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  • Writer's pictureNoa Bakker

In conversation with: Faculty of Social Sciences Thesis Prize winners, Daniëlle & Cille

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

By Benjamin Koponen & Noa Bakker

To many of us graduation might seem like a world away, or like it just happened yesterday. That said, there is one experience, for better or worse, certain to remain nestled in our memories for years to come; completing a thesis. The Faculty of Social Sciences knows this and awards the best bachelor and master thesis every year. This year, these two prizes were awarded to two Political Science students: Daniëlle Graman (Bachelor Political Science) and Cille Kaiser (Master Political Science and Global Environmental Governance). We asked them some questions to find out what it’s like to write an extraordinary thesis in these extraordinary circumstances.

Daniëlle Graman; Bachelor Political Science - Bachelor Thesis Prize Winner:

Could you tell us a little bit about your research?

‘Sure! It’s crazy to talk about my thesis again since I already submitted it last June. The prize was of course awarded much later, so people are now talking about it. I wrote about political trust in the Netherlands during the corona crisis. We had to decide what our thesis would be about in February when corona just hit Europe. I figured that it would be interesting to see whether it influences the way in which politicians are viewed by the people. Given that corona was still a very new ‘phenomenon’, I was one of the first to study its influence on political trust.

I chose to do quantitative research and created my own survey. I compared my collected data with data from a European Social Survey from 2018. Whereas the economy, social-economic status, and other things first proved to be important indicators of political trust, I now saw that healthcare policy also became more important. My conclusion showed that people actually gained political trust during the first wave of corona. People especially trusted Mark Rutte and Hugo de Jonge a lot; I think that has to do with the fact that they are in the media a lot, informing the people about the current situation.’

We are currently facing a second wave of corona and there is a lot of criticism about the corona measures. Do you think the results of your research would have been the same now?

‘No, I don’t think so. In my research, I came across the concept of rally​ around the flag​, which basically means that people look to their leaders to get them through situations of crisis. Political trust therefore increases. A big part of this rally​ around the flag was of course the unknownness of corona; people were still very scared of the virus. Now, in the second wave, people aren’t as scared anymore and therefore they don’t ‘need’ their leaders in the same way that they did before. Especially comparing it to the first wave, in which political trust in a leader like Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, was very high (8 on a scale of 10). I don’t think this number will be as high as it was before.’

What part of this project are you most proud of?

‘I think I’m most proud of conducting a survey all by myself. Previously, I always leaned towards qualitative research, mainly because of my background as an Anthropology student. For my thesis, I stepped outside my comfort zone, and I’m very happy I did. Quantitative research allows you to conduct bigger research and to compare on a larger scale. Since I wanted to study democracy, a topic that I find intriguing, it made more sense to go for a

quantitative method. Even though I struggled with SPSS, I made it through and am very satisfied with the end result.’

What was your biggest take back?

‘That would also have to be quantitative research. That might sound contradicting, but I did struggle quite a lot as the data got more complicated. Luckily, I had a close friend that helped me out; she is very experienced in working with SPSS. In the end, it all worked out. Even though a lot of students dread SPSS and quantitative research, I strongly recommend considering it. As mentioned before, I also always preferred qualitative research, but this research has really shown me how useful quantitative research is. If I, as a former anthropology student can do it, so can you.’

What would you have done differently, looking back on your research with the knowledge that you now have?

‘I would have liked to have more respondents for the survey. In order for a survey to be representative of our whole population, I needed something like 258 respondents. I ended up having 203, which is close, but the more the better of course. I would also love to do my research again and see whether the concept of rally​ around the flag ​has fully faded away. And lastly, I would maybe try to get respondents from outside of my own ‘bubble’ to make the study as representative of the population as possible.’

How did corona influence your process?

‘I’d say it worked two ways. I live together with 3 other students and two of them went home. Because of that, I had no distractions and I was kind of ‘forced’ to focus on my thesis. This helped me to put a lot of time into my research, which is of course beneficial for the overall process. On the other side, I would have loved to meet my thesis group and mentor. We had a good connection, but we were not allowed to meet up because of corona. I also never really got to graduate properly; when I finished my first bachelor’s, I was abroad for my exchange during the graduation ceremony. This time around, we of course did not have one because of corona.’

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

‘Well, I was planning on going to New Zealand and Australia after my bachelor’s, so I hope to still do that within the upcoming years. I am currently doing an internship at the Dutch political party D66, which I really like. I could see myself staying in politics, but whether that would be on a national, European, or international level is still unclear to me. I, therefore, try to keep my focus as broad as possible, as I start my master’s next year in Cologne. It will probably be a master’s in Political Science, focused on either European politics or Democracy.’

Cille Kaiser; M.A. Political Science and Global Environmental Governance - Master Thesis Prize Winner:

Could you tell us a little bit about your research?

‘When I started my thesis process I had no idea what I wanted to write about. So, I started reading a lot of literature on topics I thought were interesting; such as equity and climate justice. Eventually, I stumbled on a paper analyzing the paradoxical relationship between polycentric and equitable governance-- I thought that was really interesting!

The way I learned about global environmental governance during my Masters was that polycentricity (decentralized governance) has become a more commonplace approach to addressing issues of participation and stakeholder involvement.

However, this [new] research identified that the relationship is paradoxical and not fully understood. That’s where I decided to focus my research, and specifically in the context of transnational climate change governance.

The [core] question raised by this area of research is whether or not the system does what it intends to do in terms of promoting participation for all stakeholders, not just those with the resources to participate. I wanted to find out whether it had any effect, and it didn't.

For my empirical research, I made a database of all transnational governance arrangements active today. I then mapped them geographically to identify whether the geopolitical logic of the system had changed since it started growing. It hadn’t. Over 90% of initiatives were settled in the global North. So my findings were not very encouraging.’

You’ve mentioned a ‘paradoxical relationship’ frequently, what do you mean by that?

‘The paradoxical aspect is that while the transnational regime is very polycentric (decentralized) a lot of places where transnational regimes are located in the global North, and they don't really deviate. I uncovered, and this needs further research, that these polycentric systems of transnational climate change governance actually have significant monocentric tendencies.’

Were there any countries where you were surprised to have seen these patterns (not) emerge?

Not​ so much. Unfortunately, the findings were really in line with my expectations. However, it was interesting to see that many transnational initiatives in the U.S. initiated before the Paris Agreement (2015) but not so much after. Kenya was a bit of an outlier, which is most likely because UNEP (United Nations Environment Program) that's located there. Apart from those findings, there were very few surprises.’

What inspired you to focus on this topic?

‘Well I followed the master's degree on global and environmental governance and, as I said, my topic of interest was mostly the ethics, fairness, equity, and climate justice. These were the themes that I was mostly interested in. Transnational climate change as a topic intrigued me because the transnational regime is fundamentally polycentric, and the importance of studying transnational governance from a justice perspective is immense.

What part of this project are you most proud of?

‘I think I want to say the maps and the empirical research. I am really proud of the data set that I built and the maps that followed from it.

There was a need in the literature to understand the sort of geography behind transnational climate change governance because nobody had really done it before. I think one or two studies I addressed in the research attempted to link the geography and transnational climate change governance. So I think the empirical research, really mapping the international climate change regime that was active in April 2020, is what I'm most proud of.’

What was a challenge you weren’t expecting to run into during the project?

‘Well, the biggest challenge was definitely COVID-19. We had our first thesis group meeting on campus and I remember our thesis supervisor saying 'we might not be able to meet on campus in the future'. At that point, I thought it wasn’t going to be that bad, but a week later we had to meet online. I think it was a bigger problem for people who had planned ethnographic research or interviews. For me, it was a bit​ ​easier because I could still do my research online. But I was still confined to my living room, so that was definitely a challenge.

Research-wise, I think the biggest challenge was navigating all these databases and making some really hard choices as to which initiatives you're going to include and which ones you won't. There are hard criteria: you have to be engaged in governance, and operate transnationally, but there are always grey areas.’

How did corona influence your process?

‘For me, it did a lot of good. I was working when Corona hit and, shortly after, I lost my job because of corona. I also lost my apartment; so I moved back in with my parents, unemployed. But now I also had a lot of time to work on my research. However, I want to be careful in saying that because many of my classmates had a lot of trouble because of COVID-19. Not only because they were limited in what they were able to do methodologically, but also because it was really hard living in your room and maintaining a rhythm. So for me, I suppose it was a… in Dutch, we say geluk​ bij een ongeluk (luck by accident) ​. But I want to be nuanced about it because I was lucky. If you're living in a house with 12 other students, then it's really hard to write a thesis.

The [main] thing was that I couldn’t meet with my classmates or supervisor in person.

However, [COVID] also required me to basically treat it as a full-time job. I worked on it Monday through Friday from 9am-7pm, and that worked for me. Discipline became a keyword.’

What would you have done differently, looking back on your research with the knowledge that you now have?

‘I think I might have overdone my empirical research and not left enough time for the discussion. I also wish I could’ve spent more time discussing equity.

The problem with equity and climate change governance is that the people in countries most affected by climate change also often contribute the least to GHG emissions. On the one hand, you want to say that these people should be actively involved and should have decision-making powers; but on the other, you don't want them to carry a burden for a problem that they didn't cause. I think that, in terms of the equity discussion, something I could've explored further.’

What was a piece of advice someone gave you during the writing/research process? ‘Well, I always think back to the advice that my supervisor, Matthew Hoye, gave us during our first thesis meeting. He spoke about thesis winning prizes not​ because they find solutions to really ‘wicked problems’. You're not expected to solve world hunger in your master's thesis, that's not the point! You don't have to solve a wicked problem but your thesis has to be methodologically and empirically sound. The important aspect is not what​ you find, but how​ ​you find it. The process, the structure, and the methodology all need to connect; there needs to be a research puzzle. He helped me be realistic and simplify my research question and to specify what I wanted to investigate. You have to be realistic about what you can do as a student with the means that you have and with the knowledge that you have. Don’t think too big.’

What is a piece of advice you would provide for other students currently working on their thesis in lock down?

‘I think an important piece of advice is to keep in touch with your supervisor and classmates. I remember talking a lot to a classmate of mine and peer-reviewing each other's work. This helped a lot in finding errors you might not have identified. But I also think a lot of people feel really alienated in a thesis project. So, it's really important to continue to discuss your ideas with your supervisor and fellow students because there's also a degree of accountability. If you decide to go for it and not talk to anyone, it's really hard to maintain a structure. Try to keep in touch with the outside world, as difficult as it might be during a pandemic.’

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