Mariska Kleemans

Spotlight_Mariska_Kleemans1Getting to know… Mariska Kleemans

Assistant Professor
Behavioural Science Institute
Radboud University Nijmegen
The Netherlands

Personal website

What are you currently working on?
When I became an assistant professor in September 2016, I started studying how we can get children more involved with the news, in order to prepare them for their (future) role in society. Together with colleagues and students, I conducted several studies to investigate how negative news can be presented to children in more appropriate ways. Those studies have resulted in recommendations for news producers about how they can better serve children as news-consuming citizens. However, I think that it is also crucial to give children their own tools that empower them to become more involved with news. Therefore, my current research is mainly about teaching children how to cope with (negative) news.

I am also the chair of the Bachelor program in Communication Science. We will restructure our Bachelor curriculum in 2019-2020, and I am busy preparing for this. Our students will get a job in a media landscape that is rapidly changing. This requires autonomous communication professionals with high levels of adaptive performance. To better facilitate them to become a ‘future-proof’ professional, we will reshape both the content of our curriculum and the way we teach our students. In particular, our teaching will be based on the principles of autonomy-supportive learning. We are already experimenting with this, and it seems very promising.

What has been your most memorable project so far, and why?
For several years, I coordinated a first year Bachelor course in which students conducted a content analysis study. As a teacher, I selected the topic students had to work on, and in that way, I was able to connect my research with my teaching. After several years of focusing on sensationalism in adult news (the topic of my dissertation), I decided in a split second to switch to television news for children. That was my first experience with research in the area of children, adolescents, and media. It took me way more time to prepare the course for that year (reading literature, developing a new codebook and new lectures, etc.), but it was worth all the effort. My students did an amazing job in coding changes in the use of consolation strategies in the Dutch child TV news program NOS Jeugdjournaal between 2000-2015. I contacted the Jeugdjournaal to tell them about the study and they invited us to present our results to all their editors. That was the start of a very inspiring collaboration that is still going strong. This project is particularly memorable because I had so much fun in investigating news for children that I realized that this should be the focus of my future research.

Which achievement are you most proud of, and why?
In December 2016, I was awarded the Faculty Teaching Award for best senior lecturer at the Social Sciences Faculty of my university. That was already a great honor, but I was really overwhelmed when I also got the University Education Award last September. I invest a lot of time in teaching and in improving our educational program. It is very rewarding to get recognition for this from students (who took the initiative to nominate me) and colleagues and it is a great motivation to continue my work in this way.

What is an important question from parents and practitioners that we as academics cannot provide a good answer to yet?
I think we need more insight into how new technologies can contribute to children’s and adolescents’ well-being. Parents and practitioners seem to worry about the influences of mobile technology, social media, etc. on youth, which may drive our research in the next years. Although this is important, we also need to investigate how young people can benefit from new media. In particular, I believe that new technologies can
–and should– play an important role in education, because it can further empower children and adolescents as citizens in society. As academics, we can play an important role in investigating best practices and advise parents and practitioners about the benefits of technology.

What would be your work motto?
When I was in kindergarten, my favorite book was about a grandmother who did all kinds of crazy things with her granddaughter. She always said that “everything is allowed as long as it is for fun.” I never forgot that sentence, and I think that it best reflects my work motto (although I think that my friends and colleagues would argue that “I want it ALL, and I want it NOW” also seems to be appropriate). I try to make choices based on what I like to do, even if it is not the most likely or efficient choice. Doing so not only contributes to my work pleasure, but also opens doors to new adventures I would have never explored by following the obvious (or strongly advised) path.

Which of your publications is your favorite, and why?
Together with one of my Master students (Janel Gerritsen) and my fantastic colleagues Moniek Buijzen and Rebecca de Leeuw, I published the first experimental study I conducted after switching my research focus to children and adolescents in Journal of Communication. We investigated whether constructive reporting –that is, solution-based narratives including positive emotions– in news about negative events improved emotional responses and encouraged engagement among children. This is my favorite publication, because it feels as a confirmation that my line of research is relevant for our discipline. Moreover, the process to get this paper published was very valuable. I not only learned a lot from my co-authors, but also from the reviewers. They really contributed to the development of the paper. I hope that they are among the CAM scholars, because I want to thank them for being critical and supportive at the same time.

If you had unlimited resources, what kind of project would you want to do and why?
It would be great to conduct a longitudinal study investigating how news affects children and adolescents over time. In particular, I think that we need more insight into the factors that can contribute to the development of news consumption routines in children and adolescents, because we know from previous research that news consumption in childhood is an important predictor of news consumption later in life. The role of new technologies is very important in this regard. With unlimited resources, I would not only invest in this research, but also in hiring a lot of talented young scholars to work on it as a team.

If you had to give one piece of advice to young CAM scholars, what would it be?
Try to find a mentor who wants to help you in the first years of your academic career. Such person does not necessarily need to be someone who is familiar with your research topic. I would recommend finding someone who is not affiliated with the same research group as you are, to prevent conflicts of interest. It needs to be someone who knows how to ‘play the game’ and can advise and inspire you. I think that there are a lot of members within CAM who would love to support young talents, and maybe we should facilitate that more as a division. I am lucky to have two amazing scholars who serve(d) as my mentor. They are very important for me, because they play a crucial role in my development as a scholar.

Who would you like to put in the spotlight next, and why?
I would like to read more about Renee Hobbs from the University of Rhode Island, because I am really curious to hear about her current research on media literacy and to learn more about her Media Education Lab.

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