Hot seat: Maja Grünzner

Last updated on: 22 Feb, 2021

Ms. Grünzner, in April 2020 you started a position as a doctoral student as part of a scholarship for the EU-wide Marie Skłodowska Curie-Projekt LimnoPlast. What does it mean for you to be part of this international network of doctoral students and what advice would you like to give future doctoral students?

Every day, being part of LimnoPlast gives me the opportunity to learn looking at problems from different perspectives and to be able to discuss them with other doctoral students from various countries and disciplines. The international and interdisciplinary exchange is particularly important to me, as a large part of the psychological knowledge comes from studies that have examined western, educated, industrialized, wealthy and democratic nations. Living in a globalized world I find it essential to develops scientific knowledge in a global discourse. LimnoPlast supports this and in order to promote internationality and intercultural exchange, doctoral students have to take up a position in a country in which they have not been vocationally occupied within the last three years. In addition, each of us visits another institution to gain skills outside of our own field as well as further international experience. However, we must not lose sight of our goal of completing our dissertation after three years. Therefore, I would like to invite future doctoral students to: 1. Allow themselves to make mistakes and learn from them, 2. Build trust in the team members and work together for the project rather than in competition. In cooperation with a strong team, that also allows mistakes, the path towards the doctorate will be a pleasure.

LimnoPlast deals with microplastics from different perspectives. Can you give us an overview of how the 15 PhD students involved approach this topic and how you work together to develop new approaches?

The aim of LimnoPlast and the mission of the doctoral students is to find detailed answers about the origin of microplastics, their effects on the environment and humans, and innovative solutions for microplastic pollution, especially in freshwater. We PhD students come from different scientific disciplines, which is a great strength of LimnoPlast, because this way the topic of microplastics can be approached holistically from an environmental, technical, and social science perspective. Furthermore, our research includes the entire production cycle of plastics. Although we have different focal points within our projects, we share one clear goal: to reduce microplastics. The motto in our collaboration: Think globally, act locally! Despite being spread all over Europe, we are sharing information such as relevant articles in weekly exchanges and supporting each other with challenges arising when moving to a new country. The project management team is always there for us, not only answering our questions but also organizing regular internal meetings, workshops, and webinars e.g., the #microplastinar. More information about LimnoPlast.

You are dealing with microplastics from a psychological point of view – what exactly does that mean? You are still looking for participants for your current survey: what background should they have and what is the aim of your questionnaire?

Concern about plastic pollution, particularly microplastic, is high among European citizens and effective measures are needed to reduce it. Therefore, I am examining behavioural approaches related to microplastics; particularly using social and behavioural methods to address this pressing problem. With our first study’s online survey we want to record the risk of microplastics and assessments of potential solutions from the perspective of experts. At the moment I am analysing data from the first survey phase. The results will be used for the development of communication strategies and can also provide information about future research priorities. The second survey phase has started in February. If you have been researching microplastics for several years or are very familiar with the topic of microplastics through any other professional activity, it would be helpful if you could take 15 minutes to fill out the online survey. I recommend using a laptop rather than a smartphone.

Maja Grünzner is a PhD student and research collaborator in the Urban and Environmental Psychology Research Group under the direction of Prof. Sabine Pahl at the University of Vienna. Her training as a social psychologist focused on intercultural and environmental psychology. During her master’s thesis she collaborated with the Savanna Life project. The aim of the project was to promote communication on topics such as strategies for livelihood and nature conservation with the help of a board game in rural communities in Kenya and Tanzania.