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.

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Deconstructing Gender-based Myths of “Innate Brilliance”

I excelled in math in high school, rising to the top of the tiered class track and dabbling in multivariable calculus before college. I, however, immediately and subconsciously faltered in confidence when I reached Princeton. I was deterred from trying a proof-based math class by the thought that these were only for “math people” –  students who had excelled in extracurricular math competitions from a young age or who already had exposure to “real math” beyond AP calculus. The kinds of students, who, when presented with a problem, could scribble across a blackboard and find the answer with a spark of genius.

That student wasn’t me, and so I decided that I must not be a “math person.” I still took college math, but instead of enrolling in a proof-based class, I pushed through Math 201 (multivariable calculus) and 202 (linear algebra), required courses for engineers. The exams were still notoriously difficult, and it wasn’t unusual for average scores to hover around 65%. This seemed to me like a strategy the department used to allow it to separate star students from “the rest of the pack.” Linear algebra during my freshman spring was the last math class I took in college.

Three years later, I’m studying philosophy –  a subject with gender ratios comparable to mathematics. Many people know about the lack of females in STEM departments, but this issue slips under the radar in fields like philosophy and music composition. Philosophy professor Sarah-Jane Leslie’s research helps connect the dots.

What I imagine when I think 'mathematician' -- a wise man with a spark of brilliance that spills onto the board. Image by Dimitry Dzhus, Creative Commons.
What I imagine when I think “mathematician” — a wise man with a spark of brilliance that spills onto the board. 

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Unpacking Career Binaries: Life Beyond the Orange Bubble

As I write, I’ve just finished my first real job as a summer analyst for PRINCO, the company charged with investing Princeton’s endowment. Being a rising senior, I’ve enjoyed many inevitable conversations with friends, colleagues, and family that start with the innocuous What are you studying? and soon progress to my plans after graduation.

Upon hearing my decision to intern at PRINCO, many friends and family members were incredulous. How could someone like me be interested in investing? I felt dangerously close to being judged a “sell-out,” someone who was abandoning her passions to climb a ladder of wealth and ambition.

Their dismissals, however, weren’t all that new. I’ve sensed the same judgements from others who discover that I major in the “impractical” field of philosophy–what an idealist! Both these judgements can be as chafing as they are simplistic. As a result, I often tailor my answers about my post-graduation plans to who, exactly, is asking. I alternate between saying I plan to explore graduate study in philosophy, or build my business experience while pursuing projects in educational entrepreneurship. In truth, I would love to do both.

theHOBMOB team and friends at the event! Cid is on the far right.

theHOBMOB team and friends at the event! Cid is on the far right.

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Finding a Home for my Independent Work Abroad

Abroad this semester at the University of Otago, my independent work has felt far from home.

Before leaving Princeton, I talked to my fall JP adviser about how to expand my fall paper, and had a few meetings with my spring adviser. Once I arrived in New Zealand, however, life became a whirlwind of flight transfers, international orientation, and a packed introduction to my new home.

In the midst of all this, I had underestimated how much harder it would be to coordinate with professors at Princeton from a timezone sixteen hours away. Communication suddenly slowed down to a snail’s pace–instead of walking into someone’s office, I found that it could take anywhere from days to weeks to go from one email to the next.

It was discouraging and unexpected. My fall JP had gone as well as I could have hoped. My topic was new and exciting, and my semester was full of stimulating conversations with professors and graduate students (during office hours and even over email from overseas). By the end of the writing process, I felt that I had made a non-trivial contribution to philosophical literature, even as a third-year university student. Abroad, however, I found myself torn between exploring a new place and having to piece together advice from various emails to create a plan for my JP.

The philosophy department at the University of Otago on a sunny morning!
The philosophy department at the University of Otago on a sunny morning!

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