Mirva Heikkilä: "I Want to Discover What Learning Feels Like in the Body"


"When I visited the Educarium library as a student of education, I saw the book "Ruumillisuus ja työelämä" (Finnish for Embodiment and work) in the shelf for new releases. Even on Christmas Eve, I browsed the reference list and thought: This really is a well-established research topic!

Embodiment became an important addition to educational sciences for me. In my MA thesis, I studied the construction of professional identity through bodily sensations of those who change careers. It was also the basis of my first scientific article.

When talking about professional development, the body is easily forgotten. Just recently, I published a study together with economist Suvi Satama on how information feels like in the body of a researcher. For example, when we return from a conference, we feel confused when our brain is full of information, but also at ease as we trust that our thoughts will crystallise over time. It is important to raise questions about sensations associated with professional life in order to be able to learn from and about them. 

Embodied experiences are important to me personally. Before I found my way into education, I worked as a lawyer for 10 years. The career change felt heavy because I had to re-build my professional identity. On the other hand, it was great to see how in the education sector I could benefit from the traits I had tried to hide before. Now, I was allowed to be empathetic and vulnerable.

I work as a senior researcher in the FINSCI project focused on Finnish science capital and in the SITE project focused on teachers’ competence development. Human growth affects us all, and the societal significance of education is huge. I study the process of becoming an expert and the links between higher education and professional life. Education is expected to be relevant to professional life, but how could future experts be better supported to draw on the theoretical basis of their education? 

I value creativity in research since I can direct my work towards what feels useful. Sometimes you end up on side-tracks, but that can be a learning experience as well. That is embodied agency at its best."

Mirva Heikkilä katsoo kameraan ja hymyilee puolilähikuvassa, taustalla kirjahyllyjä.

The Finnish Educational Research Association (FERA) granted Mirva Heikkilä the Doctoral Dissertation of the Year award for her research Agency as polyphony: Student and primary teachers' narration embedded in theory and practice. - In education, teaching and research blend together, says Heikkilä.

Text: Erja Hyytiäinen
Translation: Jennifer Stanger
Photo: Hanna Oksanen

Created 20.04.2023 | Updated 20.04.2023