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Student story

Jamee Elder

31 August 2023

"Being a philosopher means spending a career trying to learn more about the world..."

Bachelor of Science in Philosophy
Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Philosophy
Postdoctoral Fellow, Black Hole Initiative, Harvard University

How did UC kick off your passion for Philosophy?

I loved studying physics, and had always been fascinated by space. But many of the questions that I had about physics (eg, about the nature of the relationship between our best theories and the world that they are supposed to describe) were philosophical in nature. I always wanted to go a bit deeper, and understand more about what our best science could really tell us about the universe.

At UC I was able to pursue these questions from the complementary perspectives offered by physics and philosophy. This meant that I found myself going between (for example) early modern philosophy lectures and general relativity lectures.

Given what I have ended up specialising in, this flexibility turned out to be vital.

Since graduating UC you’ve gone on to so many impressive things – master’s study at University of Cambridge, and a PhD from University of Notre Dame. And then being a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard! What does that involve?

As a postdoctoral fellow at the Black Hole Initiative (BHI), I research philosophical issues related to black holes, in collaboration with colleagues from physics, astrophysics, mathematics, and history of science.

My current research concerns the methodology and epistemology of large astrophysical experiments, especially those that involve "observing" black holes. Examples of such experiments include the observation of binary black hole mergers by the LIGO-Virgo Collaboration, and the production of the first “photo” of a supermassive black hole by the Event Horizon Telescope.

So in other words, examining what we think we know about black holes, and ways this changes how we study them?

Much of my work concerns how models and simulations are embedded in experimental methods and what epistemic implications this has for making inferences about astrophysical systems.

Studying philosophy teaches you to critically engage with these complex ideas. This means analysing the arguments of others, developing strong objections, and articulating your own arguments clearly and persuasively.

And soon you’ll be working as an Assistant Professor at Tufts University! What’s it like teaching Philosophy?

I love that my job allows me to think, write, and teach about the aspects of the universe that I find most fascinating. Being a philosopher means spending a career trying to learn more about the world (and passing it on to my students!)

I’m especially excited to develop new courses in the philosophy of technology (eg, robot ethics) because I’ve got long-standing interests in the ethical and social dimensions of science and technology.

What’s the most important thing about Philosophy that you want to impart on your students?

Philosophy teaches you skills that will be valuable no matter what you do next. Whatever your other academic interests are, there’s probably a branch of philosophy that will help you think about it in new and interesting ways – from aesthetics and ethics to logic and philosophy of science, philosophy deals with a wide range of questions and topics.

So really, philosophy is for everyone.

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