Saint Mary's University Faculty of Arts

Philosophy - Carolyn Ells

Philosophy For Life

Carolyn Ells

When it came time for Carolyn Ells to choose a major, she simply shopped for a major by scanning the course descriptions of the Saint Mary’s calendar. At the time she was working in a Halifax hospital in respiratory therapy. She learned that others in her field had university degrees in addition to respiratory therapy training. She too wanted to complete an undergraduate degree. She knew it would be helpful if she ever wanted to hold a supervisory position.

Saint Mary’s was her first choice because it had a good reputation for accommodating part-time students and Carolyn wanted to continue working full-time during the days while taking courses in the evenings. Because her only goal at the time was to complete an undergraduate degree, she had the luxury of choosing a major based on what interested her most. She decided on philosophy.

“The classes seemed so exploratory, pursuing interesting questions about the nature of things and how we should live our lives,” she says. What she discovered in the process was that choosing Philosophy as her major was more than a fluke. “Once I got into philosophy, I realized that I was a philosopher all my life. I read novels that dealt with philosophical themes, I was always thinking about things, asking philosophical questions, looking at problems and events from various points of view, seeing flaws in people’s reasoning, trying to construct convincing accurate arguments to make my case about something.”

Carolyn was impressed by the range of courses and the professors. It was her professors who convinced Carolyn to consider graduate school. Over time the pace of the university life became much more attractive than shift work at the hospital.

While at Saint Mary’s, Carolyn and her fellow philosophy majors would gather in the pub or cafeteria to study before exams or discuss class readings. This is a tradition she carried over to graduate school where she organized study sessions in coffee shops. The seminar style of many of her classes at Saint Mary’s also was good preparation for graduate school.

“I felt that SMU was small enough to give its undergraduates the attention that could help them thrive yet big enough to offer a good program of study,” she says. After completing her honours degree at Saint Mary’s, Carolyn went on to complete her Master’s and Doctorate in Philosophy with a concentration in bioethics at the University of Tennessee. Bioethics was a way of linking her previous work in health care to philosophy. “It turned out to be a great combination with lots of career options.”

Carolyn returned to Halifax as an assistant professor at Dalhousie and she also served as coordinator of a project on health care ethics, law and policy – a joint initiative of Dalhousie, the Capital Health Authority and the IWK Health Centre. She recently assumed a tenure-track position in the Biomedical Ethics Unit at McGill University.


Modern Languages - Georgina and Joanna Theoharopoulos
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Anthropology - Matthew Mosher
English - Gary Porter
Geography - Craig Flinn
English - Goran Stanivukovic
Philosophy - Kathleen Edmonds
Philosophy - Carolyn Ells
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