Het eerste gedeelte van het interview is terug te vinden in de papieren uitgave!
Why did you choose for sociology?
That’s a very good question. Sociology is not well known in Lithuania. I really had to fight for my family’s approval to study sociology, because in high school I was doing well and everyone thought that I would study economics because that’s what you do when you have good grades, you study medicine, economics or law. And I chose this not well known study called sociology. My grandparents were convinced that I studied social work and in Lithuania that’s a study with a very low status. The stereotype is that social workers only work with old people and problematic kids. So I had to fight to study sociology, but I really like the topic. I wanted to study something about people, I loved history and philosophy as well as mathematics, so sociology seemed like a perfect combination of the things that I like.
Can you explain what it’s like to study abroad?
I had a very different experience from the Erasmus programme compared to the experience of coming here for my research master and PhD. I really recommend to do an exchange programme and it’s much easier bureaucracy-wise because most of the things are taken care of for you. You just go to the country, get the scholarship and enjoy the experience. Being in the Netherlands was scary at first, because I had to organize everything myself. I also didn’t know the background of what sociology studies are here, and what others learnt in Bachelor’s so I had to adapt to a different kind of sociology. In Lithuanian it’s more philosophy, in Uppsala (Sweden) they do more qualitative studies. I also chose Groningen for its strong quantitative background, I like statistics, and because of the social network analysis. Then I realized that, even though I was one of the best students in statistics back home, here I was like nothing. I had to relearn statistics in English, because everything is – or at least sounds – different in English. I had to really adapt and learn to work on my own. There are also not so many lectures as there were at home. In Vulnius University there were more old school lectures were you just listen to the professor and write everything down and then you have a huge exam from that. Here it’s more group work and there are these blocks. I was used to having six subjects for half a year and here it’s just a couple of subjects for two months. So going abroad is a lot of adapting.
Do you go back often?
Yes, I do. Luckily it´s possible to go to Vilnius quite often. I go every two months or so, at least for a weekend. All my holidays, like Christmas and summers I spend going back to ‘’exotic’’ Lithuania. There are hills and it’s ten times less densely populated than the Netherlands. Summers are much better than in the Netherlands, it doesn’t rain that much and it is much warmer. Winters in Lithuania get very wintery, temperatures might drop to -20 degrees Celcius. Normally it’s around -10 degrees. Then you have snow and it doesn’t melt!
What’s it like to supervise so many people, and to be in charge of a scientific research?
It’s nerve-racking. It can be quite stressful – all responsibility. Luckily I have guidance from Jan Kornelis Dijkstra and René Veenstra. I think they are role models. They work so much. I really admire both of them. As a PhD, when you begin the study you’re very enthusiastic and positive, thinking you can ‘’climb the mountains’’. Then reality hits you that there are a lot of things that can go wrong, and so many things you have to think about. Supervising students is not that hard, they’re usually good students.
Do you have any tips and/or tricks on how to do a proper scientific research?
Just attend all your courses about research design and listen very carefully. But best is to learn by experience, because you can read a lot of articles and read how they do it and know all the theory, but a lot happens behind the curtains . A lot of learning happens during lunch breaks for instance, when we talk with other PhD’s and share your experiences. I think your bachelors program is very nice because you get to write papers and assignments, and that’s how you learn how science is done. Tip: just try. Try to collect your own data when it’s possible and, of course, when you do get the data from somebody else, try to learn from it as much as possible, for example, what problems were encountered, what were respondents’ reactions. And when you have a chance and you really want to stay an academia, do student assistantships. That’s the best way to learn from mistakes made by other people, and you can make notes for yourself about the do’s and don’ts of research.
What would you say to the people that are afraid to get homesick when they go on exchange?
That’s a tough question. Homesickness is something that is hard to fight. When you go on exchange, it’s only for, usually, half a year, so you will go back home eventually. Even though you miss home, the idea that you will go home really supports you. If you’re going abroad for a longer period of time, like for a PhD, and you don’t know how long you’re going to stay, then it becomes a bit harder, because you don’t know when you can go home, or how often. But you find other things to hold on to, like friendships. Most of the exchange students experience some homesickness, but the good things overcompensate that. It also brings good things, you start to appreciate your parents and your home country more. So don’t be afraid. It’s not such a bad thing to be homesick.
Door Reimer Vonk en Yvonne Post