Verdiepingsopdracht Soumaya Chemlal
Planning out three distinct supplementary assignments can be challenging for many honours students – whether in the form of an honours course, a project tied to a course, or something completely different. In my case, I ticked off two of the three requirements by following honours courses – but found it very difficult to think of a third assignment that I would actually enjoy putting my energy into. Having run out of ideas, I visited the internship market in January 2019 with low expectations. At the market, I met a group that was working on a research agenda for juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). Since I knew a young boy with the condition, this potential internship had a personal meaning to me and I immediately signed up to join their team.
The research agenda project aimed to bring together patients, caretakers, and clinicians to inform scientists and research funders on the most important research questions that need to be prioritised for future research. It was led by Casper Schoemaker, an active member of the Jeugdreuma Vereniging whose own daughter suffers from the condition. The project he led matched my ambitions perfectly, as I am driven by research that is meaningful to patients. After weighing out the possibilities, it was confirmed that this internship can be done as a supplementary assignment.
The JIA research agenda project was organised in three phases, the first of which involved an online survey whereby over 600 questions from patients, caretakers, and clinicians were sent in. In the second phase, these were summarised to a list of 53 questions. The list was then needed to be checked for whether the questions have already been answered by previous studies. This is where my internship came into place. During the first week of July 2019 – after having rounded off my second bachelor year – I joined the team at Wilhelmina Kinderziekenhuis. My task was to carry out a 10-year literature search of former studies on pubmed, so that questions that were already answered were not unnecessarily included in the research agenda. At present, the third phase of the project has also been concluded. This phase involved ranking the questions, once again through an online survey. A final workshop was held in February 2020 to narrow down the list to the 10 most important questions. This way, researchers and research funders are given a better idea of which issues need to be prioritised in future research. More information regarding this research agenda can be found on the website: https://jeugdreumavereniging.nl/onderzoeksagenda/.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time during my internship, where I was welcomed into an excellent interdisciplinary team and experienced aspects of the professional scientific field. Above all, I contributed to a project that actually matters to JIA patients. My internship ended up being registered as ‘extra experience in the honours program’ – and was not tied to a course within my bachelor.
I hope my experience can give an idea of the kind of projects an honours student can do as supplementary assignments, and that going an unconventional route can mean making valuable contributions to ongoing research.