The Bryn Mawr philosophy department has a number of amazing alumnae: not only do we have a number of professional philosophers who earned a degree at Bryn Mawr, an undergraduate education here has provided a means to success for a number of intelligent and ambitious women. Below are the stories of a few recent alumnae who have shared stories of what they've done in the years after their graduation from Bryn Mawr. Submissions are posted in alphabetical order.
“It’s been over ten years since I graduated from Bryn Mawr, but my philosophy degree is with me with every decision that I make. Currently, I am a doctoral candidate at Harvard University’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies with a focus in Fine Arts and I graduated with a masters degree in History of Art from the University of Pennsylvania (’02). I have found that my philosophy degree has been particularly helpful in that it taught me how to question and think critically about issues, especially when considering the translation and transmission of Plato, Aristotle, and other philosophers into Arabic. I look forward to seeing where my degree leads me next.”
“I have not pursued a career that has been directly related to my degree in Philosophy per se, but my focus on Philosophy has contributed to my ability to obtain and excel at the positions I have taken. The critical thinking skills I gained as a student of Philosophy allowed me to explore a variety of careers. I still have not fully settled into a single career field and may not for some time, but in today's market, a one-track career path is not a necessary requirement for success. Right out of college I became a Research/Financial Analyst for an international commercial real estate firm. After a couple of years, I decided to return to graduate school and obtained my M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies and Arabic. In undergrad, I focused my energies on the Political Thought aspect of Philosophy and that interest has followed me to this day. I currently focus my energies on the Near and Middle East and actually focused my Master's thesis on three Sudanese Islamist thinkers. Instead of jumping right into a field related
to my M.A., I became a Research Consultant for the DFL Caucus at the Minnesota House of Representatives. After a few years in state government, I decided to put my specific skills and education to use and went to work for the U.S. State Department in Iraq. I spent 17 months in Iraq, both in Baghdad and in southern Iraq working on a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). I am currently working at the U.S. State Department's main headquarters in D.C. as an advisor on PRTs. I recently passed the series of Foreign Service exams and have been presented with a conditional offer of employment to serves as a Foreign Service Officer in Consular Affairs. I am currently considering this and other options.”
“I began my professional work in information technology - a field that requires methodical and meticulous troubleshooting skills. I had little technical training before becoming a Unix Systems Administrator but found that I was naturally able to grasp the logic involved in building systems from the ground up, understanding the interdependencies of applications, and finding solutions for seemingly disparate technologies to peacefully coexist. The tenets behind these skills, aside from the technology, are all understandings that I came to internalize through my work in philosophy - formulating and structuring arguments, understanding conditions and exceptions, and ultimately grasping and articulating the bigger picture. Philosophy taught me clarity of thought, gave me a background for analysis and evaluation, and gave me a foundation for problem-solving.
“But it doesn't stop there! After spending over ten years in IT, I next gravitated toward working in the field of library sciences, which also has a heavy technology component, but now I was able to interact more with people. In working in my current position as the Journalism & Digital Resource Librarian at Columbia University, in addition to still needing clear thinking, analysis and evaluation skills, and problem-solving, I now also had to demonstrate competency in communication. My studies in philosophy guided me in effective communication and integration of ideas, which I think is key in a professional environment - indeed in any environment, any aspect of public life in which people work together toward common goals.”
Gwen Frishkoff is a research scientist at the Language Imaging Laboratory at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
Barbara Hall is faculty in the Education Department at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges. She has completed her M.S.Ed at the University of Pennsylvania, and she will soon defend her doctoral dissertation. After graduating from Bryn Mawr, she taught junior high school English as a Second Language (ESL) in two public schools in a rural area of northern Japan for two years. She also taught French and ESL to adults in the evenings and regularly taught in local elementary schools and preschools. Upon returning to the United States, she was an Acting Study Abroad Advisor at Penn. She also taught ESL to college students and other adults in the Intensive English Language Program (ELP) and coordinated the ELP International Student Center, where she advised students from around the world on their transitions to life at Penn. She has taught Japanese language in elementary school summer programs in suburban Philadelphia and researched and written curriculum for online training courses in the corporate world. She has taught writing at Bryn Mawr College in the College Seminar Program for first year students and the Writing for College summer program for high school students and at Penn.
“Studying philosophy has been a great background for me as an anthropologist. I began studying anthropology after 2 major cross-cultural experiences (studying abroad in France for a semester and teaching English in Japan for 2 years) grabbed my interest and wouldn't let go. When I began to read anthropology texts, I had a skill set for and perspective from which to approach the use of social science theory that came directly from my study of philosophy. I had patience with close reading of complicated texts, i knew how to ask and explore hard questions, and I had a lot of experience with writing from which to launch a career as an academic. So even though I didn't continue in philosophy directly, I do count my study of the discipline in college as an important part of my background.”
“I manage foundation and corporate relations for Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania (PPSP), here in Philadelphia. I have been in non-profit development/grants management since 1999. My training in philosophy - and my undergraduate education at Bryn Mawr as a whole -has been critical to my success in my field. This is because I am, essentially, a professional "high volume" writer and researcher. On a daily basis, I am required to draft letters, proposals, and reports, and manage a calendar of multiple and overlapping deadlines. Analytic skills are paramount, as I am constantly translating the varied work that PPSP does into compelling narratives for funders, so that we can obtain the support we need to serve the community. You have to write clearly, logically, quickly, and without jargon. Philosophy is a perfect preparation for what I do.”
“At BMC near the end of the 20th c., pre—e-mail culture and before txting and googling, I really struggled with committing to a major. I enjoyed my English classes, and could see a future with real options as an English major: teaching, writing, etc. As the first in my family to go to college, having some plan for a life after college was vital. People might scoff at English majors, I thought, but they gave them jobs. Philosophy, on the other hand, was like this torrid love affair I was having behind literature’s back. Oh, the passion! And the pressure: I personally didn’t know anyone who fell in love with wisdom and then was able to support herself outside the ivory tower. Philosophers were sweet fools, but fools nonetheless. Philosophy was the like the most liberal of the liberal arts, the most indulgent choice in majors I could make.
One day Bob Dostal sat me down and proposed a simple solution: major in both. What a revelation! I didn’t have to choose the practical over the passionate—I could do both! And so I did. Thanks to Prof. Dostal and other excellent Bryn Mawr professors in both disciplines and between, I discovered that for me, it’s precisely that buzzing contact zone where literature and philosophy meet and engage each other that invigorates me most, both as a scholar and a human being. Practically speaking, having a fundamental understanding of not only the Western but the African and Asian philosophic traditions helped me immeasurably in my graduate work in American literature, especially when it came to critical theory. But my training in philosophy also started me thinking about what we might call applied epistemology, or questions of professional “knowing” and academic disciplines themselves, and this interest in turn shaped my doctoral dissertation in American lit: an exploration of the beginnings and maintenance of the professional discipline of American literature in the early American university.
As I developed a rhetorical kind of awareness about knowledge and its practices/delivery within the university, I got hooked on rhetoric as an approach in and of itself to the study of narrative. In fact, the more literature I devoured, the more I turned to all of philosophy for assistance, for context, for questions. When I became the communications officer for the president of the University at Buffalo and started writing and strategizing for a living, believe me, I found myself going right back to Prof. Dostal’s intro phil course and Aristotle time and time again. One of my favorite BMC memories is being stretched out on one of the couches in Erdman and trying to make sense out of Nicomachean Ethics. One of my proudest moments as a professional writer was convincing my boss that he could begin to help us make sense of the senseless by citing Hannah Arendt’s notion of the banality of evil in his address to 30,000+ mourning students, faculty and staff just after 9/11.
Nowadays, having retired my speechwriting pen in favor of teaching at the community college in my rural Western New York hometown and just over the state line at the University of Pittsburgh in Bradford, PA, I’m still following Bob Dostal’s advice: I do both. I teach classes in both philosophy and English to majors and non-majors alike. I still feel indulgent, wonderfully so, and these days as I discuss eudaimonia and the good life and evil and arête in class, sometimes I have to pinch myself on the sly. As I write this, my advanced composition students are reading Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” and my intro phil students are grounding themselves in the pre-Socratics. My tower isn’t so much ivory as it blue-collar, and I find the social mission inherent in my daily work to be absolutely, gut-wrenchingly infectious. Simply put: we have a right to knowledge. It is a luxurious and humbling task to introduce new generations to the history of thought and the power of why?; to show students who might not immediately see the practical uses or beauty of a discipline devoted to ideas that philosophy is a legacy that belongs to each and every one of us, a communion we should fight for tooth and nail. I’ll always be grateful to Bryn Mawr for showing me how to say yes to my own intellectual hunger, and for helping me to open the door to work and to a life that I believe in.”
“Since July of '06, I've been working at The Hastings Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit bioethics research institute in New York. I've been a Research Assistant during most of my time here, assisting with projects that examine everything from end-of-life care, to the ethical complexities of treating children with psychotropic medicine, to parents' decisions not to vaccinate their children. Last month I became the Center's Program Coordinator, and in this role I'll be webediting, assisting with grant writing, and managing our Visiting Scholars program.”
“I graduated in 2000 with a major in philosophy. From 2000 to 2005, I worked as a paralegal at law firms in Boston specializing in immigration law. In 2005, I went to Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and graduated in 2006 with a master's degree in journalism.
“That's when I got my dream job.
“Since August 2006, I've been working as a reporter at Wyoming Public Radio. It's a great job, and I've had several stories on National Public Radio. Here's one I recently did on Morning Edition. In my day-to-day job, I find and write stories for our newscast. I do interviews for our weekly hour-long show called Open Spaces and I write and produce one feature-length story each week. I also have to fill-in for our local hosts during Morning Edition and All Things Considered on a weekly basis.
“Philosophy was a great way to train my mind to sort through ideas and arguments and to clarify them. In philosophy classes at Bryn Mawr, I had to understand what I was reading and then make sense of opposing views. Then I had to write about them. That's just what I do now in my job as a public radio reporter, only instead of an argument between Kant and Hume, it's an argument between the state governor and the federal government.”
Paleontologist Kelli Trujillo and Elsa Heidorn Partan '00, in 2006. Elsa Partan was interviewing Kelli Trujillo about the dinosaur bones she found in Laramie, Wyoming while walking along a ditch that was dug for a natural gas pipeline. (Partan and Trujillo are in the ditch.)
“I'm a PhD track graduate student at Binghamton University in the Social, Political, Ethical, and Legal Theory Program. I'm expecting to receive my MA this year and PhD in 2012. I'm currently developing areas of interest in political theory (particularly distributive justice), feminist theory, and bioethics.”
Upon graduating from Bryn Mawr, I at first pursued a path quite obviously and directly related to my philosophy degree, entering the Ph.D. program in philosophy at the University of Chicago. After obtaining my M.A., however, I realized that, as much as I cared about the subject, most of all I loved making art. Since reaching this conclusion, I've been, of course, making art (primarly drawing, particularly comics) and working as Assistant Editor of Scholarly Publications at the Art Institute of Chicago. Though this position may not at first sound clearly connected to my previous education, it's actually quite related--and not just because I wrote my undergraduate thesis on aesthetics! On the contrary, every day I find that the skills I developed as a philosophy major at Bryn Mawr are precisely those a good editor needs: the ability to quickly become comfortable with new texts, often on unfamiliar subjects; the capacity to analyze complex arguments, identifying their weak and strong points, and the ability to express oneself clearly, both in conversation and in writing, in order to communicate this analysis to others. As for the influence my philosophical training has had on my art, it's harder to pinpoint, but I know it is there. I think comics are a particularly "philosophical" artistic medium; given that each comic presents its own world, every choice and mark a cartoonist makes simultaneously helps create a world on the page, and gains its own meaning within and through this world it generates. Put more broadly, though art is to a large degree a matter of technical skill, it's also always, and more fundamentally, an expression of one's worldview, and I know mine has been shaped by asking the questions--about how one should live, and what we can know about the world--that I first learned to pose while studying philosophy at Bryn Mawr.
“I am now a lecturer in Theatre Studies at Goldsmiths College, University of London. I have been doing research on archetype in performance--practice-based work in the theatre looking at how an actor can make contact with/encounter the 'archetype' and share the event with spectators. In a strange way this is a follow-up on my undergraduate thesis that looked at Hannah Arendt's understanding of freedom as a lived event--somewhere between the political and the philosophical life--which I tried to argue would be the theatrical life.”
“I recently graduated with my Master's degree in Journalism, and with the economy the way it is, plus the employment depression that the press was already facing, finding work in my field has been a struggle. But I will say that the high intellectual standard of writing that I was subjected to at Bryn Mawr gave me a distinct voice different from my classmates, and an insightful way of writing and talking to interview subjects.”
"I am an attorney, a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School. I am currently a law clerk (kind of like a fellowship) for a federal judge. I previously worked for a large, national law firm. My experience as a philosophy major directly contributed to my success in 1) being accepted to a top-10 law school; 2) doing well there; and 3) enjoying good career options now. At the time I took the LSAT (the law school admission's exam), it was the case that philosophy majors scored the highest out of all college majors; I'd be surprised if this still weren't true. The analytical and writing skills I learned in my philosophy courses at Bryn Mawr prepared me to do well in law school and in the practice of law. No other major prepares you as well for the analysis and critical reasoning required by the law. In philosophy, you learn to speak up, to challenge the arguments of others and to defend your own arguments, without getting personal or defensive. At Bryn Mawr, I learned to not be intimidated by difficult texts; to summarize complex arguments and identify their central aspects, their strengths and weaknesses; to create and set forth my own arguments with logical rigor; and to then turn around and anticipate the arguments that might be raised against them. This is exactly what a good lawyer does. Engaging in these kinds of intellectual debates, where you learn to craft strong arguments, defend them, and disagree with others in a reasonable and reasoned way, is the best possible training for law, and for many other areas of further study. To me, law is philosophy in action. Philosophy is an eminently practical field of study. The results are show in the hard, objective truth of graduate entrance exam test scores. Philosophy majors will have the skills and confidence to tackle any post-graduate work successfully. On a more shallow note, people are impressed by it. With a Bryn Mawr degree in philosophy, your intellectual credentials will be assumed.”
“The richness of the varied curriculum at Bryn Mawr has helped me in my personal reflection on problems I encounter by providing me the tools necessary for the intellectual and emotional aspects of my work. I am a pediatric emergency medicine (PEM) physician serving Washington D.C.'s inner city neighborhoods. Before entering college I knew I wanted to major in philosophy and become a physician. As it turned out, the two disciplines proved a perfect pair. A philosophy background helps me frame the very personal issues of individuals with respect to their health within the context of society's responsibility to ensure a healthy productive population. Because I practice medicine in an environment that is overcome by society's ills (e.g., violence and poverty), an education in philosophy allows me to approach problems with a deeper appreciation of the complexity of morality and ethics. I find myself using Kant's categorical imperative (i.e., that which is right and wrong in a universal sense) as a basis for making some decisions. At other times, I rely on Mill's utilitarian principles to attempt to maximize the good. The Buddhist and Hindu understandings of duty to self, family, and society come into play almost daily in my work.”
I am a Self-Sufficiency Coach, better known as social worker, at
ACHIEVEability, a non-profit in West Philadelphia. We work one-on-one with
formerly homeless single parents to end the cycle of poverty by providing
stable housing, intensive guidance on all fronts, and counseling. The catch
is that all our clients go to college - the program is focused primarily on
the power of education, so we provide tutoring and academic counseling as
As of May 2008, I have three clients who earned their associate's degrees
and three clients who earned their bachelor's degrees - all of whom came
from homeless and educationally sub-par backgrounds.
Philosophy is clearly a very different discipline from Social Work, but my
studies at Bryn Mawr definitely inform my everyday life at work and at home.
My study of ethics and religion have made me more open-minded; my study of
ancient Greek philosophy has made me more patient, thoughtful, and
inquisitive. The wonderful professors at Bryn Mawr in all departments, but
especially in Philosophy and Political Science, taught me to think, speak,
and write clearly; to read and experience situations critically and
actively; and to formulate my own ideas even (and maybe especially) when I
am not asked to do so.
I double majored in Philosophy & French and French Studies. I graduated in 2006 and moved to China directly afterward through an internship with Haverford College. I stayed on in China to teach English and study Chinese until last July when I returned to work at MIT Sloan with its China Management Project, which helps develop business education in top Chinese universities. I currently work at a consulting firm in Boston, Cambridge Associates. I did not previously have a strong background in Finance, but I think that I was able to land the job because of the analytic skills that studying philosophy helped me to develop. I think that philosophy has made me a more creative thinker and problem solver, which is perfect for consulting. Philosophy is a great major because it teaches you how to think about things more critically, which can be applied to any career field. Philosophy is such a flexible major, which is why it's great for anything that you want to go on to accomplish.”
After a brief stint working as a marketing editor for an energy engineering consulting firm, Ann went to law school at UC Berkeley (Boalt Hall). She then served as a judicial clerk for a judge on the Oregon Court of Appeals for two years, after which she clerked for a judge on the United States Court of Appals for the Ninth Circuit in Seattle. Following those clerkships, she represented tribes for six years, first as in-house counsel for a tribe in rural Northwest Washington State, and then as an associate at a small Seattle law firm that represents tribes exclusively. While she still works for the firm in an Of-Counsel capacity, she recently began teaching law at California Western School of Law in San Diego. In addition to her work in law, Ann has been writing poetry for the last twelve years and has had over eighty poems published. Her poetry and legal scholarship draw on her philosophy background.