PhD candidate at the department of Psychology, Health and Technology at the UT
Why did you choose to study MSc Psychology at the University of Twente?
I had already completed a Psychology master’s back home in Mexico, and I was working as a psychologist there. But I knew I wanted to study something about eHealth (information and communication technologies for health care). The Psychology programme at the UT offers a specialization in eHealth, which I found really interesting. Combined with the UT being a technical and entrepreneurial university, I made the decision to come here. Also, the context of the Netherlands as a study destination came across as a positive and appealing environment for me.
And how do you like living in the Netherlands?
It’s better than I expected! It’s true what they say: the people are very open-minded and very international oriented. What’s really appealing to me is the lifestyle here. I was used to living in a big city, with a lot of cars and a lot of driving, but not a lot of physical activity. Also the average temperature was really high there. If I wanted to go jogging, for example, I had to do it early in the morning otherwise it would just be way too hot. Here in the Netherlands it is a much better climate for me personally, it’s never too cold and it’s never as warm as it can be where I come from.
Are there any other notable differences between Mexico and the Netherlands?
In Mexico, we are used to eating a lot of food, it’s usually nice food but a lot. Often I had little time for cooking so I would buy something quick rather than eat something healthy. That affects you of course, especially with a lack of physical activity. I think it’s easier to carry on a balanced decently diet in the Netherlands, although the lunch and dinner times are different. In the Netherlands it’s common to have a cold sandwich for lunch, where in Mexico we usually eat warm food three times a day. But I got used to it and now I think it’s practical. I also really like that you can cycle everywhere, the traffic is much safer here and it’s normal in the culture so you don’t have to be too afraid of cars. One of the things I had to adapt to was the rain here. I didn’t own any waterproof clothes or anything, so I had to buy a raincoat and an umbrella. It takes some time getting used to it, but once you’re prepared it is easy not to mind the rain anymore.
What do you like most about the UT?
I really like the campus, the fact that it’s very accessible by bike and by foot, and it’s really appealing to walk around. I’m used to a different kind of campus universities, more city-like, boring, with standard looking buildings. Here everything is different, it’s so much more green! I lived on campus during my Master’s at the Witbreuksweg (a name I still cannot pronounce) and I love that the forest is just outside your door, it’s very nice for running. Now I live in the city centre, which is different but also has nice green parks. It’s a small city but for me it’s an advantage to have everything close by.
Did you do anything besides studying during your master’s?
I registered for different courses at the TCP Language Centre. I saw that they offered a lot of interesting things like cultural workshops and presentation skills training, and I also joined the Dutch language course. I think I could order a cup of coffee in Dutch, but I still need to build some confidence to do it in the real world. Next to the courses, I also got involved with Dimensie, the study association for Psychology, that was also nice. I also checked some national events that are available for international students. One event was in Rotterdam, which was organized for everyone who received the Holland scholarship, like I did. We were there with 500 international students and the king of the Netherlands was even present to greet us, that was really cool. The department where I’m doing my PhD now was also always very welcoming and allowed me to be an active master student by contributing to a couple of interesting projects they had.
What is your PhD research about?
I’m doing research into eHealth, which is what I came to the UT for. The research is about supporting patients with cardiovascular diseases, specifically in the self-management of their disease. These patients have to stay physically active, they have to eat well, they have to take their medication, they have to monitor their symptoms and many other things their condition demands. We do research into technologies that can help them with their self-management (keep them motivated or give them feedback): testing the technologies, gain knowledge on how to develop and validate these technologies. We’re reviewing what has been done before and work towards the stage of development to create a solution, and testing and validating the solution. When I’m finished with my PhD research, I’d like to carry on a postdoc or researcher position. I’d have to go back to my home country for at least 6 months because my scholarship is part of a programme of the government of Mexico, but I’d love to come back to the Netherlands for the long term after that and get a few years of good research experience.
What do you like about doing research?
The fact that you are really looking at the latest developments. My interest is on self-management through technology, and to promote the use of technology itself. As technology develops, in a few years we will have way more advanced devices and there will be way more technologies present in our lives. It’s nice to contribute to that and to help people to stay motivated and support them in using technologies and how to make it work for them. I think this characterizes Psychology students, being curious about how people behave and think and how to stimulate self-management. I really like the topic of my research and the goal we’re working on, so I’m happy to be developing some kind of expertise on it.
What are your tips for future Psychology master students at the UT?
I think it’s really good to make a plan and really know what you want to do before you do it. I always think it’s good to know the rules of the game and play on them, so to speak. For example I was told that people here really like to voice their opinion and that’s important, so I acted on that and also voiced my opinion. I heard that the teachers at the UT are really open and they let you approach them, so I also did that and got involved with the department that led to my PhD position. I kind of made a checklist of things I thought were important to reach my goals. It really works out to act on the opportunities the UT offers, it’s not something they say just to sound nice. Entrepreneurship is valued here, and it really helps if you know what you want. Next to that I would say always keep an open mind: things might go wrong or turn out different than expected so it’s good to be flexible and adjust to the circumstances.