Philosophy Pre-Grad Intern Kelsey Spector
Participating in the Intellectual Entrepreneurship program was truly an enlightening experience. Not only did I come to know the culture that is graduate school and academia, but I came to better understand myself as a person. This experience was truly instrumental in reinforcing my strengths, shedding light on my weaknesses, and presenting me with situations which were extremely challenging but from which I've grown.
When I first game to college, I was an honors math and physics major. My dad had gone into academia in the latter field and I felt compelled to follow in his footsteps. While I have a natural aptitude for this kind of thought, I was never inspired by my sciences classes like I was by those in the humanities. Thus, I quickly found myself in Liberal Arts where my curiosity began to run wild. Economics, Sociology, Literature of the Law, French, and Environmental Science. I adored this new found intellectual freedom and expanded my perspective to be open to the world as I never had before.
While I grew an astonishing amount in my first two years at college, it was not until I happened to stumble into a political theory class that a single subject managed to capture my attention. Entitled "Competing Visions of the Good Life," it was the first class that truly altered my life and person; the subject matter and teacher were inspirations, and I underwent more character development that semester than I could have possibly imagined. Since, I have spent the last year and a half engaged with a subject about which I am curious and passionate.
It is through this budding relationship with philosophy that I met my IE mentor. Duane was my TA in philosophy of law and we quickly became friends over a shared enthusiasm for our studies. When he extended an offer to participate in this program, I was beyond ecstatic.
Duane and I began a bit early, knocking out John Rawl's A Theory of Justice over the summer. A seminal work in contemporary thought on ethics and political philosophy, I became even more captivated by the discipline when I learned of how inspirational and kind a man he had been and how he had been the teacher of the man who first introduced me to the subject and who now serves as my thesis adviser. To have even a chance to become familiar with this tradition has been exciting, engaging, and has inspired me to strive for excellence.
Thus, I began the IE program as a student whose curiosity had been captured for the better and who was ready to sacrifice all career plans to prolong my pursuit of my intellectual interests indefinitely. I was fortunate enough to be granted an opportunity to participate in Dr. Woodruff's graduate seminar on the most ancient and the most modern contemporary thought on justice. Not only was the teacher a true inspiration and a legend in his own right, but I was given the chance to have hour long discussions with others who shared my passions on subjects about which I am hungrily curious. It was truly a challenging and rewarding process to have some of my deepest convictions challenged and a few of my suspicions.
Yet, it was not all fun and games. For the first time, I was responsible for individually tackling two books of great length (500+ pages) by two of the most notoriously sophisticated and difficult to comprehend thinkers: Thucydides and Amartya Sen. Presenting these two formative works in the discipline to a roomful of minds of the utmost abilities was intimidating to say the least. I am not exaggerating when I say I almost hyperventilated when I was asked to present my findings on the first author. Despite the bouts of anxiety I had when attempting to participate and contribute at such an incredible level of sophistication, I underwent more intellectual growth in this class than I have at any other time in my life. I have gained new tools of thought, increased my logical capabilities, and have come to better understand the pursuit of abstract thought.
Beyond that, Duane and I continued our reading groups but as a part of our program, I also began to take on articles and entire works to pursue my own interests and challenge myself to attempt to comprehend these dense and sophisticated works on my own. I have always been an avid reader but never before have I taken in information of such complexity at such a high volume.
I must admit, it was startling to be thrown into the deep end of an academic discipline in which I've only had a year experience. A portion of my assignments for Duane required me to critically respond to some of the articles we had selected for reading which were drawn from the new compilation Oxford Studies in Law. I wish I could capture the panic on my face when I attempted to even comprehend the first article, which drew on philosophy of language and epistemology, much less when I tried to create a paper capable not only of reiterating the author's thoughts but further dissecting them through the use of fine distinctions. As a perfectionist who has had previous success mastering difficult tasks through hard work, this challenge was jarring. I remembering emailing Duane panicked at feeling, for the first time, incapable of completing a task.
While I certainly couldn't see it at the time, this experience was fundamental to my growth in the program. I have come to have inexpressible respect for the minds who give life to so many new ideas and groundbreaking concepts and have come to truly appreciate what it is I am striving for and what challenges in the form of competition I will face if I want to discover success in this discipline. As much as I love, and I mean love, what I study, I have come to realize through this experience and discussions with professors and graduate students that my passion for the subject is not the only factor I need to weigh when I consider pursuing a Ph.D. in philosophy. Quite frankly, it is an unpractical degree and my career opportunities would be sharply narrowed if I do make the choice to go to grad school. While I could not imagine a career more enjoyable or better suited to my person, becoming a professor is rigorously difficult and requires sacrifices in other areas of your life, such as control over where you live and a greatly reduced earning potential.
All that being said, given the challenges and necessities of confronting the limits of my own abilities, my experience in the IE program has been truly irreplaceable. While I remain on the fence about graduate school in philosophy, though I may end up pursuing a joint-degree alongside a J.D., I have come to better understand what it entails, the options that are open to me, and what necessary steps it will take if I do decide to attempt a career in academia. I have met more inspirational people through this program than I could possibly name and made great connections in the field. I will continue to pursue what I love to study and will hopefully publish a paper I submitted to Duane this semester after we are both satisfied with revisions. An opportunity to publish in a journal would be truly incredible and I have the IE program to thank for this opportunity and so many more. Furthermore, I have taken the advice of professors of my own and of those who I interviewed for this internship and decided to take time off to come to better understand what it is I want from life. For the time being, that comes in devoting myself to the betterment of the public education system in our country. If I have learned one thing through my individual growth engendered by philosophy, it is that the pursuit of justice and the human good require action and engagement with the society in which one lives. I can only hope to share this passion for learning and personal growth with my students which has been inspired in me by my own teachers.