Advice for Students

Advice for Students

What can I do with a philosophy degree?

Philosophy ought to be studied and valued for its own sake. And, indeed, that is why most students study it—they want to engate intelligently with philosophical problems. Students are also concerned about what a degree in philosophy might prepare them for in addition to a career as a university professor. Some years ago, the magazine The Economist noted that Philosophy students “do better in examinations for business and management schools than anybody except mathematicians—better even than those who study economics, business or other vocational subjects.” It observed that philosophy students routinely outperform students from other disciplines on admission tests to professional and graduate schools. Certainly, given the emphasis in philosophy on argument and analysis, there is no better preparation for a career in law. And since philosophy places a premium on precision of thought and expression, it provides an excellent background for careers in journalism, publishing, and policy analysis. In the American Philosophical Association’s publication A Non-Academic Career?, philosophy graduates attest to the indispensable value of their education to their careers in research and planning, technical services, management, and medicine. Career prospects aside, philosophy also provides a good grounding for adulthood and citizenship, since it contributes so significantly to the development of inquisitive and independent minds.

What would my opportunities be as a philosophy student?

The Department of Philosophy at Saint Mary’s University offers a full range of undergraduate courses. Students may do a major (36 credit hours) or a minor (24 credit hours) in philosophy or obtain an honours (60 credit hours) degree or a concentration in philosophy (24 credit hours). The Department also offers a pre-law option for majors. In order to arrange a selection of courses that best fits individual needs and meets Department requirements, students are encouraged to consult with the undergraduate advisor, Dr. Todd Calder.

What success have graduates of the department had in entering post-graduate programs?

Graduates of the Saint Mary’s University Philosophy Department have studied in Master’s and Doctoral Programs at the Universities of Alberta, Dalhousie, Queen’s, Waterloo, and Western, as well as at universities in the United States and Britain. Many more have been accepted into premier law programs across Canada.

What is the current enrolment in philosophy at Saint Mary’s?

In September 2018, the Department had five Master’s students, seventeen majors (four in the honours program), two contentrators and fifteen pursuing a minor.  As well, we have hundreds of students from various disciplines taking philosophy courses at all levels.

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How to Survive

1) Know what is needed to complete your programme successfully. Number of courses required, number of courses at each of the year-levels, grade-point average – all that and lot of other important information besides is available in the Saint Mary’s University Academic Calendar of Undergraduate Programs.

2) Be sure to take PHIL 1201 – Introduction to Philosophy or one of the other introductory courses. 

3) Be careful about taking courses above your year level. First-year students should take only first-year courses, second-year students in their first term should take only second-year courses, second-year students in their second term might take one or two third-year courses. Certainly don’t enrol in a fourth-year course at least until you are in third year. At each level, courses in philosophy presuppose the experience and skills acquired at the prior level.

4) Don’t hesitate to see the Undergraduate Advisor, Scott Edgar, for information and advice. The Undergraduate Advisor can interpret the philosophy pages of the Academic Calendar for you. He can check your transcript to make sure you are on track. She can help you to select philosophy courses.

(The author of this pamphlet will not insult you by noting that students who miss classes or who fail to submit work on time cannot hope to survive a philosophy course.)

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How to Thrive

1) Read and understand “How to Survive”.

2) Take courses in many areas of philosophy. Take courses in metaphysics and in epistemology and in ethics. Take courses in abstract topics and in applied topics. Take courses in the history of philosophy and in problems of philosophy.

Whether you are in the Honours programme, or doing a Major, or doing a Minor, or doing a Concentration in philosophy, you will want to graduate with a good understanding of philosophy generally. When you get to graduate school you can begin to specialize.

3) Take courses with many different professors. If you are contemplating enrolling in your fourth course with your favourite professor, check whether there’s a philosophy professor you haven’t yet studied with and consider enrolling in one of their courses instead. Exposing yourself to different teaching styles and different conceptions of philosophy will aid your development as a philosopher.

4) Do not hesitate to meet with your professors during their office hours to discuss philosophy. If something in class or the readings is puzzling, see your professor about it. Before finishing your essay, bring your professor an outline or a draft of it or just talk to her about your ideas. After an essay has been returned to you, bring it to your professor to discuss her comments and to get advice about the next essay.

5) Talk with other students in your classes and with other philosophy students. Discuss the readings and the assignments with your classmates outside of class. Form study and work groups with other students.

6) Join the Philosophy Society and participate in its events. Get to know other philosophy students as friends.

7) Submit an essay to the Writing Competition held by the Writing Centre at Saint Mary's. Submit an essay to a student journal of philosophy. (See the Undergraduate Advisor for a list of journals.)

How Earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy Will Change You Forever (For the Better!)

1) You will be familiar with many of the problems, methods, and figures in philosophy and you will be competent to think about them and to discuss them.

2) You will be a sound critical thinker.

3) You will be able to write well.

4) You will have acquired a particular cast of mind: you will be intellectually honest, not a person who ignores difficulties in order to hold onto her favourite beliefs; you will be open minded, and not dogmatic; you will be keen to understand things, even as you acknowledge how little of them you will ever understand.

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