Researcher Spotlight : Suzan Trienekens

Published: 8 May 2018

This week, Elle Lindsay has put Suzan Trienekens under the spotlight. Suzan is a first year PhD student supervised by Dr Poppy Lamberton, Dr Christina Faust and Dr Lucy Pickering.

This week, Elle Lindsay has put Suzan Trienekens under the spotlight. Suzan is a first year PhD student supervised by Dr Poppy Lamberton, Dr Christina Faust and Dr Lucy Pickering. 

Pic of Suzan TrienekensCan you tell us a little about your background?
In 2010 I graduated from Maastricht University, in the Netherlands, with a BSc in Health Promotion (minor: Globalisation & Diversity). After this, I started an MSc programme in Health Sciences at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, during which I was specialising in infectious diseases. Following graduation, I worked as a field epidemiologist for the Dutch Institute for Public Health, Public Health England, the World Health Organization and Médecins Sans Frontières on a range of infectious diseases including HIV, TB, Ebola and noma. 

What can you tell us about your PhD?
My PhD project is funded by the LKAS scholarship, which supports interdisciplinary research. I am combining methods including ethnography, population genetics and field epidemiology in relation to Schistosoma mansoni

What is the focus of your research?
The aims of the project are to understand why and how school-aged children in rural Uganda become rapidly reinfected with Schistosoma mansoni. We plan to carry out ethnographic observations of children and focus groups with parents to see how and where the children contact water. From the identified water contact sites, we will collect Biomphalaria snails (the intermediate host) and compare DNA of the parasites present in the snails to the DNA of parasites we found in stool samples of children to understand the contributing factors to ongoing transmission. Finally, we will conduct semi-structured interviews with stakeholders of the national control programme, both on a national and local level, to identify successes and challenges of the programme. 

‌‌Pic of Trienekens with boy in orange shortsWhy did you decide to do your PhD in IBACHM/UofG?
The combination of the topic, the possibility to do field work and the interdisciplinary methods I would get to use. There was also my love for Scotland and the instant ‘click’ with my supervisors when we discussed the project. All of these factors motivated me to apply for this PhD. 

What do you find most interesting about your work?
Being in the field, spending time with the study population and understanding distribution and determinants of disease. Using that understanding to support a positive impact. 

What has been the most positive aspect so far?
The incredible support for this project both in the UK and in Uganda. I have had so much support from everyone - the Institute, my supervisors, friends and family, the national staff and the study population. Everyone has been very helpful, positive and made me believe in the work and in myself.  

What has been the most challenging aspect so far?
Although it means there is never a dull moment, the interdisciplinary nature of my PhD makes it difficult at times to balance the different disciplines; it can be challenging to bring them together to form one coherent project and thesis. 

What advice would you give to anyone doing or considering PhD?
Get a few years of work experience before you start a PhD. It can help you focus on what you are interested in, deciding the direction of your future career and what you still like to learn. Getting experience in some of the practical aspects of research can help you during your PhD. 

Tell us about your plans for the future
After (hopefully) graduating, I would like to combine working in emergency settings with working on neglected tropical diseases, using both quantitative and qualitative methods to understand transmission and provide recommendations for stronger disease control.

Picture of Tirenekens with large group at water tower

First published: 8 May 2018