Title Internship: Infectious Ideas

Organisation: National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM)
Location: Bilthoven

Time schedule:

5 months – this internship can be combined with a master thesis. Start of this internship can be immediately (until march 2016).

About organisation

RIVM works to prevent and control outbreaks of infectious diseases. We promote public health and consumer safety, and we help to protect the quality of the environment. RIVM collects and collates knowledge and information from various sources, both national and international. We apply this knowledge ourselves, and we place it at the disposal of policy-makers, researchers, regulatory authorities and the general public. Each year, RIVM produces numerous reports on all aspects of public health, nutrition and diet, health care, disaster management, nature and the environment.

The assignment

People are interconnected and so their health is interconnected. Our friends, colleagues and relatives influence our opinion, beliefs, decisions and behaviour, which often referred to as social contagion. Similar to how infectious diseases are transmitted, studies demonstrated that social contagion follows the patterns of social contacts. Health behaviour is often ‘clustered’ (co-occurrence of the trait in connected individuals) in social networks. Analysing social networks can help expand our understanding of whether and how certain social determinants influence individual decision-making with respect to prevention programmes. Although the determinants of well-informed decision-making for health behaviour are extensively studied in independent individuals in the general population, little research is done on the distribution of determinants within social networks. Risk communication regarding preventive (screening) programmes might benefit from using social networks.

The individual-level studies into the decision making process do not help explain how underlying determinants of informed decision making (IDM) vary between individuals in the same social network. A recent study that used data from Twitter to measure the evolution and distribution of sentiments towards a novel vaccine found that both negative and positive opinions were clustered in this on-line social network. While this analysis of data from on-line social media offers great potential to measure risk perception and health behaviour, extracting information from short on-line text messages for the purpose of assessing perceptions and behaviours also has its limitations: users may not be a representative sample of the target population, text messages may be wrongly interpreted and only limited information per individual is obtained. Therefore, development of other methods is needed in order to obtain more extensive knowledge on how certain communities are socially structured, how determinants for IDM are distributed within these communities, and the extent of clustering of these determinants and preventive behaviours.

In this innovative research we will use respondent-driven methods (RDM) to recruit individuals and their social contacts from target populations of screening and/or vaccination programmes. RDM is similar to snow-ball sampling and allows researchers to study real-world social networks.

In this research project we will focus on measuring perceptions and behaviour in social networks. The project includes inter alia reaching and interviewing individuals and their contacts targeted for a prevention program, and social network analysis.

Internship fee

The RIVM offers an internship fee of 554,- Euro (gross) per month (based on 40 hours per week).

Are you interested in this internship?
Please send a short motivation (200 words max) and your CV to:

Sven Zebel
053-489 3974