Jacobs Foundation Research Fellow

Rosa Cheesman

The University of Oslo

Research Focus

Rosa Cheesman’s research explores how children’s genetics, families, schools, and neighbourhoods interact to shape learning. Drawing upon large and diverse datasets, she applies interdisciplinary and novel approaches to capture the numerous ways individuals interact with their environments. She covers a multitude of children’s traits and predispositions, ranging from mental health to cognitive and social skills. For example, she showed how the adverse impact of genetic risk for ADHD on learning is mitigated by school environments. As such, her findings put new genetic information into a social and developmental context.  

My plans for the Fellowship

Going forward, I am particularly interested in how changes to learning environments can better cater to children’s uniqueness. All children are different, yet learning environments are usually designed for the average child. During my fellowship, I will tackle the question “How can we improve learning environments for all children?”  

Until now, we have not been able to place children’s individual variations at the heart of school and intervention research. This is partly due to a lack of large datasets spanning from molecular to municipality level information, and partly a lack of methods that can disentangle what causes what.  

To expand upon how we represent children in large-scale research, I will include a novel combination of genetic, family, school, neighborhood, and nation-wide information. The Norwegian data includes a multitude of natural experiments that I will use to identify how interventions affect children differently. I aim at both evaluating existing interventions and developing new interventions for children’s learning environments to unlock each child’s potential. 

How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives? 

Like many, I am concerned about the failure of learning settings to foster all children’s potential. I want to help accelerate progress towards an education system where children’s multifaceted diversity is considered. I believe that large-scale interdisciplinary research bridging gaps between individual variability, school variability and interventions is essential for this purpose.  

During my fellowship, I will describe how changes to learning environments affect different groups of children. For the first time, we will find out who benefits from existing interventions. We will also identify characteristics of environments that promote learning for all children. This information is paramount for policymakers to make informed decisions.  

Norway is an ideal context for this research since the system is public and the data are so rich and representative. However, results might not necessarily generalize globally. I will seek chances to replicate findings in diverse international datasets during the fellowship. 

Through the Foundation, I will develop collaborative projects that understand and promote variability and fairness in children’s learning. Ultimately, building this body of knowledge will improve children’s learning environments and benefit their future attainment and health.