3 Questions To... Claire York

In our 3 Questions To series we introduce women working in defence and security. This time we have the pleasure of hearing from Claire York who is a Henry A. Kissinger Fellow and a Lecturer at Yale University, exploring the role and limitations of empathy and emotions in international affairs. Before undertaking her PhD research at King's War Studies Department, Claire worked as Programme Manager at Chatham House and as Parliamentary Reasearcher. She co-founded WIIS UK and now serves on our Advisory Committee.

What are you currently working on?

I am just completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Yale University, which has involved several publications and research projects on empathy and emotions in international relations. I am now preparing to go freelance in the autumn, which is exciting but new for me. It is partly a response to the difficult job market and uncertain prospects of the pandemic, but I think the current crisis offers me an opportunity to create a role that sits somewhere between academia, policy and education. I have a lot of ideas about how a better understanding of emotions and their strategic and political role can help us look in new ways at some of the problems we face in international affairs and security, and in society more broadly. So, I want to develop these ideas, write a lot, and build collaborations and dialogues with a diverse range of organisations and government departments. I’m doing a research project on British imperial history with a Yale Professor, which is fascinating. I am working on a few articles and writing my book on empathy in diplomacy. And I am in the final phase of producing two co-edited books on new perspectives of diplomacy with Bloomsbury/IB Tauris. My co-editors and I have been working with this amazing group of scholars to get it done, and have a really eclectic and exciting range of chapters, so hopefully we will launch it early next year. It means I am doing several things at once, but I love my topic so I’m really enjoying it.

What are the opportunities and challenges of working in your field?

Academia offers a real opportunity to spend time mastering a topic that you care about and then finding ways to share your knowledge with a wider audience. I get to work with so many incredible, talented and inspiring friends and colleagues and my field is rich in people who want to understand the challenges of today, and offer solutions, or different ways of viewing a problem, whether in national security, foreign policy, terrorism, nuclear policy, or building better societies. Intellectually it is hugely rewarding, and there are a lot of forums in which to work with others to develop new ideas, have an impact on public debates or inform policy. In theory academia offers an ideal space for creativity, innovation and addressing the difficult questions of our day.

However, the pandemic and economic crisis have compounded existing challenges within the university sector. There is a lack of funding, and with student numbers falling and uncertainty about what the new term will look like, it is not an easy time to be an academic. These problems existed before the crisis, at all levels. For junior scholars, especially, there are a number of challenges. Success is measured by publications, such as books and articles in high-ranking journals, but the demands of time and effort is in your teaching and administrative tasks, which hinders the ability to spend concerted time on your own research. Many junior scholars are underappreciated and underpaid and have to piece together jobs until they find something permanent. This cannot be sustainable and it means academia loses real talent. As a sector, we urgently need to have a bigger conversation about what the future of academia should look like and move towards a system that empowers and gives support to those entering academia, so they can achieve success while having work-life balance, whilst also providing the support and quality teaching needed to students. If the system were more balanced and recognized the work involved, it would help rather than hinder research and innovation, which is at the heart of what we do.

What advice would you give your younger self?

One of the biggest challenges I found as a young professional was dealing with imposter syndrome, and to an extent it still is. I know Heather Williams mentioned it as well, but the feeling of not belonging in a room, or not being smart enough can really cause you to second-guess yourself and your abilities, and that’s energy and time you’re not going to get back. It prevents you from just giving something a go and seeing what happens. So many people in our field can exude a sense of confidence and assurance, and over time I’ve learned that many of them battle the same insecurities and sense of uncertainty. So my advice would be ‘Don’t get in your own way’. You belong in the room. You are not always going to get things right, you’re going to make mistakes, and things might not go as you hoped, but that is life, and everyone experiences it. Go for it, and if it doesn’t work, learn the lesson, rectify things where needed, and keep going.

The more we recognize our shared humanity, the easier it will be to build more inclusive and compassionate spaces where we accept and champion different forms of success and support each other in our individual journeys.

My second piece of advice would be ‘Build in balance’. I reached a point of burn-out when I was younger as I was trying to do everything and wasn’t really making time for myself or the people I love. I worked weekends and would work late to get everything done and it wasn’t healthy. We often glamourise busy-ness, and while it’s great that so many of us love our work and are ambitious about what we want to do with our ideas, it is equally important to find time to rest, see family and friends, guard your weekends, travel and do the things you love, so you can be more creative and more present to enjoy life and work more productively.

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