029 – Oshiegai and Ikigai in Education with Dr. Caitlin Kight

How can ikigai help in education?

Learning can be enjoyable, but it can also bring stress, particularly for students. That's why it is crucial to have motivators during such challenging times, and one powerful motivator can be finding your ikigai.

In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast, Nick speaks with Dr. Caitlin Kight about the connection of ikigai to education, and how it can be helpful to students and educators alike.

Having ikigai is beneficial for students

"Ikigai is the thing that helps students to understand those things about themselves. To think, what do I want to do? What makes me happy? How am I most creative? Who are the people influencing my life? What are the values that I have?

And likewise, as a teacher, you need to be aware of those things, because that can inform the choices that you're making. So for me, I think that this underpins that basic human relational aspect of education." - Caitlin Kight

Podcast highlights:

  • Ikigai for birds. Caitlin explains how her love of and fascination for birds began and why she studied them at 2:34.

  • The vulture. At 10:11, Nick asks Caitlin why one of her favorite birds is the vulture.

  • Wild Side. Caitlin talks about a radio show that she hosted on Source FM, called "The Wild Side" at 13:27.

  • Teaching and sharing. At 20:49, Caitlin discusses with Nick the time she realized she wanted to pursue teaching and share knowledge as an educator and not just as a communicator.

  • Ikigai in education. Caitlin talks about what led her to discover ikigai and how this Japanese concept helped her to educate others at 28:58.

  • Pedagogy. At 35:59 Caitlin explains what ’pedagogy’ is and shares her thoughts on ikigai as a topic of pedagogical research.

  • Values in relation to ikigai. Nick asks Caitlin at 40:05, about her work on values related to ikigai and how it was received.

  • Terminologies. At 47:32, Caitlin touched on the importance of terms and how certain words can organize thoughts better around certain feelings and emotions.

  • Future projects. Caitlin discusses with Nick her plans for using ikigai at 52:46.

  • On being part of the Ikigai Tribe. At 58:51, the two talk about Caitlin being part of the first cohort, and being a member of the Ikigai Tribe.

Caitlin Kight

Dr Caitlin Kight

Dr. Caitlin Kight is a former behavioral ecologist and is now an education researcher and leader of the Academic Development and Skills team at the University of Exeter, where she helps academics and support staff reflect on their education-facing activities and improve their teaching and learning techniques. She holds a PhD in applied science and is pursuing a second doctorate in education, examining self study as a reflective practice for educators. She’s also a licensed Lego Serious Play facilitator.

Ikigai for birds

One of Caitlin’s ikigai is her interest in birds. She did a lot of field jobs related to birds before she became an actual scientist.

She recalls when she was young, she had a vintage bird book from her great grandmother. It was about common backyard birds, with lovely hand-drawn illustrations, and right next to each, her great grandmother had written in dates and comments where she had seen them. Caitlin was enthralled by the idea that a person could get a nice feeling from seeing a bird.


Why study animal communication?

During a guided nature hike with her father, they encountered a naturalist who effortlessly identified various types of wildlife and plants. This inspired Caitlin to study animal communication. She wanted to be able to communicate and understand animals.

When she was taking up her master's studies, she was able to attend a talk by Donald Kroodsma, an American ornithologist and one of the fathers of avian communication research. During his talk, Donald played a slowed down record of a bird which he saw at the natural park, so people could hear all the intricacies of what the birds were saying. That audio made an impact on Caitlin.

For Caitlin, it is not about watching or thinking about the birds; it is understanding that they live in a whole other world, different from the world that people do, they can completely perceive the world differently. What fascinates her is the idea that people and other organisms exist in whatever world is created by the unique biology of their individual bodies.

Caitlin’s love for vultures

One of Caitlin’s favorite birds is the vulture. Vultures are not understood very well by a lot of people; there is a misconception about vultures that they kill other animals. However, according to Caitlin, most vultures don’t typically go hunting, they just eat carrion.

They’re serving a wonderful purpose in the ecosystem where they're taking things that have died, and are therefore no longer serving an active purpose, then breaking them down and returning the nutrients from their bodies to the environment. It’s such a shame that many people don't realize how vultures help the environment.

“The Wild Side”

Caitlin hosted a radio show called “The Wild Side”. It was aired on Source FM, a community radio station in Falmouth, in the UK. Caitlin got into radio hosting because one of the lecturers from her department at the University of Exeter suggested she might experiment with this medium in order to gain experience with a different type of science outreach.

She was hesitant at first, but then decided to give it a try and was glad that she did. She finds community radio as a great environment for people to come together and bring forth a diversity of voices.

Leaning from others

All in all, it was a great experience for her to have her own radio show. She was able to share her interests and had the freedom to choose whatever topic she was interested in talking about.

People recognized her voice in public and showed appreciation for the knowledge that she shared on her radio show. She thinks that it’s fascinating to sit and listen to people. There’s something lovely about tapping into that human tradition of telling stories and learning from others’ stories.

Teaching and sharing

There are many different educators in Caitlin’s family, her mom being one. She grew up watching her mom as a teacher and saw how grueling a job it was. Back then, she thought that she wouldn't do it, and that she wouldn’t like that type of job.

Back in high school, and during her college years, Caitlin would help her friends with their papers and other homework — this sort of tutoring was clearly a form of teaching even though she didn’t realise it at the time. She came to realize that all the communication and outreach about science that she was doing, was actually teaching, that she’d been doing it all along even while saying she would never be an educator.


There is something enjoyable about sharing knowledge and things that you learn if you find a sense of purpose in that. - Nicholas Kemp

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Sense of Purpose

For her, teaching is trying to give someone the tools they need to navigate through life. Education is the mechanism by which society decides what they are going to pass on, what they need the next generation to know, and that’s closely tied to what they want the next generation to be able to do. As an educator, it’s important to know what is worth teaching, how to make and balance choices across the personal, societal, organizational, realms, while also considering what students want.

This is similar to the concept of oshiegai, which means 'worth teaching' — there is something enjoyable about sharing knowledge if you find a sense of purpose in that.
Ikigai in Education

Ikigai in education

One of the things that Caitlin taught was doctoral supervision. She would talk to supervisors and doctoral students to hear about their concerns such as what they are going to do when they graduate and what if they don’t land a job in academia. She wanted to help them feel a bit more secure and had this idea of purpose driven life; she thought that ikigai would be a really good thing to take in and share with the students, which the students responded to very well.

According to Caitlin, while she was looking around online about ikigai, she stumbled upon Nick’s website, ikigaitribe, and realized that the things she has seen online about ikigai, the Westernized version of ikigai, looks like it was just the tip of the iceberg. She wanted to dig deeper and decided to become a part of the Ikigai Tribe, to learn more about the philosophy of ikigai and how this can support the reflective practice as an educator.


Pedagogy is the suite of approaches used for teaching and supporting learning; all the different theories, styles, and techniques used to help students learn.

Ikigai can be one of those approaches to help students learn. For Caitlin, ikigai is the thing that helps students to understand things about themselves, what they want to do, what makes them happy, and the values that they have, which is also applicable to teachers to help them connect better with their students and help them learn better; they have to see each student as an individual and try to give each student what they need in order to achieve learning. Everyone has their own perspective, goals, and interests, it’s important to understand what those are.


Values in relation to ikigai

Ikigai gives people a way of putting their values in the center of all things and understanding them. It’s important to acknowledge what are the things that you care about, and weigh up those things so that you can make choices in a deliberate fashion.


Ikigai will be elusive if you’re living in conflict with your values. Living in harmony with our values allows us to feel ikigai.” - Nicholas Kemp


Caitlin talks about how important certain terms are; how ideas and feelings associated with those areas and knowledge are closely tied with specific words -- which applies to ikigai. One of the really powerful things in ikigai is with a single word, you've captured this wide ranging realm of different but related things that are all really tightly correlated and so important to living a fulfilling life.

One of the really powerful things in ikigai is with a single word, you've captured this wide ranging realm of things that are tightly correlated and so important, and they are all different yet they are related. - Caitlin Kight

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Powerful things in ikigai

Future projects

People are currently involved in a global moment of reevaluating everything, and they are looking for tools like ikigai to help them do that. To help support this, Caitlin plans on running short sessions to explain the idea of ikigai and how it can help people reframe what they are seeing and experiencing.

She likes to introduce the framework and the different components of the framework that people could use for themselves, to help them with their own personal reflections, and to structure their own contemplation as they make decisions.

She also plans to do her own research, engaging with a series of self-study techniques, and seeing how this influenced her thinking and practice. Now that Nick has created his final version of the ikigai framework, she’s going to go through all of the activities from scratch. She will then reflect on this and what the outcomes mean to her as a teacher (including seeing how this knowledge affects her teaching practice).

On being part of the Ikigai Tribe

Caitlin was a part of the first cohort of The Ikigai Tribe. For her it was life changing because of the amount of learning that was happening. It was a combination of ikigai itself and the peer learning that they were doing within the cohort, where they shared their own perspectives; their own engagement with psychology, therapy, reflection, and contemplation; their own personal experiences from various life situations; and their fields of study. She describes it as a masterclass in creating community.


It is important to acknowledge distress when experiencing career uncertainty. Analyze and seek where all these are coming from. Are you doing what you love? Are you doing something that makes you feel good? Having ikigai can be a way of resolving these problems that most students are facing, it gives motivation and life meaning to help people keep going.