MASTERY - Managing Sensitive Topics in Teaching and Research Confidently

MASTERY seeks to change how we deal with ‘sensitive’ topics in academia. Topics that are commonly regarded as sensitive include violence and death, political activism, mental health, harmful sexual behaviors, and sexuality. Although it is widely known that sensitive topics can cause distress, academics receive no training on how to deal with their potential emotional impact. 

MASTERY has two objectives: 

  1. Identify and promote measures to improve the well-being of researchers and students working on sensitive issues,
  2. Create tools and resources that can be used by teachers to introduce and discuss sensitive topics in a safe and inclusive manner when teaching. 

Participating project partners and their roles:

  • University of Birmingham: Dr Katharina Karcher (lead organiser), Dr Sophie King Hill (lead organiser), Dr Adrian Powney, Prachi Shah, Prof Jessica Woodhams (lead organiser) 
  • University of Florence: Dr Chiara Carletti, Dr Tiziana Chiapelli, Dr Antonio Di Grigoli, Dr Maria Rita Mancaniello, Dr Marianna Piccioli
  • Leiden University:  Prof Marieke Liem
  • Linnaeus University: Dr Manuela Nilsson

Purpose and Significance

Films and social media threads containing potentially distressing material often begin with a trigger warning. However, the use of such warnings in research and teaching contexts is controversial. So, how do we introduce and teach material that may cause distress? And, what support should Universities offer to academics who are regularly exposed to such material? So far, research has barely addressed these crucial questions.

Our project thus breaks new ground. The planned activities will 1) create and implement immediate measures to improve the well-being of academic staff and students who are confronted with sensitive issues and 2) lay the foundations for long-term improvements in University teaching.

MASTERY addresses three of the four EUniWell priorities: (1) well-being and health, (2) individual; social well-being, and (3) teacher education. Due to its thematic focus (sensitive topics) and target audiences (academic staff and students), MASTERY complements existing EUniWell initiatives and helps advance the EUniWell objectives.

Implementation Method and Timeline

To analyze and improve how we deal with sensitive issues in academia, MASTERY draws on theories and methods from a range of disciplines including Psychology, Peace and Conflict Studies, Education, and Gender Studies.  


  • September 22- August 2023: Monthly zoom meetings for academic staff and students working on sensitive issues.
  • November 2022:  Public online workshop ‘Recognising and addressing signs of (secondary) distress and trauma.
  • September 2022-March 2023: Data collection and analysis for article 1.
  • June 2023: Team meeting and public workshop at the University of Birmingham. 
  • July 2023: Submission of article 1; creation of digital tool kit. 
  • August 2023: Submission of article 2.  

Expected Outcomes

Our project will have three concrete results:

  1. A transnational support network to connect academics and postgraduate students working on sensitive issues. 
  2. Two jointly authored articles. 
  3. A digital tool kit with expert advice in the form of short videos and hands-on advice for researchers and teachers.