Doctoral Program Brain and Behavioral Sciences


Anja Hirsig

EMPATIA prevention program

What is your research about?

My research is situated within a large project on the development and prevention of mental illness as well as the promotion of mental health in adolescents.

For this purpose, we are developing and evaluating an online prevention program called “EMPATIA”. The EMPATIA prevention program offers a new approach by targeting adolescents who report subclinical mental difficulties. The contents of EMPATIA are based on transdiagnostic mechanisms. Transdiagnostic mechanisms are found to be related to the development of several mental disorders. Because EMPATIA is delivered online, it offers adolescents (12-19 years) from the general population a low-threshold prevention program supporting their mental health.


What is the best and what is the worst when doing a Ph.D.?

In my case, one of the things I appreciate most about doing a Ph.D. is the variety of tasks that encompass developing the online intervention. As information will generally be presented via short video clips, examples from written testimonials, audio, interactive elements, and cartoons – the development of these media tools is a very creative task. At the same time, literature research and familiarizing myself with therapy tools for adolescents are also interesting parts of the intervention development.

One of the things that I struggle with most is the slow pace at which projects are progressing. Set timelines are rarely met since many unforeseen things can intervene. However, this means that you are somewhat forced to stay flexible. Already after one year, scientific processes have taught me not to worry too much when I have to reschedule plans.

Moreover, in our lab, we are always happy to support each other when someone feels stuck, which is incredibly helpful!


Do you have any advice for future Ph.D. students?

What I have learned after one year is that everything in research takes more time than you initially expect it to. Bring patience and allow yourself to celebrate small steps as well. Your Ph.D. time is a privileged time. When else is there time to focus solely on the project and topics that you are most interested in? So take some time even on busy days to enjoy where you are at and what you are doing.