Graduate Seminars: Why Not?

A winter view of the philosophy department in 1879 Hall.
A winter view of the philosophy department in 1879 Hall. 

This semester, I took my first graduate seminar in philosophy–Rationality & Irrationality with Professor Thomas Kelly. I went into the class without any knowledge of epistemology and some apprehension about my meager philosophical background compared to other students.

At the same time, I wanted the challenge and growth opportunities of an environment where students were fully invested in the material and subject matter covered. As a senior, I also wanted to see if I would want to pursue graduate work in philosophy. So, I swallowed my hesitations and enrolled.

The course involves reading 1-2 philosophical journal articles a week and then discussing major points and issues in class. Though I was able to understand and critically evaluate the readings, I felt palpably more nervous than usual about participating as the only undergraduate in the class. I feared that my comments would be too obvious and that other students would not engage with my questions. A few things boosted my confidence during the first few weeks. Firstly, I realized that others were asking the same questions I had been silently thinking about. Once I took the plunge and forced myself to comment, a positive feedback loop began. Prof. Kelly and my classmates consistently reacted insightfully to my contributions and exposed me to new aspects of arguments I had not considered.

Secondly, I took the initiative to reach out to a few graduate students to meet outside of class time to get to know them better. All the other graduate students more or less knew each other before the semester began–integrating into their community made the class more enjoyable and helped me feel comfortable being engaged. The relationships have carried on: we have organized weekly graduate-undergraduate dinners, and I run into friends often when I’m studying in the philosophy department.

Going into the last seminar session of the year, I realize how much more confident I have become in my ability to participate in academic philosophy. Graduate school has a sure place in the options I am juggling for next year. I was recently admitted to a top Master’s program in philosophy, where I feel assured that I could succeed. Furthermore, this semester has helped me break some of the boundaries of my self-selected identity. I’ve realized that categorizing myself as an undergraduate or a philosophy major are arbitrary, and feel fulfilled in forming relationships that transcend these labels.

If you are reading this and have seen a graduate seminar in a topic of your interest, do follow up to learn more about the class. Some seminars, to be sure, are not worth taking– they can be prohibitively narrow, and even graduate students have told me that they have learned more in certain undergraduate courses. But if you feel that the course scope and professor suit you, see if you would be able to enroll. Email the professor to explain your reason for wanting to take the course and provide some notes on your background. There is nothing to lose, and a wealth to gain in terms of personal growth and insight into the world of academia. 

Vidushi Sharma, Humanities Correspondent