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« Notes from Both Sides of the Market, part 4: Making the Teaching Statement Precise | Main | Restrictions on replies: a barrier to philosophical discussion? »

07/31/2016

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Steven French

fwiw: my impression is that biologists are much more 'open' to engagement with philosophers and philosophy in general than others over on the science see of things. The journal Biology and Philosophy is an excellent forum in which both philosophers and philosophically inclined biologists publish and the occasional joint effort also shows up in BJPS, EJPS, PoS, Synthese and elsewhere. All of which is to say that one can make significant contributions to phil biol either on one's own or together with a philosopher without having to take a phil degree as well. And I'm not even sure he/she would have to do this in their spare time - it obviously depends on their dept. but as I indicated above, many biologists see philosophical enquiry into the foundations of the field as perfectly legit. (of course if he/she is planning to publish in mainstream epistemology, say, that might be a different kettle of marine life!)
cheers,
Steven

Ulrich Stegmann

I was in a somewhat similar situation to yours, though I eventually decided to switch to philosophy. I share Marcus’ point that if you want to continue in biology, search committees and funding agencies will look at your track record in biology itself. Nonetheless, my sense is that you could combine philosophical activity with continuing a career in biology. One way to do this is to apply philosophical insights and/or tools to the biological research questions you are concerned with anyway (e.g. if you work on marine biodiversity, draw on the philosophical literature on biodiversity). In principle, you could then publish the more specifically biological results in biology journals and the more philosophically relevant ones in philosophy journals. And you don’t need a formal qualification in philosophy in order to make a contribution to philosophy of biology, e.g. in order to get published or be accepted to conferences or be taken seriously more generally. That said, a period of training in philosophy could be very useful to learn some basics and how you might approach things (e.g. a 1-yr PG qualification taken part-time). Happy to correspond further about this off-list.

Tom

While it's currently closed, the academic cross-training fellowship program offered by Templeton could be worth looking into: https://www.templeton.org/actfellowship

Chris Stephens

It is certainly possible to do philosophy of biology as practicing biologist - there are certainly some who have (Gould, Lewontin, etc.). So if you're already finding publication success you may not need any "official" training. That said - if you continue on as a biologist you could certainly continue to get more training by hanging out with philosophers (auditing their courses) or spending sabbatical time with philosophers.

Also, although Steven is probably right about many biologists being more open than other scientists to engagement with philosophy, there are still, I suspect, many who will think you're wasting your time (or at least publishing less biology than you would otherwise). So you need to get a sense from other biologists whether they value this kind of work, especially if you're keen to keep your career as a biologist. (How will it be viewed for tenure evaluation?, etc.)

By the way - there are philosophers of biology who started out as biologists (PhD in biology) and then went back and got another BA degree in philosophy before then getting a second PhD in philosophy. Denis Walsh (at Toronto) is one such person who chose that route. You might email him and ask him about his experiences and whether it was worth it.

If you really want to end up with a job in a philosophy department, then it might be necessary to get the official philosophy credentials. But you should keep in mind that the job market in philosophy is crappy (even worse that academic biology). Also, there are probably some programs - especially HPS programs, that would admit someone without a philosophy undergraduate degree if you had at least some background in philosophy.

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