What is your dissertation about?

“How young people use social media and how this influences their trust in information from media and institutions in three domains: politics, health and culture. I then related media use and the trust in information to online engagement, such as: following, searching, sharing and commenting. I compared six different uses of media, in other words: ‘media repertoires’. A traditional repertoire for instance is the use of newspapers and television, whereas the omnivores use all available media. Using an online professional survey company, I managed to get over a thousand respondents to my questionnaire.”

What are your most important conclusions?

“There were several interesting correlations. In politics, political trust tends to be higher among young people who use traditional media than among young adults who use social media. Also, young people with more omnivorous media repertoires are more likely to trust the government. More diverse media repertoires are associated with stronger political engagement, and social media outlets are an important part of these repertoires. In general, the media usage of young people is related to their trust in institutions and their perceived media credibility. Compared to traditional media, in China, social media have a greater influence on young people’s online engagement.”

How did you end up at Erasmus University with this subject?

“I’m from China, where I did a bachelor’s in management and a master’s in communication. When I wanted to do my PhD, I searched online for supervisors and I found mine at Erasmus. I wrote my master thesis on how students use health-related apps and wanted to do more with the media usage of young people.

“The media climate in China is very different from the rest of the world. In some countries they believe that social media can contribute to political engagement. Not in China. The government controls all media to the extent that you will not find any negative reports on them. Both traditional and new media are censored, but social media is more diverse. It is more difficult for the government to control everything online, so sometimes certain posts will circulate shortly before they get taken down. And people have ways to bypass the censor by using words that sound the same but are written phonetically, so that they cannot be found.”

What do we see on your cover?

“I made it myself! In the air you see all the different media types, including the ones that you only have in China. At the bottom you see my life, and symbols of all the places where I lived. There’s a combination of Chinese flowers, Dutch windmills, the Erasmus bridge and the Oriental Pearl TV Tower in Shanghai. This dissertation is like a baby to me. The sunflower is very important, it reminded me to stay positive.”

Did you need a reminder to stay positive?

“Doing a PhD is not easy. Mentally and physically it’s very tough. Since last year, the PhD’s have a psychologist we can talk to, but it was difficult to book an appointment because she’s very busy. Last year, I felt too much pressure and I was close to a burn-out. It helped that there were people around to talk to. I also went to the gym 4-5 times a week. And after sitting at the computer the whole day it’s nice to go for a run. Without working out I would never have finished my dissertation.

“Last May I was very stressed. One of my colleagues told me that this was a sign that I was almost done. She said: ‘A good dissertation is a finished dissertation.’ That’s why one of my statements is: ‘The going is tough towards the end of the journey.’ We have a saying in China about a mountain’s top that you have to reach. When you’re there you see a new top. Along the way there’s rain, snow and sometimes a rainbow, or lovely scenery.”