Many students are drawn to philosophy, but some wonder if it’s a practical choice. Instead of focusing on one set career path, however, philosophy majors learn to analyze complex ideas – which hones critical thinking skills – and they learn to communicate. Many top employers prize the analytical and creative problem solving skills philosophy majors cultivate.
We recently interviewed philosophy alumni who are working in public policy, advertising, higher education, entrepreneurship, creative writing and more.
As one alumnus put it, “People ask what they can do with a philosophy degree. I – without a hint of sarcasm – say ‘anything,’ because you truly can. The backbone of it is critical thinking, and that can be applied to anything.”
Andrew Shaughnessy remembers the uncertainty and insecurity he felt as an 18-year-old who moved to Springfield to attend Missouri State. A bright and eager student, he knew the path others wanted him to follow but didn’t know what he really wanted.
And then he took an introductory philosophy class.
“I blossomed, really – it was kind of an ‘aha’ moment whenever I went into that class; it was like, ‘Yes! I should be doing this,’” Andrew said. “It really became my world while I was at Missouri State.”
Andrew quickly declared a philosophy major and dove into his reading. He found inspiration in Plato’s Apology, which inspired him to determine his own values. As his texts challenged him, Andrew began to form clear ideas about what he believed and why it mattered.
Philosophy into practice
This perspective helped him face other challenges, including the prejudice and resentment he confronted as a member of the LGBTQ community.
“There was a lot of hate that was directed towards me, but I knew better. I knew that their issues were their issues and not necessarily mine — and that their experiences really informed what they are doing,” Andrew said.
Experiencing this hostility deepened his empathy. “It was through my experiences, through my hardships, through the hate that it better makes me capable of serving those folks who go through the same experiences, who on a day-to-day basis face those hardships,” Andrew said.
As he neared graduation, Andrew wanted to explore and apply what he had learned. After earning his degree, he spent a year teaching in Bordeaux, France. He then earned a master’s degree in human rights at University College London. He hadn’t planned to return to Missouri but felt drawn to his home.
“I felt a duty to come back and apply what I had learned abroad and what I learned at Missouri State; to apply that to my own community, to try and better my own community and my own state,” he said.
Practice into profession
He parlayed that passion into five years with PROMO in St. Louis, where he worked on policies to decrease discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community. This included making 53 hospitals in Missouri LGBTQ-welcoming.
Andrew continues to work in public service, recently starting a position as a health policy officer at the Missouri Foundation for Health. He’s now focused on the expanding coverage initiative, which aims to lower Missouri’s uninsured rate to less than five percent in five years.
This work brings Andrew pride and fulfillment – even though progress is often incremental. “In policy — just like philosophy — the real value is there for all of the people that you help,” he said.
Thomas Limbrick ’13 is serving a two-year judicial clerkship with the Honorable Mary Rhodes Russell of the Supreme Court of Missouri. But he said it was earning a philosophy degree at Missouri State that helped prepare him for the rigors of law school and his burgeoning career. He credits mentors like Andrew Johnson and Jack Knight, whom he calls, “two of the smartest people I’ve ever met.”
“My course on ancient philosophy with Dr. Knight made me unafraid to tackle complex and voluminous readings. All of my philosophy classes, particularly Ethics and Contemporary Issues and Philosophy of Religion with Professor Johnson, familiarized me with the Socratic method of teaching and forced me to constantly come up with rational arguments,” Limbrick said.
Limbrick knew he wanted to attend law school before beginning his undergraduate studies. While in law school he took advantage of semester and summer breaks to immerse himself in many different legal fields. After his first year of law school he spent the summer working at Armstrong Teasdale, where he gained experience with employment litigation, construction, medical malpractice, real estate and intellectual property litigation. These experiences helped Limbrick pinpoint his interests in employment and labor law.
But the opportunity to clerk caught his attention as soon as he began law school. Limbrick said the application process includes gathering recommendation letters, writing samples, resumé and transcript. Limbrick said some judges begin accepting applications when students are in their second year of law school, so it’s best to begin the process early.
“Many lawyers consider clerking for a year or two to be one of the best jobs – if not the best job – to get straight out of law school. It is a unique opportunity to work closely with a judge and see how the other side of the courtroom thinks,” Limbrick said.
After completing his clerkship in 2018, Limbrick plans to return to his hometown of St. Louis and practice employment and labor law.
It is a longstanding tradition for a group of philosophy majors and minors from Missouri State to attend the annual Midsouth Philosophy Conference in Memphis. The conference brings in philosophers, philosophy grad students, and philosophy undergrad students from all over the country for dozens of talks given over a day and a half. This year Missouri State sent 19 students, its largest contingent ever. Philosophy major Kevin Marren presented a paper to the undergraduate conference, and faculty members Pam Sailors and Andy Johnson gave talks as part of the main conference.
This is a valuable opportunity to get involved not only as a philosophy student but as a member of the greater philosophy community!
Unfortunately, you only have one more week to submit your work to the conference in time for the deadline. Your submissions can be sent in to Nick Tominello at his email, firstname.lastname@example.org. Submissions must be received by Sunday, January 15, 2012 to be considered.
Submissions should be 3,000 words in length or less and can be on any philosophical topic. Also, your submission must include a cover letter with your name, the name of your institution, mailing address, telephone number and email. There is no submission fee.
If you have any questions, feel free to email Nick Tominello. Again, the submission deadline is January 15. Good luck!
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In an era in which chronic unemployment seems to demand hard skills, some students are turning to an ancient study that they say prepares them not for a job, but for the multiple jobs they expect to hold during their lifetimes.
The philosophy department hosts an annual “Who Is The Most Logical Undergraduate?” contest intended to give students some hands-on experience with philosophy and helping other students see how philosophy can be beneficial to their degree programs. The most recent contest was November 10, and we had a great turn-out! Here are the winners:
1st place ($150): Christian Shade
2nd place ($100): Michael Hansen
3rd place ($50): Carmen Gentes
For students who wish to participate in the next contest, don’t forget that it is an annual contest. Keep an eye out for news about it next fall!
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