We contacted a number of our local alumni, and asked them to describe their jobs, and how their philosophy degree has (or hasn’t) been useful to them. Their replies are listed below. All have agreed that we may make their email addresses public, and are willing to be contacted by philosophy students interested in internship opportunities or seeking further information about the nature of the alumni’s chosen careers. Note that the descriptions posted below aren’t a true random sample of the range of careers pursued by philosophy graduates. For more information on the latter, see the Philosophy Department document: Careers for Philosophy Majors.
My decision to concentrate on Philosophy at the University of Maryland came from a love of learning, which I thought could be better satisfied in Philosophy than any other field. It also was a practical choice in terms of preparing ultimately for a career. Now, in my position as a senior attorney with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, after more than 25 years’ experience in the practice of administrative law for the federal government, I can say that the study of philosophy provided both a solid structure and a singularly valuable foundation for a legal career, if not the ideal background. The study of Philosophy nurtures the mind in the indispensable tools that serve a lawyer’s daily interactions, from exercising basic mental discipline and honing analytical skills to practicing debate and persuasive written and oral communications that are such an essential part of an advocate’s role. The study of Philosophy is, in fact, excellent preparation for life in general, and law is no more than the orderly process of applying rules to societal life. A well-rounded exposure to various philosophical sub-disciplines provides invaluable basis for some of the most important aspects of law. I have worked in general federal litigation at the trial and appellate levels, contract law, employment law, regulatory practice and administrative rule-making, fiscal law, property law, information law, intellectual property, security law, ethics, and legislation, among other things. Thus, there was no part of my philosophy course work that was wasted, whether in logic, ethical theory, metaphysics and epistemology, semantics and the philosophy of language, the philosophy of physics and other sciences, or even ancient philosophy. Throughout my career, my training in philosophy has provided essential skills on which I have drawn to interpret and apply complex legal doctrines, analyze and resolve conflicting interests, and represent clients in adversarial situations before legal tribunals. Ultimately, this has led to a personally satisfying and professionally rewarding career, and one which affords continuing intellectual stimulation in both its substantive work and in associations with colleagues, and one which I wholeheartedly endorse!
Catherine M. Holzle
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
I decided to become a Philosophy Major after taking a class in Ethics: I was immediately hooked, and have never regretted my choice. Following college, I enrolled in law school (essentially on a whim) and discovered that the intellectual tools I developed pursuing the degree were almost singularly beneficial to the study and practice of law. Studying philosophical works hones the ability to reason rather than simply opine or emote (all-too common substitutes for actual debate these days), and compels students to learn to write clearly (a skill in short supply in the current labor pool). Both those skills have served me well during my career as a criminal defense attorney and prosecutor of white collar fraud, and certainly are of significant utility to litigators of any sort. Even more broadly, a degree in philosophy distinguishes you from the average college graduate because it is proof of your ability to reason and- perhaps even more crucial today- to communicate complex concepts to others.
Office of the Attorney General
I had always thought of myself as a pretty good writer. Graduate school in philosophy showed me all the ways my writing was falling short – hidden assumptions, sloppy logic, imprecise wording, misreadings of the text, and, inevitably, failure to anticipate objections. The bonus for gaining some proficiency in avoiding these errors was that it became easier to see them in the work of others. When I couldn't get a job teaching philosophy, I decided to go to law school, where skills in analysis and writing turned out to be exactly what I needed (although there was some pain associated with learning to think like a lawyer, rather than a philosopher). After law school, I spent one year clerking for a judge. My job was mostly to write draft opinions for the judge to edit and sign – more analysis and argument. I didn't want to work for a law firm, and there were still no teaching jobs in sight, so I went to work at the Federal Judicial Center, which is the research and training arm of the federal judiciary. My work was still mostly writing – everything from memos to law review articles. I remember one particularly onerous project in which I had to take a couple of hundred pages of the worst writing I've ever seen and turn it into something publishable. For the most part, though, it was my own draft materials that I had to edit for publication, and it was there that my experience in being my own critic was most valuable.
After six years as a bureaucrat, with occasional teaching on the side, I finally got the chance to teach full-time and to integrate my legal and philosophical training. I teach in an interdisciplinary department, and my colleagues are mostly social scientists. Part of my job is to help our students see the conceptual issues underlying empirical claims, to become more aware of the assumptions they are making, and, perhaps above all, to become better writers.
Department of Justice, Law and Society
When I received my degree in philosophy, I had no definite career path in mind. Not because the career opportunities for philosophy graduates are limited; they are endless! My current career as a real estate broker is an example of the boundless job opportunities that consistently utilizes skills learned as a philosophy student.
In the real estate business there is a lot of convoluted thinking and contradictory reasoning - when up is down and down is up. A tremendous amount of analytical thinking is required, both in the workings of the business and dealing with people. As a philosophy student, I was encouraged and trained to generate ideas, solve complicated problems, integrate diverse data, elicit hidden assumptions, and summarize complicated material in order to persuade people. As a real estate broker, I can say that these skills are vital in motivating clients to close transactions, and it is almost impossible to succeed in real estate without them. Also, there is a hint of the age old philosophical conundrum in real estate: if a piece of property is on the market for sale and no one hears about it, is it really available?
Choose a career that relates to your interests, values, and desires. As far as preparing yourself for job interviews, relax! The key to getting the job you want is to convince employers that you have developed the attributes and skills they desire. As a philosophy graduate, you would have mastered the art of persuasion. Good Luck!
ASK Realtors, LLC
I am currently an epidemiologist in the Tobacco Control Research Branch at the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI). After receiving my BA in philosophy at UMCP, I went on to do a PhD at Cambridge University, aiming to pursue my interest in philosophy of science. My dissertation focused on causal inference in epidemiology and different concepts of evidence in science and public health policy. I became so intrigued by these applied problems that I went on to do a post-doc in epidemiology and cancer prevention, which included getting a Master of Public Health degree and some additional research training.
While my work and thinking has moved away from academic philosophy, I have found my philosophical training to be extremely useful in my career. The skills I gained in research methods, analytical reasoning, and clear writing are essential in my current work. Also, having a fundamental understanding of the philosophy of science has helped me to understand new scientific disciplines and to collaborate with scientists from diverse backgrounds. Additionally, I continue to apply my knowledge of ethical issues in science by serving on an Institutional Review Board at the NCI which reviews study protocols that involve human research subjects.
Tobacco Control Research Branch
National Cancer Institute
The primary focus of my work is to find ways to use technology to enhance staff development for teachers. I collaborate with staff on a wide variety of projects that often require different approaches to supplement more traditional training methods. Typical assignments involve developing web sites, databases, online training modules, CD-ROMs, and DVDs. Most of the material I develop has multimedia elements, so I frequently shoot video and use digital editing tools to prepare content for viewing on the web or on other media.
The study of philosophy was good preparation for working in the educational technology field. The skills I learned in analyzing problems and writing well reasoned documents often come into play when managing projects, determining appropriate uses for technology, and developing custom web training. The philosophical rigor of looking at problems in depth and from multiple points of view is extremely useful in solving technical problems in my field, and I suspect, in other fields that require careful analysis.
Technology Instructional Specialist
Montgomery County Public Schools
Note to Fellow Philosophy Majors: Congratulations! You have chosen a discipline that is fascinating, intriguing, and intellectually stimulating -- a discipline that will prepare you in every way to pursue a vast array of exciting and even financially rewarding professions. Simply by virtue of the fact that you have successfully completed a course of study and acquired a baccalaureate degree in philosophy, people will conclude that you possess above average intelligence -- an attribute that will make you uniquely competitive in the job market. Equally important, your discipline -- like no other -- will enable you to hone your thinking, writing, and analytical skills -- attributes highly sought after by those of us in the business of hiring people, yet lacking in so many graduates from other disciplines. What can you do with a degree in philosophy? Virtually anything you want! Some of the more obvious include law, communications, science, administration/management, and, of course, education. A former NIH Director and Nobel Prize recipient, Harold Varmus, often touted the benefits of a liberal arts degree as the more appropriate background for a career in medicine to ensure that the resulting physician was a well-rounded individual. (You can always acquire those pesky required science courses somewhere along the way!)
I personally have had an exciting and immensely fulfilling career in management at the National Institutes of Health. It was the degree in philosophy that got me in the door and eventually enabled me to achieve a position in the Senior Executive Service -- the highest level of service in the federal government. From the beginning, I have had the extraordinary opportunity to work side-by-side with and to facilitate the work of some of the best and brightest in academic medicine. My first position involved managing the large laboratory of Marshall Nirenberg (another Nobel Prize recipient) so he could focus all his attention on his research. I was later selected as an NIH Management Intern and was thus able to sample a variety of administration positions throughout the agency. My career has allowed me to become involved in a number of exciting, challenging endeavors: launching the cancer control program to facilitate the translation of the latest cancer research advances to community-based health centers; developing research programs to address SIDS and mental retardation; establishing the research enterprise to address the then burgeoning health crisis associated with the emergence of AIDS. It goes on and on. Currently I serve as the Associate Director for Management (a.k.a. CEO) for one of the 27 Institutes at NIH. In this, and indeed in all the positions I have held over the years, I have derived a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that I have contributed in some small way to the almost unbelievable advancements in biomedical research that have been realized in the last 30 years. So, Philosophy Majors, the world is at your feet! You can feel confident that your degree in this field will prepare you supremely well for whatever profession you choose. You are not "home free," but you have a considerable edge on the competition!
Yvonne du Buy (class of 1971)
Associate Director for Management
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
After receiving my B.A. in Philosophy in 1988, I returned to the University of Maryland and earned a M.A. (1992) and then a Ph.D (1999) from the Measurement, Statistics and Evaluation (EDMS) department (UMCP College of Education). As an undergraduate I also had Mathematics minor and was thus in a position to do very well in graduate school. After earning my M.A., I was a full-time instructor in the EDMS department for several years while I completed my doctorate. After graduation I began work as a consulting statistician for the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, MD.
While a major in Philosophy might seem like an odd choice of undergraduate major for a future statistician, I can tell you that my philosophical education has helped me immensely in my professional endeavors. Firstly, as an applied statistician, the ability to communicate effectively, particularly in writing, but also orally, is a pivotal aspect of my work. I am regularly called upon to author and co-author papers that require clear and concise expression. Secondly, study in the field of philosophy demands precision in abstract conceptualization and conceptual analysis. These skills are also crucial to my work. Lastly, philosophical education demands a flexible viewpoint and the capacity to “synthesize paradigms” from a variety of fields. An applied statistician is not doing his or her job if he or she cannot step outside of the statistical viewpoint and find clever metaphors and analogies with which to teach the client (who is almost always intelligent but at best minimally trained in data analytic techniques) the essential features of the statistical findings. Likewise to understand the initial problem that the researcher brings to me, I must often be receptive to a new way of thinking, i.e., that of the client’s particular area of scientific expertise. For these reasons, and also for the intrinsic satisfaction it has provided me, I am very happy I majored in Philosophy.
Doug Powell (class of 1988)
National Cancer Institute
Well, so a philosophy degree is one of those degrees that lots of parents roll their eyes at – you know, like becoming a musician or artist, or monk ? knowing full well that you just won’t be very “marketable”. Of course, that’s partly true – but then that’s not why people study philosophy, right? After all, philosophy is a “pure” pursuit, transcending the everyday needs of paying for life! For me, philosophy at the University of Maryland was a perfect blend of pure intellectualism and practical application, and served as a provocative context for the mind-blowing quantum mechanics of a physics B.S. degree and recent Ph.D. in biology (inter-disciplinary program in Behavior, Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics). Philosophy not only helped point me in the direction of biology, but also helped me understand science in the broadest of contexts, something I’ve found to be invaluable on many levels.
My job as an engineer and scientist at NASA has given me the opportunity to apply epistemology, value theory, ethics, and yes, even a little metaphysics, to some of my work. Epistemology has played a role in challenges regarding the search for extraterrestrial life, as well as in modeling, about which I learned much from Fred Suppe. The courses I took in value theory, ethics, and metaphysics have informed much of my writing in the general area of societal implications of astrobiology (for which NASA and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have sponsored workshops and have publications in press) as well as the more specific subject of extending environmental ethics to extraterrestrial life, the solar system, and the universe – I and a co-author somehow got away with writing and presenting a paper called: “Do We Need a ‘Cosmocentric’ Ethic?”
NASA’s astrobiology program is basically the study of the origin, distribution, and future of life in the universe. A prominent scientist once said to me that the new part, “the future of life in the universe”, was essentially a philosophical question, and I said, “Yep, that’s why NASA needs philosophers.”
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center