Philosophy Pre Grad Intern Case Ramsey
I am currently majoring in Philosophy and Biology. I chose to participate in the Intellectual Entrepreneurship program in order to gain knowledge of what graduate school is like and to help me determine which field I would like to pursue. My mentor is a philosophy PhD student named Jeremy Evans and our game plan for the semester was for me to sit in on some of his classes, meet up to discuss philosophical topics, and to help with his discussion sections in order to get a feel for what that aspect of graduate school is like. I can say with certainty that this program has been very helpful to me not only in discerning which field I would like to pursue, but in more general ways such as seeing how much work goes into being a TA, exposing me to some of the most current topics in philosophy, and making me aware of the importance of being proactive and involved in in-class discussions.
Over the course of being an intern in philosophy I learned quite a bit about the field. I'll start with the bad news: jobs are scarce and especially hard to find. I took this discouraging news with a grain of salt because if I were to pursue philosophy, it would not be due to external motivations; it would be for its own sake (although having a nice job waiting at the end of years of study would be nice.) I discussed the job market and my predicament of needing to pick a discipline to study in graduate school with some philosophy professors and their advice was all pretty similar: pick something other than philosophy. This makes sense because philosophy can be studied in school or out of school and need not be what I do for a career. Although this will likely be my course of action, I am not ruling out the possibility of choosing philosophy. I plan on being a research assistant next semester in the hope of seeing how biology would differ from philosophy and then making my decision. What I found to be quite heartening was the fact that my area of interest within the realm of philosophy (philosophy of mind) lines up quite well with my other major. By pursuing a master's degree or PhD in biology my understanding of the physiological underpinnings of the mind will only get more complete and could lead to new/original theories in philosophy. This is the route taken by many of today's top philosophers.
More than anything, I learned what being a graduate student is all about. What really stuck out to me was the importance of taking your education into your own hands and having a clear idea of what you need to do and what you want to do. Jeremy, my mentor, stressed the fact that most of the learning that goes on in graduate school happens outside of the classroom. I experienced this first hand while sitting in on his classes. They consisted of little or no lecture and were more like a three hour debate of whatever had been the assigned reading for the week with the professor occasionally interjecting or steering the discussion back on track. Over the course of the semester it also became increasingly clear that other students are a great tool for learning one's craft and also staying motivated. My involvement with Jeremy's discussion sections really hammered home how much teaching is an act of learning. I feel like my understanding of the topics with which I helped greatly increased and that trying to formulate complex philosophical theories into colloquial language that people with little or no background in philosophy can understand helped me with my public speaking, writing abilities, and improvising answers to questions. Amongst the difficulties of being a grad student staying on track and managing time are the most difficult and important to deal with. Being around other students with abundant motivation rubs off on you. The contagiousness of their motivation even had an effect on me and spurred me on to spend extra time on assignments for my other classes. As Jeremy pointed out in the interview I did for a previous assignment, one of the most rewarding things about being in grad school is being surrounded by other graduate students who are working on and excited about a variety of really interesting topics.
As previously stated, the graduate level classes I sat-in on were, for the most part, student run. The students were generally eager to add their two cents to the discussion. In stark contrast to this, I found it incredibly difficult to encourage the students (generally freshmen) in discussion sections to speak up and voice their opinions. This was frustrating to say the least, it made me appreciative of those who speak up and empathetic to my TA's. Thus, I began speaking up in discussion sections for classes in which I was personally enrolled in an attempt to alleviate some of the frustration my TA's felt when greeted by silence in answer to their questions.
A big part of the reason that I wanted to participate in the IE program was to get advice on getting into grad school. Until this semester, I had assumed that GPA and GRE scores were the most important factors determining whether or not someone was accepted but to my surprise, letters of recommendation were frequently said to be the an equally important aspect of the application process. With that in mind, I have made it a point to stay in touch with previous professors and be as involved as possible with my fields of interest. Being more proactive in this way has been helpful in other ways than building a network of people in my fields of interest, it has had an immediate effect on how comfortable I feel with the material I am assigned and also put pressure on me to be a better overall student. Overall, the IE program has been very beneficial to me.