In Their Own Words is a series in which Stanford faculty reflect on a question or topic they have been grappling with throughout their careers. Each essay is a snapshot of their thoughts and an invitation for us all to learn, ponder, and question alongside them.

This series, which launched in fall 2022, is a collaboration between the Stanford Public Humanities Initiative and Stanford University Communications.

If you are a Stanford faculty member (in any discipline or school) interested in contributing to the series, please reach out to Natalie Jabbar at

Why do we care about literary characters?

By Blakey Vermeule

For as long as I can remember, I’ve relied on fictional characters to help me steer through the social world.

Now after half a lifetime teaching literature, I walk around inside a vast pantheon of fictional people. I draw on their experiences – occasionally, a fictional character saves me from having to learn something the long, hard way.

Read the full essay.

The power of love at first sight

By Emanuele Lugli

For me, the most fascinating question, the one I return to over and again as it makes the wheels of my brain spin at unprecedented speed, is about the nature of love at first sight.

Does it exist or is it just a collective hallucination?

Read the full essay.


Technology might be making education worse

By Antero Garcia

As a professor of education and a former public school teacher, I’ve seen digital tools change lives in schools.

So I want to tell you that I think technologies are changing education for the better and that we need to invest more in them – but I just can’t.

Read the full essay.


KQED Special

In their own words is now a one-hour KQED radio special, featuring interviews and readings with our essayists.

Listen to the first episode.