2.6. Workshop: When research gets under the skin

When research gets under the skin: Developing support mechanisms for the emotional and ethical challenges of sensitive research workshop at HSSH (Vuorikatu 3, 2nd floor).

When research gets under the skin: Developing support mechanisms for the emotional and ethical challenges of sensitive research


Time: 2.6.2023 10.30-14.30

Location: HSSH (Vuorikatu 3) 


Theme: Sensitive research topics could include subjects to do with health and illness, violence and abuse, racism and discrimination, or natural disasters and other crises. Several ethical issues arise when conducting research on sensitive topics. Such research carries the risk of emotional distress for both participants and researchers, as recalling or collecting traumatic experiences may trigger anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, or vicarious trauma. In some cases, investigating a sensitive topic may also place participants at risk of harm. Furthermore, young researchers might be discouraged from engaging with sensitive or divisive topics due to fear of harassment. 

As of now, the University of Helsinki does not have any protocols in place to ensure the safety of researchers and their emotional well-being. There has been a lack of academic support and inadequate training around this topic, leaving researchers and their supervisors to deal with it on their own. Even the mandatory research ethics course for doctoral researchers does not address handling sensitive data and requesting ethical statements when dealing with vulnerable participants. Young researchers are thus left alone with the stress and anxiety of preparing risk assessment documents, often filled with legal jargon. 

We thus ask: What happens when participants' voices live inside your head? What ethical issues are raised in planning and conducting sensitive research? And what could universities do to better support researchers who engage with sensitive topics? This workshop will offer researchers a safe and supportive environment to reflect on their experiences of dealing with sensitive, distressing, or emotional research data, as well as discuss practical solutions for how academic institutions could tackle this issue. 

Pre-assignment: Selected participants are asked to write a research journal for a few days to reflect on emotional and ethical challenges related to the research. The content will not be shared with the group. Participants can write their challenges on Flinga before the starting of the workshop: https://edu.flinga.fi/s/EHQG3SC Code: Access code: EHQG3SC

In the beginning of the workshop, participants will be asked to reflect on the experience on an online whiteboard.  


Registration: The workshop is full and registration is closed. Thank you for your interest!



10.30 coffee

11.00 - 12.30 Part 1: Challenges   

  • Introducing participants and panelists   
  • Reading the results on the whiteboard and discussing with panel   
  • Questions to panelists from moderators and participants  

Lunch break 12.30 - 13.15

Part 2: Solutions 13.15 – 14.30 

  • Brainstorming possible solutions in small groups  
  • Discussing solutions with whole group and panelists  



Raha Sabet Sarvestany  

Postdoctoral researcher and lecturer, Study of Cultures, Turku Institute for Advanced Studies (TIAS)  

Raha Sabet Sarvestany is an interdisciplinary-oriented researcher from Iran. Her background is in sociology, political sciences, and religious studies. Her research focuses on migration and political activism in Middle Eastern countries, especially in and from countries with religious governments. Her main research questions relate to women from diverse ethnicities and religious backgrounds, particularly their agency and constructive resilience as social activists or political prisoners.  


Simo Kyllönen  

University lecturer, Doctor of Social Sciences, Department of Philosophy, History and Art Studies, University of Helsinki  

Simo Kyllönen is Lecturer in Research Ethics and Open Science at the University of Helsinki. His  

main research topics are related to intergenerational justice, democratic theory and ethics of  

climate change. He has contributed to books and journals on climate change, intergenerational ethics and democracy.  


Kazimuddin (Kazu) Ahmed is a doctoral researcher at University of Helsinki specializing in participatory visual methods (PVM) for social sciences research and social change. He teaches film students and researchers in using visual methods for inclusive research and visual documentation, and facilitates the use of PVM among social workers and communities to amplify their voices on issues that matter to them. Beyond academia, Kazu explores how a combination participatory methods and digital technology can facilitate collaborative work between researchers, artists and community workers. 



Pasqualina Eckerström  

Doctoral researcher, Study of Religion, Faculty of Arts, University of Helsinki

Pasqualina Eckerström examines how heavy metal musicians in Iran and Saudi Arabia use their music as a means of resisting religious authoritarianism. She has collected multiple narrative interviews with musicians who have been tortured, imprisoned, or faced capital punishment in Evin, the most infamous prison in Iran. As for Saudi Arabia, she has interviewed musicians who keep their identities secret in order not to suffer the same fate as the Iranian participants. She was forced to think about the worst-case scenario and adopt extremely strict methods to conduct the interviews in a secure and protected manner.  


Helmi Halonen  

Doctoral researcher, Study of Religion, Faculty of Arts, University of Helsinki

Helmi Halonen studies the assessment of religious persecution claims in the Finnish asylum determination process. She works with a large data set of asylum interview transcripts and decisions obtained with a research permit from the Finnish Immigration Service. The data is highly confidential, and also contains detailed descriptions of violence and traumatic events.  



Matti Pohjonen   

University/Senior Researcher, Helsinki Institute for Social Sciences and Humanities (HSSH), University of Helsinki

Matti Pohjonen works at the intersection of anthropology, philosophy and AI. His research interests have involved developing critical new research approaches and methodologies to understand digital cultures and politics in comparative global contexts. His research has contributed to debates on digital politics and conflict globally, including work on online extremism, extreme/hate speech and mis/disinformation. 

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