“Jorgo, we need your thinking on this”

Jorgo Goossens was awarded his PhD in a ceremony held Friday, February 17th. It was, of course, a very special day. In this interview, he reflects on how it all started, his research findings, the impact of the pandemic, and his plans for the future.

Take us back to the beginning. What was the impetus four years ago when you decided: I’m going to get my PhD?

Jorgo: “It actually originated with the graduate internship I did at APG for my first master’s degree. That was where I met Rob van den Goorbergh and Eduard Ponds – who eventually became two of my four PhD supervisors – and I talked to them about my future after graduation. They were the ones who inspired me to think about getting a PhD, which resulted in me applying for an Industrial Doctorate grant from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) under Bas Werker and Marike Knoef of Netspar. The aim of the Industrial Doctorate program is to unite industry with academia, which is exactly what Netspar stands for. For me personally, it was the perfect arrangement (APG – Netspar – NWO – Tilburg University), one that combined all my interests.”

It all sounds very propitious. So, you got started once the application was granted?

Jorgo: “Not quite: it took a while. First, I did a Master’s in Education in teaching mathematics at Eindhoven University of Technology. But Tilburg University has a requirement that you complete a research master’s before starting your PhD work, which I then did, and I was able to finally get started shortly after that.”

How do you actually start at that point? Where do you begin?

Jorgo: “Fortunately, I was able to proceed along the lines of my research master’s, which resulted in Chapter 1 of my dissertation. On the theoretical side, I dived into the literature and decided to focus on three things: an excessive emphasis on the present, interest rate term structures, and time preferences. Working with Bas Werker, I arrived at an equilibrium model for financial markets, and we were able to adequately explain why interest rates behave like what we are observing. And through APG, I was able to study the risk and time preferences of pension fund participants. That was the practical side.”

And how do you bring the theoretical and practical sides together?

Jorgo: “With the results of the participants survey at APG and the theory I had absorbed, I was able to develop a scientific explanation of why people might choose a high/low pension option based on their risk and time preferences. Measuring and knowing people’s preferences is incredibly important for the pension industry because of the implications for participant behavior.”

It’s especially relevant now, isn’t it, with the Future of Pensions Act?

Jorgo: “Absolutely, because knowing time preferences, for example, is extremely relevant for the projection returns or in the choice of a high/low pension or lump sum. And measuring risk preferences is highly relevant during the savings stage of your pension, while measuring time preferences is equally so for the distribution phase. Though I should note here that such preferences are not entirely stable over the course of someone’s lifetime.”

And did that reveal anything significant?

Jorgo: “Well, of particular interest was the point in time at which the measurements were taken. That was March 2020, which was exactly when the coronavirus was spreading worldwide and we were in lockdown in the Netherlands. We were studying risk and time preferences on a daily basis. And guess what? We found a correlation with hospitalizations. On days with high hospitalization rates, people were more risk averse and patient: they were less willing to take risks and more willing to save money for later. That means that the point in time at which preferences are queried matters. And it made us think we should conduct the research query once again later in the year, assuming the pandemic would be over by then. We planned a new questionnaire for December 2020, unaware that we would again be in strict lockdown at that point. The results were consistent with those of the previous research. In hindsight, the coronavirus pandemic gave me an opportunity to perform my research at two critical junctures, which was more a matter of luck than smarts.”

Were there other ways in which the pandemic had an impact?

Jorgo: “Yes, definitely for me personally. I mean, suddenly from one day to the next, you’re stuck at home. I had the advantage of already having worked on my PhD for some time and having built up a network. I could reach out to my supervisors online and keep in touch with my colleagues. Of course, when I was physically going to the office, I would often be called in to meetings by Rob van den Goorbergh, who’d say, ‘Jorgo, we need your thinking on this.’ And that doesn’t happen as much online. Still, working from home, I was able to really concentrate and cover a lot of ground, so that was a plus. But with that came the challenge of the fact that not only was I working from home, my girlfriend was too.” Laughing, he adds: “And we are still very happy together.”

What are your plans for the future now that you have your PhD?

Jorgo: “I’m very happy with my appointment as an assistant professor at Radboud University in Nijmegen. I really enjoy doing research and teaching; it’s very interesting. Radboud is a great fit in terms of the expertise in behavioral economics and finance. In addition to that, I will remain affiliated with Netspar as a fellow and continue to do research and publish. I’ll also be continuing my work with APG, which means I can continue to unite science with practice.”

What can you impart about your experiences as a PhD to your students?

Jorgo: “Most students are not really concerned about that; I certainly wasn’t back then. That’s why I’m so grateful that through APG I learned about Netspar and discovered that I could get a PhD. I’m very enthusiastic about applied research. I’m also grateful for the support I received from my supervisors at both APG and Netspar. And from my friends and family. This was a very intensive, lengthy process and my loved ones kept me grounded throughout and provided me with just the right distraction and perspective.”



Netspar, Network for Studies on Pensions, Aging and Retirement, is a thinktank and knowledge network. Netspar is dedicated to promoting a wider understanding of the economic and social implications of pensions, aging and retirement in the Netherlands and Europe.


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