Throughout her life, Gwendolyn Koops-Geuze has moved back and forth between Canada and the Netherlands a few times. Although her parents are both Dutch, she was born in Canada and spent her years as a young adult there, doing her bachelor’s at the University of the Fraser Valley near Vancouver, and her first ‘real’ job in Canada was working for the police. In other words, her formative years were on the other side of the ocean. “In Canada, I became a woman, the woman I am today. And, deep down, I feel like a Canadian. In my experience, Canadians are more mild-mannered and don’t like butting heads with people, while the Dutch are a bit more down-to-earth and straightforward.”

Koops-Geuze relocated to the Netherlands to do a master’s degree in Crime and Criminal Justice at Leiden University. “I had family here, the Dutch programmes are very good in terms of quality and, on top of that, they’re cheap”, she says about her reasons for moving. “In Canada, a master’s degree would cost around €20,000, whereas in the Netherlands it’s about a tenth of that, about €2,000.” On top of that, there was a man she was talking to at the time. She has now been in the Netherlands for about five years. That man has since become her husband, and her PhD research has brought her to ‘the beginning of the end’.

Reading habits:

Number of books per year: Eight to ten. “I tend to read a lot for work, which means I don’t always feel like reading. Besides, I find it hard to really enjoy fiction, and I particularly struggle with crime fiction because I can’t help but analyse what the author got wrong. It just isn’t fun anymore.”

Primary motivation: “Books expand and broaden your horizons. They force you to look at everyday life in a different way.”

Last book read: Gang leader for a day (for the second time) by Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh.

Favourite genre: “High fantasy or allegory”.

Research with impact

Last year, her research on the effects of community service in the juvenile justice system was widely covered in the media. During the COVID pandemic, the House of Representatives passed a bill stipulating that violence against emergency workers should be punished with a custodial sentence rather than with a community service order. After the House, it was the Senate’s turn to vote on the community service ban. It was widely expected that the Senate would follow suit.

But a day before the vote, de Volkskrant newspaper published an article on the research showing that young people with community service orders are less likely to commit a new crime than comparable young people with a short prison sentence. A heated debate subsequently flared up on the effectiveness of a ban on community service. A day later, contrary to expectations, 37 members of the Senate voted against the ban, with 35 voting in favour. “It’s quite possible that the debate persuaded at least one or two people to vote differently. How cool is that?”

Stick to the plan

In Canada, Koops-Geuze used to volunteer for an organisation that works with vulnerable young people, and it was there that she saw how complex the situations of vulnerable and delinquent young people are and resolved to work on their behalf. During her master’s in Leiden, she observed that the effectiveness of community service among juveniles sentenced by the juvenile courts had hardly been studied since its introduction, and it was this that led to her PhD research.

She was determined to explore young people’s own experiences, to give their perspective a voice. “I had written my own research proposal and had been accepted at EUR on that basis – it was a great opportunity. In the early years of my PhD, this was not always seen as a crucial issue. It was only when a debate flared up in the media about the results of the first part of my research that there was more awareness, and I knew that I’d been on the right track all along: studying community service orders for young people matters.”

Squirrels, beavers and geese

“In the scientific community, encouraging one another isn’t really commonplace”, Koops-Geuze says cautiously. This is despite the fact that encouraging one another is actually one of the ways to create a successful organisation, according to the book Gung Ho: how to motivate people in any organisation. The author, Ken Blanchard, has three rules of thumb to inspire employees. He uses the spirit of the squirrel to describe the importance of meaning and significance in our work. The way of the beaver says how that work should be done. Blanchard uses the final principle, The gift of the goose, to demonstrate how geese frequently honk to encourage each other – which is something people should do more of in organisations. “In the scientific world, we should be encouraging each other more often.”

She read the book a few years ago, when she travelled to the Netherlands from Canada to visit her brother who had just read Gung Ho. They got into a conversation about organisation behavioural science, during which her brother tried to convey his enthusiasm to her. “Those visits to the Netherlands were always short, we only had a short time to reconnect. When I got back to Canada, I found the book in my mailbox. Not only was I inspired by reading it, I also became closer to my brother despite the distance.”

Roman Koot pageturners-verslonden 3.2023_Ronald van den Heerik

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Gwendolyn Koops-Geuze is completing her PhD at the Erasmus School of Law. Her research deals with the effects of and perspectives on community service orders in the Dutch juvenile justice system. She studied Criminology & Criminal Justice at University of the Fraser Valley and earned a master’s degree in Crime and Criminal Justice at Leiden University. She has been one of the KNAW’s faces of science since the start of this year, the first time a researcher from the Erasmus School of Law has been appointed to the position.