Handle with caution: empathy as a research tool

The first (properly academic) thing I’ve written since finishing the PhD has been a contribution to book about violence in research, which allowed me to explore my interest in empathy and methodology. The chapter gives a detailed account of my fieldwork, but here I’ve decided to sketch some general propositions for anyone new to these ideas. In short: I’ve come to think of empathy as an important but dangerous item in the researcher’s toolkit. With it, we can do all kinds of things we couldn’t do otherwise, but wielded improperly, it is likely to cause harm both to us and those around us.

Defining empathy

Empathy is notoriously difficult to define. It’s common to distinguish between automatic empathy (or emotional contagion – where we ‘feel’ the fear, pain, anger, sorrow or joy of other people) and cognitive empathy, a distinct neurological process where we imagine how we would feel in another person’s situation. The Greater Good Science Centre has an Continue reading

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Getting there: from PhD to post-doc state of mind

A friend who recently came through her viva confessed to me that she just felt really, really tired afterwards. I told her that was normal, and I warned her that it might take a while to shake off. And then I thought, why don’t I write something about this? The result is self-indulgent, to say the least, but I think it’s worth sharing for anyone who is feeling unsettled in the days, weeks, or months after their defence, especially if that person is unsure about whether they ‘belong’ in academia.

I was tired for most of last year. Writing made me more tired. Coming to terms with that Continue reading