Our ‘Dual Focus PhD’ series tracks the working lives of our part-time PhD fellows. Many work at the highest of levels, both nationally and internationally, including for other parts of the UN System. They come to Maastricht for our unique PhD Dual Career Training Programme in Governance and Policy Analysis (GPAC²). This time we catch up with Richard de Groot, who defended his thesis on 21 June 2019 and currently works for the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Dear Richard, dear Dr. de Groot, you recently defended your dissertation, “Show Me the Money: Essays on the Impact of Cash Transfers on Child Nutrition and the Role of Intra-Household Dynamics”. Congratulations! Can you briefly share with us the main focus and findings of your study?
Thank you! In my dissertation, I am looking at the link between a popular form of social protection – cash transfers – and child nutrition. Previous research has shown a mixed effect, sometimes positive, sometimes no effect, so I was interested in investigating this issue in more detail. I was also interested in examining how intra-household dynamics could play a role in the impact of cash transfers on child nutrition. I used data from an impact evaluation of a cash transfer programme in Ghana (LEAP 1000 — see images below) to address these questions.
Overall, I found that child nutrition is a complex issue with many different determinants and causes. Cash is just one of the above but a small amount of extra money is not sufficient to have a strong impact on child nutrition. I also found that intra-household dynamics can play an important role. For example, while households had more food to eat as a result of the cash transfer, this did not translate into improvements in food intake for children in the household. I therefore concluded that cash alone is not sufficient to improve child nutrition, so complementary approaches may be needed to address other underlying causes of malnutrition such as drinking water, sanitation and health. A good understanding of intra-household dynamics is also warranted.
Your dissertation directly relates to your previous work for the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti. How did you benefit from official UN support while writing this dissertation — and how might your previous employer benefit from your findings? Is there a mutual benefit for the “employing institute” and “employee PhD researcher” in undertaking a large PhD project together?
I consider myself very lucky that I was able to combine my work and PhD programme with support from the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti. Research that I was doing as part of my dayjob was directly related to my PhD and vice versa, so there were lots of complementarities. My work with UNICEF focused on this impact evaluation, so it was a natural extension to use it for my PhD research as well. I was able to present and discuss findings from my research during several missions to Ghana with local UNICEF staff and the government, as well as at conferences and seminars.
I think the unique benefit of being employed while doing your PhD is that you are better aware of what the research needs are, and you have a direct connection to your research audience. This ensures that the research is directly policy relevant and can be used to enhance policies and programmes. This is a win-win situation for everyone: the PhD researcher, the employer and those who benefit from the research findings.
You’ve now moved on in your career. And if I am not mistaken, your research focus increased as the dissertation moved forward. You are now working as consultant for the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. What are you doing for them, and do you see a benefit of the PhD on the job?
I’m still working as a researcher, but now investigating the impact of cash transfers in sub-Saharan Africa and with a slightly different focus: people with disabilities. While we know that many people across the world are living with disabilities, we know very little about what programmes are effective in improving their lives, especially in developing countries. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) has received funding from DFID for a large research programme on disability-inclusive development. One part of this programme is to investigate if and how cash transfer programmes affect the lives of people with disabilities in sub-Saharan Africa. We are looking at this in four domains: education, health, livelihoods and violence. We use secondary data from completed impact evaluations of cash transfer programmes in four countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Having a PhD is very beneficial in this line of work. It adds some credentials to your profile and opens up opportunities to pursue higher-level work. My ambition is to further develop myself so that in the future, I am able to (co-)lead studies. This would be very difficult without a PhD. In addition, the connection with the academic community at Maastricht is very important and increases my professional network and research skills.
After last week, the tough combination of doing a PhD as well as full-time work is done. You were a top performer, obtaining your PhD degree in 3 years and 4 months. In part this was due to your existing research skills and knowledge at the start of the PhD track, which made it is possible for you to complete your first year programme in 2 weeks. But even so, many people with excellent research skills do not manage to progress so quickly — so you clearly also have the skill to manage your activities well and stick to your plan. How did you do that? And what kind of support did you obtain from your supervisory team to finish so fast?
The special benefit I had was that my work and PhD research overlapped to a great extent. For example, I worked on a literature review on cash transfers and child nutrition as part of my work assignments, which could then serve as a basis for the literature chapter in my dissertation. I know that not everyone in the GPAC2 programme is in a similar position, but this really helped me to finish this quickly. My supervisors Prof. Michael Cichon, Prof. Franziska Gassmann and Dr. Nyasha Tirivayi were great in supporting me to keep up the pace. They were always very quick to respond to drafts that I sent them, so that I could move ahead with finalising the chapters. Towards the end of the PhD track, I also received a clear deadline from them so that I could plan the writing of the final parts of my dissertation in time. I am very grateful for that!
The opinions expressed here are the subject’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
UNU / H.Pijpers; UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti; FAO/Ivan Grifi