An educator, a lawyer, a medical student and entrepreneur ruminate on how philosophy prepared them for their careers.
Leisure is the mother of philosophy, Thomas Hobbes said. Conversely, philosophy is the progenitor of meaningful work, philosophy graduates from the University of Colorado Boulder attest.
Four philosophy alumni—pursuing careers including law, medicine, education and business—recently fielded questions about their work, goals and the foundation their studies gave them.
Nationwide, the number of philosophy graduates doubled between 1987 and 2013, federal data show. Those graduates, like their counterparts at CU Boulder, have launched a variety of careers, as The Washington Post reported last year.
Since collecting his CU Boulder diploma, Kevin Ware (’10) has traveled the world and now lives in Alexandria, Va., with his wife while pursuing his master’s degree in education.
“I loved philosophy from the moment I entered the university,” said Ware. “It’s important that people think analytically and wonder about the truth, if such a thing exists at all, and question what they see. It seems especially important now. So, philosophy has definitely shaped me as a person and how I have chosen to live my life.”
Ware is not on a traditional career path. After graduating, he hit the road, first to Dharamsala, India (home to the exiled Dalai Lama and Tibetan government), where he studied meditation and taught English to refugees.
Then, he journeyed to a small mountain town in Iraqi Kurdistan called Soran, where he taught kindergarten and first grade and decided to devote his career to education.
It was the first international school in the area, Ware explained. “Its mission was to bring in foreigners to teach the local teachers English, and have the locals take over the responsibility of running the school.” After leaving Soran, he continued to travel and teach throughout eastern Europe and the Middle East.
“The things I learned there gave me a deep sense of morality that has only gotten stronger since, and I don't think I'd be able to live a life that wasn't serving others in some meaningful way.”
Now, Ware is in his second year of master’s study in education at Johns Hopkins University. He’d like to work for the U.S. Department of Education, but there are plenty of nongovernment organizations in education policy he’d happily work with, as well.
Eileen Sherman (’15) lives in San Francisco and looks forward to continuing her work in the legal profession. Like many philosophy alumni, Sherman’s baccalaureate studies helped launched her into law school. She attends the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.
Since starting at Berkeley, Sherman has worked for both the California Attorney General's Office in San Francisco and the Palo Alto office of the national law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom, where she will continue as an associate after graduating this spring. Last fall, she served a public-interest, human rights law clinic for refugees in Cape Town, South Africa.
“I truly enjoyed studying philosophy at Boulder,” said Sherman. “Philosophy gave me a solid foundation for being successful in law school, and I would recommend it to any student who wants to cultivate their analytic thinking and writing skills, no matter what they plan to do once they graduate.”
Philosophy’s essential focus on being-in-the-world, and the discipline of its logic-based argumentative structure, seemed so foundational to anything that I would set out to do later in life. And that has proved to be true."
David Arcara’s (’84) career, now based in New York City, has been a thriving entrepreneurial adventure. Arcara says his background in philosophy gave him the foundation he needed to become a successful entrepreneur.
“Philosophy triggered within me an intellectual curiosity and rigor that must have been dormant during high school,” said Arcara.
“It helped me connect the dots around my other academic interests. History, literature, art, politics, even economics, began to make more sense. I started to see what are essentially philosophical frameworks behind all of these disciplines. It was very exciting and challenging.”
Since graduating from CU in the mid-80s, Arcara has lived in major cities throughout the United States before finally returning home, to New York City, in 1998. He said, “Philosophy’s essential focus on being-in-the-world, and the discipline of its logic-based argumentative structure, seemed so foundational to anything that I would set out to do later in life. And that has proved to be true.”
Following graduation, Arcara sold advertising for Billboard Magazine and television.
“I was pretty good at communicating an argument,” he said. Soon, however, he decided to continue his education at the Harvard Business School, where he further honed his persuasive and analytical skills.
“My philosophy training was incredibly helpful,” he said, “as grades at Harvard are based 50 percent on class participation. Every day, I had to effectively argue hypothetical business plans with logic and clarity.”
After graduating from Harvard in 1991, Arcara became an independent businessman. First, he bought and acquired radio stations, eventually selling them to Clear Channel Communications. Later, he helped form a company called UGO Networks, which applied the conventional television/radio affiliate model to digital media, aggregating several different publishers across the web to sell their advertising space to national entities. UGO was later sold to the Hearst Corporation.
Soon, he created the custom content company Alliance Custom Communications, which created branded newsletters, books and magazines for national marketers, Arcara explained. Alliance was sold to Random House Publishing, and later, in 2010, he joined an organization called New York Angels, a group of independent investors who supported smaller ventures with early stage support. Eventually, he co-founded his current endeavor, Laconia Capital Group, another early stage venture capital firm.
“It has been a very exciting next chapter in my career,” Arcara said.
“I have found that a sustained career over the course of 30-plus years requires constantly adapting to change and uncertainty,” he said. “But maybe most importantly, the study of philosophy requires the student to acknowledge, accept and struggle with notions of change and uncertainty. Our instinct as humans is often to run away from those things. But philosophy at its best asks us to be courageous and face them.”
Philosophy and the humanities in general are fundamental to a free, civil and prosperous society, he added. “We need a thoughtful understanding of our past and present worlds.”
And Flor Jasmin Torres (’17), who double-majored in philosophy and molecular, cellular and developmental biology, will be applying to medical schools this summer.
“Studying philosophy was hands down one of the best decisions I made during my time at CU,” Torres said. “It has enriched my life. It informs my way of being and thinking.”
Today, Torres lives in Thornton, Colo., and looks forward to a career in medicine. She is working as a professional research assistant for the Adolescent Brain & Cognitive Development Study, the largest longitudinal study of brain development child health in the United States.
“My philosophy background has already prepared me to think about moral concerns relevant to the medical field in a careful, nuanced and rigorous way.”
She believes her academic background will influence the way she practices medicine, logically and ethically. While an undergrad, she recalls, “a diverse array of people came together to discuss topics related to healthcare. The range of (future) professions represented in the classroom was one of the factors that I think most allowed for a rich and robust sharing of ideas and perspectives, which ultimately helped me gain a deeper understanding of certain issues.”
Philosophy has universal applications, she said. “We live most of our lives learning what to think and not necessarily how to think, and studying philosophy addresses this deficit in education.”
Philosophy trains students to develop intellectual skills that other fields don’t focus on exclusively, she added, mentioning the fundamentals of logic and how to assess evidence. “Mastery of these skills makes philosophy not just practical but important, as they serve as a solid foundation for thinking and decision making.”