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Blog: Valuable research visit to Stavanger

My name is Jolie Keemink and I was delighted to be invited to the University of Stavanger as a visiting PhD student from The University of Kent (UK) in December 2019.

Blog: Valuable research visit to Stavanger

I was welcomed warmly by staff and students from different departments. I had never been to Norway before and I was pleasantly surprised by the atmosphere of the city, the kindness of the people and the Scandinavian approach to research. As a Dutch woman, I also identified with the no-nonsense and down-to-earth Norwegian way of living.

I first heard about the University of Stavanger through my research work on The Playground Project; a project evaluating the effects of creative and artistic play sessions for families with 0-4-year-olds in disadvantaged areas of Kent in the UK. Through this project, I met the wonderful Professor Siri Dybwik from the Faculty of Performing Arts in Stavanger and we turned out to share many interests. Siri creates performances for 0-24-month-olds and my research focusses on the first year of life. She was the person who initially invited me to visit The University of Stavanger and I was fortunate enough to attend a few of her performances during my stay. In addition to being mesmerizing, her artistic work is rooted in a strong understanding of early child development, which I very much appreciate. Seeing her performances live opened my eyes further to the perception of young children and how art can respond to that.

Siri also introduced me to FILORIUM, and connected me to Professor Natalia Kucirkova, who organised my visit to the Learning Environment Centre, where I was given the opportunity to present my PhD work to a knowledgeable and inspiring audience. In my research, supervised by Dr David Kelly, I investigate behavioural manifestations of atypical development in the first year of life using a combination of eye-tracking and behavioural research methods. More specifically, I examine very early markers of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) by studying infants who have an older sibling with ASD, which makes them at higher familial risk. Our unique eye-tracking paradigms have produced interesting findings that suggest some infants with an older sibling with ASD show reduced social responsiveness in our interactive tasks. By studying infant siblings, we aim to contribute to earlier detection of ASD, allowing for early intervention that can significantly improve prognosis.

During my time in Stavanger I had the opportunity to meet inspiring academics, who all took the time to talk to me about their fascinating research. A recurring theme in my conversations with academics was their dedication to public engagement and educational research in natural settings, something I feel very passionate about. I felt fortunate to learn from their expertise in this field and it inspired me to apply these principles in my future work.

My research visit to Stavanger was incredibly valuable and I came home feeling refreshed. One thing I particularly remember from my visit is walking across campus with Natalia when she told me that Norwegian children in nursery spend approximately 70% of their time outside. I think this nicely illustrates the Norwegian way of life, and after my visit I feel motivated to apply this way of thinking to my life in the English countryside