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Q&A with Janet Hoek PhD
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Name: Janet Hoek, Ph.D.

Title/Position: Professor

Institution: Department of Marketing, University of Otago

# Years Experience in Tobacco Research: 15+ 

Institution website

1)   What do you view as the main challenges for your field? From your perspective, what do you think will be the next big breakthrough(s) in adolescent-related tobacco research?


Getting policy makers to act on research evidence seems an on-going challenge, at least in New Zealand, where we have a goal of becoming an essentially smoke free nation by 2025.  Reducing tobacco supply as part of a comprehensive tobacco control strategy is pivotal to our 2025 goal, and we have not focused enough attention on this core element of tobacco marketing.


As well as reducing tobacco supply – the social as well as the commercial sources young people use to access tobacco – I am looking forward to plain (or standardized) packaging coming into effect in New Zealand.  Plain packaging completely reframes tobacco and removes the mystique created by on-pack branding; I think this measure will help bring about greater decreases in smoking experimentation.


2)   If you had to pick one study you’ve done, which was your favorite?


We have not seen plain packaging (or other measures) introduced as quickly as we’d hoped so we used the time it has taken to move this legislation through to law in NZ to embark on studies that would go beyond Australia’s bold initiative.  These studies tested the effect variant names have on smokers' behaviour, examined novel on-pack warnings, explored foregrounding cessation information on packaging, and changed the very object of consumption itself: the cigarette stick.  Of all these, the stick study was my favourite as it recognizes that we need to reframe what people consume, as well as the packs they display.


See and for more information. 


3)   What career choices do you feel have been the most beneficial to result in your success?


I have had an unusually serendipitous career path but the choice I think has been most beneficial came when I was a student and studied English Literature (early medieval literature, to be exact!) rather than Botany and Zoology (the other subjects I studied).  Although people have sometimes questioned the value of Humanities subjects, I found the discipline of learning to think critically and question received wisdom very valuable.  The tobacco industry is highly skilled in sophistry; every day, I use skills that I learned as a student, when I had to evaluate competing arguments.


4)   What strategies have you found to be most beneficial for managing all of your commitments?


I suspect I am the worst person in the world to offer advice on managing commitments as I routinely agree to too much because so many opportunities look too interesting to resist! I am very lucky to work with a wonderful team of people where there is considerable give and take – this environment is enormously stimulating and very supportive.


5)   What is the best advice that you ever received from one of your mentors?


Believe in yourself!  It’s not always easy to overcome self-doubt, particularly when crossing traditional disciplinary boundaries, but I have always appreciated people who remind me that I can add a new (and perhaps even useful) perspective.


6)   What advice would you have for students starting their academic career? What qualities do you look for when recruiting graduate students or postdocs?


There are so many very smart graduate students and postdocs seeking positions that people’s qualifications may not be their key advantage (though they will always matter).  I look for personal qualities – people who are kind, willing to contribute, and who make work environments happier than they would otherwise be. I place particular value on people who are generous with their time, willing to support others, and who “pay it forward”.


7)   What advice would you have for postdoctoral trainees transitioning into faculty positions?  


Remember, there’s nearly always a way to do something, but it might require persistence and resilience! Try to find at least one person who you can bounce ideas around with, and who you can trust to support good ideas and reframe those perhaps less likely to succeed. I found I do my best work after my colleagues have challenged me to defend what feels like every element of a new project, so I would also add look for environments where you will feel challenged to learn new things, and where not every new idea needs to fly.


8)    Do you have any specific advice for women in science/academia, especially those who might work in a male-dominated environment?

Always aim high; back yourself to seek out and take up opportunities, even if these feel like a huge stretch. I wasted opportunities by worrying I would not be the right person whereas less-qualified male colleagues jumped at those opportunities. My husband once told me that supreme self-confidence is the consolation prize given to the second rate – I’ve often found that adage very useful!

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