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Ethics and Technology
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Ethics and Technology


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4TU.Ethics and Ph.D. well-being: where does it all begin? - Part 2


4TU.Ethics Ph.D. Council (2020) developed a multi-step action plan to create spaces where the convergence of professional and personal discussions would become possible in a free-of-judgment environment. The Ph.D. Council organized several events and reserved spaces for vulnerability and sharing personal experiences, which resulted in mutual support and counteracted a sense of' being on one's own.' Furthermore, the Ph.D. Council provided the Ph.D. community with the opportunity to get together informally outside of the work context. During the events, the Ph.D. Council spotlighted the common challenges of working in the ethics and philosophy of technology and learned from each other. The Ph.D. Council developed an action plan consisting of two projects to support 4TU.Ethics Ph.D. well-being.


Action taken I: Transformative Dialogues with 4TU.Ethics Community

4TU.Ethics Ph.D. Council (2020) noticed that many philosophy students have to deal with chronic stress, performance anxiety, imposter syndrome, and other mental health risks and wanted to take steps to address this situation. Most of the existing approaches (e.g., surveys, interviews) they saw only focused on finding out what causes the threats to well-being. For our 4TU.Ethics Ph.D. community they were looking for approaches that contain partial solutions in the form of experiential transformation. They thought that the involvement of professionally trained experts would help people feel comfortable communicating their problems before engaging in discussions about well-being. 


In this endeavor, the Ph.D. council was inspired by a novel method, nniDialogue, that Karen Buchanan, the former coordinator of the 4TU Ethics Center, introduced to us. This proactive method aims to facilitate actual change in social structures through recognition and empowerment in the form of a series of dialogues. 

The dialogues were designed to have the following objectives:

  • To uncover and express the emotional content of current tensions and relationships around pressing issues for 4TU.Ethics Ph.D. candidates and the wider community (as defined by the group)
  • To release and express pressure and stress in the system (4TU.Ethics Ph.D. candidates and staff community)
  • To articulate and become aware of how people feel/think
  • To get a snapshot of the current' status quo' of the 4TU.Ethics community culture
  • to empower marginalized voices to be heard
  • To challenge and shift systemic perspectives and beliefs
  • To enable the co-creation of a thriving 4TU.Ethics Ph.D. candidates and staff community
  • To create new actions and behaviors from the new and emerging collective/team culture in support of the 4TU.Ethics community in its entirety

These dialogues allowed participants to leave their perspectives and adopt a systemic voice, which several participants could share. This led to more in-depth emotional communication, which helped to identify the underlying problems and create more understanding, acceptance, and recognition of vulnerability within the group of participants, which consisted of both Ph. D.s and supervisors. 


During these dialogues, the group's capacity to hold and include the global context, the challenges, and the call to action of what is important far beyond academia and research was discovered. These shifts translated into one of the essential pieces of wisdom our community generated: To see each other as whole human beings with talents, abilities, emotions, personal stories, and complex identities. Towards the end of each dialogue, there was a sense of connectedness, openness, vulnerability, and being in a relationship in a new way. New actions around support and relationships were created and taken away. 


Action taken II: 4TU.Ethics Independent Blog 

Another pathway that was identified by the Ph.D. Council to support Ph.D. well-being within 4TU.Ethics Center is related to public outreach. As philosophers and ethicists of technology, our community is committed to critically scrutinizing technological developments and the commonly held assumptions that surround them. There remains, however, a gap between the conviction behind this commitment and our ability to disseminate the products of our critical attitude throughout society. Recent empirical studies have indicated several positive correlations between research performance and dissemination of knowledge through public outreach activities. As one recent study points out, "both a cognitive 'translation' activity as well as immediate personal exchange with the public is positively associated with research performance" (Kassab, 2019, p.717). However, reading jargon philosophical journal articles may not be appealing to the curious reader seeking a more critical understanding of a rapidly changing world.

Thus, Ph.D. Council’s proposal to the 4TU.Ethics Center Management Team outlined an idea for a 4TU.Ethics Independent Blog, which would provide an opportunity for the members of the 4TU.Ethics Center to engage in the public dissemination of knowledge in addition to conducting their research. The blog was framed as a platform for addressing ethical and societal technology-related questions to a broader audience using accessible language. By bridging part of the gap in public outreach, the Ph.D. Council thought the blog would entail a fruitful contribution to the center's activities and strengthen its position as a world leader in the ethics and philosophy of technology research and practices.


Furthermore, the Ph.D. Council emphasized that the 4TU.Ethics Blog platform can offer various benefits for our community, which are reflected in its objectives. The main goal is to provide a platform enabling all 4TU.Ethics members to generate and increase visibility around their research and the research of the 4TU.Ethics center. The blog aims to engage with an audience generally interested in the center's research. This expands the focus beyond an inner circle of researchers within our field to include journalists, scholars, and practitioners lacking a background in ethics and philosophy of technology of technology. 



After all these years it is really great to see our Ph.D. community developing and see that Ph.D candidates' driven initiatives are flourishing. We are grateful for all the members of 4TU.Ethics Center who proactively joined forces in addressing the challenges of Ph.D. well-being. Here, it is also important to extend our gratitude to the 4TU.Ethics Center Management Team who was always open to the suggestions of the Ph.D. Council and supported different projects aimed at addressing the callenges of Ph.D. candidates well-being.