Working in the research department as a sociologist

Colette van Boven, former intern at RaboResearch

'As part of my master's degree in Sociology I got the opportunity to be an intern at Rabobank for six months. I had never really considered how my training as a sociologist could be applied to the banking world. But I needed an internship and the master's degree coordinator suggested Rabobank. She and some other professors from Utrecht University in her network were working with Rabobank on developing the well-being indicator. She liked the idea of involving someone from the sociology department who could help think about sociological factors. They picked me!’

The well-being indicator

‘The standard of living in the Netherlands is currently measured in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), but as an indicator, GDP says very little about the overall well-being of average people like you and me, or social development for that matter. That’s why Rabobank and Utrecht University came up with the well-being indicator. This tool measures well-being in terms of 11 different factors, such as health, education and income. Statistics Netherlands (CBS) measures well-being in a similar fashion, but they make ratings for each individual facet. Rabobank calculates a single, general rating for all factors instead. As part of my internship I conducted a study into gender inequality in the well-being indicator.

Some of my colleagues did research on the circular economy and Food & Agri. These areas of research are a perfect fit for the bank’s mission: “Growing a better world together.” At RaboResearch, we are investigating meat substitutes and the effects they have on the environment. Rabobank’s strength is that it really excels at talking with ordinary men and women to get a better understanding of issues affecting our society and then sharing the research findings with the public.’

My value add

‘I’d learned a thing or two about GDP during my studies but, honestly, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to doing an internship in a financial setting. I was afraid that everybody who worked there would know so much more about economics than me. Looking back, my fear was unfounded; I was able to develop my research skills even more precisely because there was so much knowledge in the department. My academic background has allowed me to add a lot of value thanks to the well-being indicator’s inclusive approach to growth. Using theory to conceptualize something from a sociological perspective works well, instead of just diving right into the available data.’

Steep learning curve

‘The internship broadened my career opportunities and gave me so much new insight. My supervisor scheduled meetings with me every Wednesday to discuss different theories. I also really enjoyed working with two other trainees in the department. We spent a lot of time together and helped each other out whenever needed. The department is staffed by such a wide variety of people; I’d always meet new people whenever I went on a lunchtime walk with my colleagues.

With the help of my co-workers and my supervisor I learned to find my way in the data jungle. I can truly say that I’ve developed genuine data skills. For example, I learned how to use STATA and to develop an integrated indicator. My Rabobank internship also taught me how to write a strong report and how to do research. I would like to develop my presentation skills more in the future. I got some good practice here though: I presented a knowledge update about my research to my colleagues to conclude my internship. It was fun, educational, and it’s definitely something I want to do more of. But for now, it’s a lovely ending to a great experience at Rabobank.’