Juliëtte van Duijnhoven, a postdoc researcher at Eindhoven University of Technology, interviewed Jennifer Veitch via Skype on 31st Jan 2020
Juliëtte (JvD): Hi Jennifer, how are you?
Jennifer (JV): I’m well, how are you?
JvD: I’m good, thanks. I’m glad that you agreed upon me interviewing you for the Bright lights website. The first seven experts who were interviewed are all male researchers, interview eight was with Martine Knoop so I thought it’s always good to try to level this balance between male and female researchers being interviewed.
JV: I’m glad you noticed that. I actually mentioned that to Steve a while back, that I thought it was a little bit unbalanced.
JvD: Yes, indeed! So, we’ve met at the Lumenet PhD workshop in Copenhagen and saw each other several times afterwards. I’ve prepared some questions to get to know you a bit better. Let’s start from the beginning: could you tell me about your journey – how you ended up working at the National Research Council Canada (NRC)?
JV: Well, that could be a very long story if you want to start at the very beginning, but I’m going to start fairly far back. I grew up in a city called Winnipeg, which is in the centre of Canada. It is very cold there in the winter with bright sunny days. While I was an undergraduate student, like many people who were interested in science, I thought the highest thing I could do would be to go into medicine. In preparation for that I thought it would be a really good idea to take an introductory psychology course because that would give me a little bit of background. At the same time that I was taking that course I was supposed to write up my application for medical school. In the time that I was taking the start of the course, I realized that I really liked this psychology stuff and that I really didn’t want to be a medical doctor. So I never applied for med school.
It happened that the professor who taught the first part of the course was an environmental psychologist. There were very few environmental psychologists, so not very often you get an introductory psychology course where there is any material at all related to how the physical environment affects people. That was his interest so he included it. I was fascinated by the idea. I should mention that my father was an interior designer and a lighting educator. So I had a background that maybe I wasn’t aware of that was also influencing my interests. As a consequence though, the year after that introductory course, I volunteered in that professor’s lab. That was my first grounding in how to measure elements in the physical environment, lighting and sound and so on, and how to integrate that together with how people respond to the environment. So I carried on and did an undergraduate thesis with that professor, Stuart Kaye. I was interested enough to go on and do graduate degrees in the same field.
JvD: That was then the master’s degree in psychology then, right?
JV: Well, so in Canada, it would be normal to do an undergraduate bachelor’s degree and then your next degree will be a master’s degree. Some people will stop at that point and go off to into the working world. But if you want a research career then you must go on and do a doctorate which is a separate degree in North-America. And I did that at other universities, but I don’t know how long you want me to take with this with my background piece.
JV: Haha, of course I also checked a little bit online what your background is, and I found a bachelor of science in chemistry?
Yes, that was the legacy of having started out being a potential medical doctor. I finished that science degree but then went on and added on the psychology after that at the undergraduate level. Those first degrees were with the University of Manitoba, in Winnipeg. I went on and did a master’s in psychology at Queen’s University in Kingston Ontario. That was in ergonomic psychology, so much more work focused. Realizing that wasn’t quite what I wanted to do as a primary focus, I just did a master’s there in one year and then I went on and did doctoral work. I started my doctorate at the University of California - Irvine, in what’s now called the School of Social Ecology. That gave me a lot of great experience and a much broader interdisciplinary exposure, but at that time it was very expensive for a Canadian to study in the United States so I couldn’t stay there. I ended up finishing up my doctoral degree in environmental psychology at the University of Victoria in British Columbia with Robert Gifford.
That’s not the way I recommend doing graduate school, moving 1500 miles three times in 3 years! But on the other hand, it gave me a great network, and that network of people with diverse experience and exposure and perspectives is really valuable if you’re going to do this kind of work.
JvD: I understand. But at the end you managed to finish up your doctoral work. What was your exact topic and who were your supervisors?
JV: Right, my PhD supervisor was Robert Gifford who is an environmental psychologist. You can go online and read all kinds of cool stuff about him, he is still out there. My interest at that time then, as now, was in lighting and how it affects people beyond visual performance. And actually I did a single experiment, for us a relatively large one, that was interested in how individual control over lighting might affect attention, cognition and mood. So I’m just about the only person I know who nearly thirty years later is still studying the same things that she did for her doctoral degree.
JvD: Wow, indeed. Nice to hear.
JV: Haha, yes it can happen.
JvD: So, you finished your doctoral work. What happened next?
JV: My intent was always to go into an academic career so I was looking for a postdoctoral research experience. My timing was not good. I needed a job but North-American universities were not hiring when I finished. There were no academic jobs, not even to apply for. So it was suggested to me to look for a postdoctoral research opportunity at the National Research Council of Canada (NRC). What I didn’t know was, sort of behind the scenes, that NRC was considering hiring and they liked the area that I brought to them because it was not something they really had. So, I ended up staying. Unexpectedly, but here I am.
JvD: After your doctorate you went to NRC and you stayed there until now?
JV: Well, yes I came in what NRC calls the Research Associate (RA) program which is a hiring program that still exists now for people within their first 5 years after they obtained their doctoral degree. The program itself offers a term position, so I came for what I thought was going to be a two year term. I was renewed for a year, and then in the third year I was offered the opportunity to take up a continuing position. Not all RA’s have that opportunity, but I guess I made them happy so I did.
JvD: Yes, such an opportunity is of course nice. Thank you for explaining your journey towards the NRC. So if you look back at all these years of studying and working, what is your greatest achievement and what were your biggest challenges?
JV: Well, the biggest challenges. So, I mentioned that when I came I had a perspective in a background which was not typical in the NRC. The National Research Council of Canada has been around since 1916, so it has a long history of focusing just about exclusively on what many people would call the hard sciences: chemistry, biology, physics, and of course engineering-related subjects that flow from these areas. They really don’t have much of a history of behavioural research. There is more of it now, but when I came in it was really unusual. So my biggest challenge was actually earning the respect of my colleagues who thought that what I did was not science. And that was a significant challenge in the beginning of my career.
JvD: Yes, I can imagine.
JV: So, in some respects, my greatest achievement is having overcome that to the point now where it’s seen as a valuable and necessary part of what we do.
JvD: And do they see that now?
JV: I would say yes. In fact, now we have the beginnings of what we call here a community of practice with people who do human factors research all across the NRC. That’s not because of me, there have always been pockets in several places but we now have enough people in the various parts of the NRC to, you know, form a cohesive group. Which is pretty cool.
JvD: Yes, it’s definitely pretty cool! I can imagine that it has been nice to see that this research topic has significantly grown over the last years. Within all this research you did, were you ever surprised by research results? Why and what were these results?
JV: Always! So, my first results, it actually goes back to my doctoral dissertation. So I was interested in giving people some control over lighting and whether that would improve their performance but at the time I had a very very very low budget for that. And lighting controls in the early 1990s were not quite the way they are now. So the way in which we gave control was actually what a psychologist will call decisional control; people spent some time working in this little mock office that I created and in order to speed things up I had three people at the time in this room. And, having experienced the condition, they could choose whether or not to have a task light on, but they had to tell me whether or not they wanted to turn the light on. That was the way we were able to make the control work. So it wasn’t control in the sense of I put out my hand and move a switch, they had to tell the experimenter, me, that they wanted it. And if there happened to be other people in the session with them, the other people would hear the choice. So, it’s kind of an unusual public admission that you want something. The consequence was that people who took that control tended to do worse on the behavioural outcomes.
JvD: Oh wow, so that was unexpected?
JV: Oh, pardon me, not the people who tended to take it, the people who were offered the control tended on average to do worse because they had to make that public admission. That was my expectation, but that was totally not the expectation that I had for the experiment. We all would think that giving people the control is always a good thing. That was the point that one of my examiners in my dissertation was particularly skeptical about. Of course I had to go back to my data multiple times to make sure I hadn’t done something silly like just backwards coded it in the analysis. But I hadn’t, and in fact, in that context, with that way of giving people control, it’s actually not such a good thing. So that was an unexpected result.
JvD: So, since then you also started focusing on the methodological aspects of a study and how to set up real experiments?
JV: Well, it was a real experiment, it is a good experiment as it was. However, like many psychological manipulations, the interpretation of the participants was not what I initially expected it to be. So, good experiment, but you have to think through how people are going to interpret what you are offering. That remains true today, I just hope I’m better at thinking it through before I do the experiment. But in the case of lighting control, it’s also true that, well, I often do work with a lot better budget now but also there are many more kinds of control available to people and you can do things we couldn’t do in the early 90s, so a much more direct way of testing that hypothesis.
JvD: Yes, of course. You just mentioned it, there is much more possible nowadays, for example regarding lighting control. What do you think will happen in the future of lighting technology? What new innovations do you expect in the (near) future?
JV: Well, that’s a good question.
JvD: Haha, thanks.
JV: I can imagine crazy things and you can’t tell me I’m wrong because it’s my imagination, right? However, I'm a little bit cautious in that. I think, there may be great innovations, I’m not sure they are necessarily the things we want or need. So, yes you could have a colour tunable LED system that can offer you ten million colors and that’s an amazing achievement on a technical end, but I’m not sure that having that is necessarily leading to the average person in their home or office experiencing better light because the mere existence of technology doesn’t guarantee that we know how to use it well. Too much technology could distract us from giving people better lighting which really, I think, has more to do with the distribution of light in the space and giving people appropriate light for the activities that they’re undertaking. Some fundamentals really aren’t going to change because we have specific new technology. I’m a little bit afraid that we’re going to forget that. So that’s where I’m at.
JvD: I agree that fundamentals are definitely important. Back to your fundamentals, you already mentioned your supervisor during your PhD, but let’s look a little bit more at your network. You also mentioned that moving throughout Canada has helped you, but who is or was the key person in your professional life? Who were the people inspiring you?
JV: So, I had a few opportunities, a little bit like Bright Lights, in the recent months and so I also thought of this question. In my case I can’t point to a single individual. It’s more taking a little bit from many of them.
I mentioned Stuart Kaye, he was the professor that I first encountered. He was a lighting researcher, he was enough involved in that network that I can look back on the invitations list to some events in the 1980s and he was there. Mark Rea, Peter Boyce, and Stuart Kaye. Stuart didn’t accomplish quite as much as Mark and Peter but he was in the club. So that’s one person.
That being said, Peter Boyce has always been a major inspiration. You may have seen my homage to Peter which I wrote about in the special section of Lighting Research and Technology, in which we commemorated his best papers. One of the things I said there was: “when I was an undergraduate student, my first lab exposure to environmental psychology took place just after the first edition of his book came out. I was handed it by my professor, who said ‘You should read this.’” And I did. But from where I was sitting in the middle of North-America, the distance between me and this researcher who is then at this Electricity Research Centre in England felt like a million miles. I was never going to meet that person of course. Little did I think that I would not only meet him, but I would be able to work with him. So, that was a pretty amazing transformation for me from someone who was as god of the field just to a real person in my life. So that's another element.
I also gleaned a lot from the first person who hired me here at the NRC, Dr. Dale Tiller. He has gone on to be a professor of Architectural Engineering at the University of Nebraska. I learned a lot from him about practical research design and how to use research design. He’s also got training in psychology but he tends to use his knowledge really in a practical way that they study the technology rather than the people. That’s where his interest lay. So I got a little bit of blending of interests from him as well.
And of course, I’ve worked a lot over the years with Guy Newsham and Guy is a very creative thinker. So I credit a lot of the things that I’ve had some success with to ideas that actually came from Guy.
JvD: That is a nice story, that you also saw researchers as god of the lighting world whereas they are also just real persons. I think it’s also just nice to mention that in the last interview on the Bright Lights website with Martine Knoop, I read that she mentioned you as a role model.
JV: Well, that’s nice to hear.
JvD: Besides your research, you are also involved in many organizations such as the International Commission of Illumination (CIE). You’ve been the Director of Division 3 for many years and currently you are the Vice President Technical at the CIE. Can you tell a bit more what it actually is what you’re doing at the CIE?
JV: Right now or what I was doing as a Division Director?
JvD: I actually meant to ask it for your function right now, but feel free to answer for both functions.
JV: As the Vice-President Technical, that gives me responsibility for helping to shape the technical work at the CIE which is of course in our technical committees that are developing documents, whether they’re standards or technical reports or technical notes. Not that I have direct responsibility for the creation of any TC, that’s within the Divisions. That’s something a Division Director would do, but now I provide a coordinating function between the Division Directors and I’m part of a review system that kicks in in the event that there might be a dispute or problem with a technical committee. At the moment, we also have in the Board of Administration a number of task groups that are dealing with high level organizational issues so, for example, our Code of Procedure, which you might or might not be familiar with, but that’s the rule book that sets out how all the different parts at the CIE should work.
Any organization needs revision to its rules from time to time so that’s one of the things I’m actively working in. We have a research strategy which sets out the topics that the CIE thinks are the most important ones where we’d like researchers outside the CIE to be working on, we have an ongoing review process for that. All these sort of coordinating tasks that try to shape the work of the CIE, to make it efficient and then help us to be prepared for whatever the next big things are, fall in the technical category. It also is the case that when we do have our big conferences, like the mid-session meeting that happens in Malaysia in 2021, then I’ll be the chair of the scientific committee, organizing that.
JvD: So as the Director of Division 3 your tasks were coordinated by the previous Vice-President Technical then, right?
JV: That’s right. The Vice-President Technical before me was Erkki Ikonen from Finland, so that was for my second term as Division Director. Before that it was Yoshi Ohno. I was Division Director for two terms, but there were different Vice-Presidents Technical in those two terms.
JvD: I see. So now we talked about the research you’ve been doing and your contribution to the CIE. In addition to that, you have been actively involved in supervising PhDs. How many of them are you still supervising at the moment?
JV: Actually, I want to correct you there. I do not supervise a lot of PhDs. The NRC is not a teaching institution. So when I’ve supervised someone, either at masters or doctoral level, it’s been an extra kind of add-on thing that I’ve done. So I’ve directly supervised only two PhD students and three or four masters students over my whole career. In addition, I’ve served as an examiner for committees in other places. Of course you’ve met me in Eindhoven a few times. But in general, student supervision is a minor part of the job of a researcher at the NRC.
JvD: OK, clear. I’m asking because I also saw adjunct professor at Carleton University on your LinkedIn profile. It is related to the supervision then, right?
JV: Yes, indeed. So that’s the avenue through which I can supervise people but I tend to be very careful about not taking on too much and frankly because I’m doing some of the volunteer things like with CIE. My capacity to be an effective supervisor is less than I’d like it to be.
JvD: Of course, I can imagine that you want to have sufficient time for supervising if you’d do that. You already mentioned that you were member of doctoral committees several times, like the ones in Eindhoven. What is your most embarrassing experience being in a doctoral committee? It can be while preparing for the defense, during the defense ceremony, or afterwards.
JV: That’s an interesting question. I’m not actually sure I want to answer that because I think it might embarrass the person that was involved. I think I’m just going to leave that one here.
JvD: Haha, ok now you made me even more curious, but I agree, let’s drop this question then. For all the defenses, meetings, conferences, you’ve been travelling to a lot of places around the world. I can imagine that it is exhausting but maybe also renewing. Have you been to every place on Earth yet? If not, which spot is still on your bucket list?
JV: I’ve not been to every spot on Earth yet. I have been to a lot of them, but a lot of them were very short trips because you are trying to squeeze in whatever the thing is that you’re there for between other work that you have so you try not to make the trip too long. There are still a few places I’d like to see. I’ve never been to Russia, I’d like to see Saint Petersburg in particular. And I’ve never been to Japan, so that would be interesting as well. Those are probably the top two.
Going back to the question of you about the most embarrassing moment, without telling you what the thing is, I will comment that the biggest challenge in all of that travel is often the local customs that you don’t know about. So that’s where embarrassment can fall. It’s not that people get wildly drunk at a party (although that happens), it’s more that you stumble into something that you didn’t even know was there as an issue and accidently offend someone. So that’s always an interesting process to learn about. It’s kind of exciting but always a risk with all these sort of intercultural kind of things that we do.
JvD: That makes sense. Thanks for explaining a bit more about your most embarrassing experience within a doctoral committee. We talked a lot about your work and about the time you are away for travels for example. How do you recharge yourself?
JV: So, on a day to day basis, I have some daily routines. I try to start every day with prayer and then with some Pilates to ease my back. At home, we have a habit of sitting around and watching “Star Trek” reruns which we have on DVD -- just about every one of the “Star Trek” series that’s available on DVD. And we also have all of “Doctor Who” that’s currently available on DVD. So that’s our sitting back, as opposed to watching broadcast TV because there is no advertisements and you can just pick and choose where you’d want to go. (Even streaming services don’t seem to have what we want when we want it.)
JvD: You said that you are watching DVDs at home to recharge. Is that together with your family? Do you have kids?
JV: I have one, a son who is currently fourteen. In the Canadian system, that puts him just at the beginning of high school. He has a strong interest in fantasy games like “Dungeons and Dragons” and this complicated strategy card game called “Magic: the Gathering”, so he is at the point where his interests are totally distinct from his parents’ interests.
JvD: Haha, yes I guess that happens around that age. We’ve all been there. With this amount of work you do and your family at home, are you always able to have the work/life balance as you want it to be? How do you manage to spend enough time with your son and in parallel spend the time you want to spend for work?
JV: I would say, if you ask my family that, they would say I work too much. This is possibly true. From my perspective, I’m always pushing tasks off to another day because I want to do this thing at home, whatever the thing may be. So I don’t perceive it as being a bad balance, although I wouldn’t mind if there’d be somewhat less work. I work in a government environment, you can imagine that has its certain amount of administrative tasks that you have to carry out and those are the ones I really wish to go away because they’re not very interesting. They, in my view, sometimes have questionable benefit even for the organization, so that’s the piece that I’d most happily lose. But I have little control over it, so I just have to get on with it.
JvD: Yes, that’s recognizable. Are you also able to do some of these tasks from home? Do you prefer that then?
JV: There are some work-related tasks for which I have to be here because of the security issues and network access, but I can do some things from home. That is imperfect though, because if you are in a house with two other people who are doing their things it’s not always a distraction-free environment. So sometimes being at work is actually more effective, particularly on the weekend because there is no one else around at the office. So, I like have the flexibility to do some things from home, but I would not be happy in a workplace that work required me to work from home some of the time. It’s good to have the option.
JvD: I understand. So we spoke about you trying to get the work/life balance as you want it to be. This is often more an issue to arrange for women. Did you ever, as a female researcher in a largely male community, experience problems with this? Did you experience more pressure?
JV: That’s a very interesting and timely question, because my organization is tackling that particular issue just at the moment. And I’m actually in a research project that is trying to study that for many institutions across Canada. Oddly, the answer for me is no. There were a couple of small incidents in my first few years here and perhaps there were some comments here that kind of flew over my head that I didn’t notice. I’m not aware of any problems that impeded my career in any way. Other people around me may have experienced that, but actually the bigger problem for me was what I mentioned before which was about the area of science I came from. So I tribute any of those credibility issues to ‘psychology being not perceived as a science’ as opposed to ‘a women not being perceived as scientific’.
JvD: That’s really good to hear that you didn’t experience this extra pressure just for being a woman in this world. What kind of advice would you like to give to young researchers?
JV: One of the best pieces of advice I was given by my supervisor in my doctoral years was to, there is an English phrase that we use of “having many arrows in your quiver”. So, you may have an interest in a topic, in my case it was in lighting and psychology, which can’t guarantee you are going to get a job exactly in that field. So have lots of skills, and be adaptable in your interests, so that if need be, if your perfect job doesn’t pan out, you can fall back on something else.
For me, in my educational years, that meant developing really strong skills in research methods and moderate skills in statistics. I wish I were a better statistician. But that did mean that when I went on the job market as an academic I could say I can teach research methods, I can teach any aspect in environmental psychology, and I can in a pinch also teach some industrial organizational psychology. That makes you a much better candidate for jobs. If you need to, there’s other routes you could take.
And I would also recommend getting active in a way in some kind of professional association. Of course, I have a bias, I want all lighting people to be active in CIE technical committees! That’s not necessarily the route for every person to take, but it’s really valuable. I would say that my research is much better because of the interaction I’ve had with all of the people in TCs and also of course I got to know people and that led to publications that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. But it’s also a way in which we can see research getting a little bit faster into application and for those of us who care about lighting that’s often something that really makes us excited. So, these kinds of service activities, may not immediately lead to a publication and some universities don’t love that, but it is valuable time nonetheless.
JvD: I understand. Since the start of 2020, I’ve been involved in the Dutch association of illumination (NSVV). They asked me to become chair of the core team ‘indoor lighting’ within the association. During the first meeting, I met lots of new people from industry. Whenever I went to (inter)national conferences, I mostly met other academics. It was indeed really interesting to see and hear people from different perspectives there.
JV: Yes, that’s a good point. A broad network teaches you things you didn’t know otherwise and you never know when that little nugget of knowledge you get from one of these things might be valuable.
JvD: Thank you so much for this advice. When can we hear or read something from you again? What are the projects or publications you are currently working on?
JV: I have a paper that is soon to appear online in Lighting Research and Technology (LR&T) in which we were, we in this case means me and Christophe Martinsons from CSTB (Centre Scientifique et Technique du Bâtiment) in France, looking at how visible the stroboscopic effect is in response to different LED replacement lamps that are on the market today. An early version of that was presented last summer at the CIE session in Washington DC. Newer data, a larger data set, some more analyses, will come out shortly in LR&T.
JvD: Good to hear! So that’s still in the field of lighting. I’ve seen a whole list of expertises on your personal page on the NRC website such as human resources, environment, sustainability, social sciences, and applied psychology. What topic do you like the most? Stroboscopic effects may be a slightly different topic compared to for example the experience of light regarding behavioral outcomes. What is your main interest?
JV: That is an interesting question. I gave you the example of the publication in lighting that is soon coming out in LR&T. At the same moment, I’m also working on field studies of the overall effects of the office environment on just about every aspect you can imagine of the experience of a person at work, so that’s office design, generally not specifically lighting. I’m also working on a project with many other colleagues looking at the integration of smart technologies mostly for home heating but also other kinds of electrical controls in a residential setting. So, if you ask me what my interest is, well, I would like to be only doing lighting research but I’m also doing this residential electrical smart grid stuff and I’m also doing this office design stuff. Those things have to be juggled. Within lighting, well if I could just do lighting all the time, I’d be happy. And of course there’s many things that we could all get behind within lighting.
JvD: OK, that’s clear. Good that you prefer lighting! As a final part of this interview, I’d like to end with some this or that questions. I’ll give you two choices and you have to choose one of the two. If you want to explain some more about your choice, of course, feel free to do so.
Morning or evening person?
JV: Evening person.
JvD: East or West Canada?
JV: Central, haha!
JvD: Hmm, I’m not sure whether I’ll allow that answer.. hmm.. ok, up to the next one: Red or blue?
JvD: Mountains or beach?
JvD: Electric light or daylight?
JvD: Research or education?
JvD: “Tim Hortons” or “Starbucks”?
JV: Definitely “Starbucks”!
JvD: Does “Tim Hortons” still exist? I’ve never been to Canada but heard and read all about it.
JV: O yeah definitely, huge chain. Haha.
JvD: Give or listen to a presentation?
JD: That’s hard. Probably give.
JvD: Write a book or a journal paper?
JV: Journal paper.
JvD: Watch or play sports?
JvD: Work or holiday?
JV: O, holiday, of course!
JvD: Psychology or lighting technology?
JvD: Tea or coffee?
JvD: Puzzles or board games?
JV: Board games.
JvD: Day or night?
JV: Pff… night.
JvD: Was that a difficult question as an evening person?
JvD: Hockey or curling?
JV: Curling, if I’m playing.
JvD: And watching?
JV: Actually, even there curling.
JvD: Summer or winter?
JvD: If you have to get rid of one: phone or computer?
JV: I would like to get rid of the phone and keep the computer.
JvD: That was the last one! Thank you so much again for this interview. It was a lot of fun!