certified mindfulness trainer.

Currently I am carrying out research in the field of Social Practice Theory (SPT) and its applicability to policy relevant sustainability research. Whenever possible I try to connect Quality of Life to sustainability issues.

Within the ISQOLS community, I have developed PhD workshops for PhD students, who are in an advanced stage of their research and who are willing to present their work in one hour sessions to leading experts in their field. The idea was born out of sheer personal frustration as a PhD student myself, travelling all the way to the other side of the world for a conference, whilst only getting a 5 minutes time slot for presenting my work and 1 minute for questions. I thought that could be improved. Even though the format has changed over the years, the essence of the PhD workshops has remained intact, from the first one in 2000 in Girona (Spain) with 3 concurrent sessions, to the most recent workshop in 2017 in Innsbruck (Austria). Some PhD students who attended the workshops are now professors and are bringing their own students to ISQOLS conferences.

What initially attracted you to the field of quality-of-life studies?

I got in touch with happiness research rather coincidentally to be honest. As a graduated Political Science Master in the mid 90s, PhD positions were rather scarce in the Netherlands, so I applied for 3 positions that looked interesting, and the position at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam on Income and Life satisfaction was one of them. My only connection with Quality of Life so far had been a paragraph in Ronald Inglehart’s book on postmaterialism The Silent Revolution, in which he devoted literally just 1 or 2 pages to happiness research. I managed to get the PhD position, and the rest is history.

Even though I have not always been scientifically active in the Quality of Life field, the topic has always kept my warm interest throughout the years. Part of the reason I stuck to the field, even when my research interests spread more into other areas, was the ISQOLS community; I have visited quite some conferences in different scientific areas and they rarely ever match up to the warm feeling you get when at ISQOLS.

What are some areas of quality-of-life studies you feel are lacking attention? Any advice for future QoL researchers?

It will come as no surprise that as a (recent) sustainability researcher I find the sustainability area a bit underrepresented in Quality of Life studies. During the last two ISQOLS conferences I did not stumble upon many presentations concerning the relationship between sustainability and (subjective) quality of life, even though this is – in my humble opinion - one of the major themes of the current era. I am interested in questions such as: What is the impact of environmental change on the quality of life of people? And in what way do government sustainability policies (e.g. energy and protein transitions) affect the daily lives of people?

How long have you been a member of ISQOLS? Why did you choose to be a member of ISQOLS? How has your involvement in ISQOLS impacted your career/research/advancement in your knowledge of QoL studies?

I attended the first - officially the 0th - ISQOLS conference in Prince George, Canada in 1996, organized by Alex Michalos, as a really young PhD student. I think it was my supervisor, Ruut Veenhoven, who introduced me to the Society and he thought it would be a good idea to present some of my work there. I had just started my PhD in Rotterdam, and had gathered my first results on the relationship between wealth, culture and subjective well-being across 42 nations. I had never given any presentations abroad yet. Moreover, I had never even set foot outside of Europe, let alone traveled completely by myself, so boarding that airplane to fly to Canada was completely out of my comfort zone. Looking back at it, that particular instance has sparkled my lifelong love for travelling.

The 0th ISQOLS conference in Prince George was so very welcoming, so very informal at heart, and so full of lovely people, that I guess ISQOLS chose me as a member in 1996, rather than the other way around.

I think ISQOLS has always been a very friendly environment for young scholars to start their scientific career.  It definitely helped me to get published in international journals and edited books, and to build up a multidisciplinary, international network.

It may sound a bit corny, but most of all the ISQOLS community has taught me that in addition to academic performance and output, it is equally important to be kind to each other as colleagues, to grant each other opportunities, and to criticize each other’s work in a constructive manner. ISQOLS has always had and will always have a family feel to me: where else do you end up spontaneously in a summer house in Sweden with a colleague’s family after a conference, do you travel across South Africa with dear ISQOLS buddies, do you spend time with ISQOLS friends in their family’s homes in Melbourne and Tromso, or hike up to a hut in the Italian Alps to spend some days together? And where else do you get up at 2.25 AM in the night to be humbly part of the livestream funeral ceremony of our beloved Liz Eckermann?

Feel free to include any other important comments or things you'd like to share with the ISQOLS community.

I hope to see you all in Granada and of course in 2020 in Rotterdam, my dear hometown. At the moment, Jill Johnson, executive director of ISQOLS, and I are setting up a mentorship program to connect young scholars to experts in their QoL field of research. Since it has helped me enormously in the past as a young scholar to have my supervisor Ruut Veenhoven active in the Society (and him introducing me to everyone else), I wish for other young scholars to have the same experience in their career. In Granada we will have a mixer session to connect mentees to mentors. I hope you will all join in!

Email: p.schyns@scp.nl

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