Eliza Wells wrestles with deep moral questions which have implications effectively past her discipline. A fourth 12 months scholar in MIT’s philosophy PhD program, Wells research morality and facilitates discussions on the Institute about ethics and know-how. “I imagine that philosophy can change lives. I wish to assist folks interrogate their values in order that they’ll make their very own lives and others’ higher,” she says.
Her curiosity in philosophy analysis stems from her two core values. The primary one is the mental stimulation that comes from asking philosophical questions, recognizing that she is uniquely privileged to have the ability to “take into consideration the world and examine the ideas that we’re utilizing to navigate that world.” Second, she values neighborhood engagement, which she channels into her interactions inside Division of Linguistics and Philosophy, with the broader MIT neighborhood through the MIT Experiential Ethics Program, and with undergraduates as a instructing assistant for philosophy programs.
Discovering “what you need in itself”
Wells describes herself as “having a basic thinker origin story” — she participated in highschool debate, which first piqued her curiosity within the discipline. She was additionally launched to a different type of debate, the “Ethics Bowl,” by which college students are given sophisticated, real-life circumstances and requested to guage the totally different moral choices. Nevertheless, regardless of her penchant for debate, when she set off for school at Stanford College, she supposed to pursue a level in pc science.
Her plan was short-lived. In her introductory philosophy lessons, she frequently circled again to a urgent moral query: What ought to I do? “I declared a significant in philosophy, a lot to my mum or dad’s dismay, as a pc science diploma from Stanford would have been far more safe financially,” she recollects. As her time in school got here to a detailed, she knew that she needed to spend extra time pondering rigorously about philosophical questions, so graduate college appeared like a logical subsequent step.
However, the choice to pursue a doctorate was not one she took evenly. “After I was making use of to graduate college, my undergraduate advisor stated, ‘You possibly can’t be doing this for instrumental causes — since you desire a explicit job, otherwise you assume that this diploma will make life simpler sooner or later. The grad college expertise needs to be what you need in itself,’” she recollects.
Finally, what she needed led her to the Institute. “MIT has many great issues going for it, certainly one of which is that my associate is an engineer,” Wells says. “We had been looking for graduate faculties that had good packages in each philosophy and engineering. MIT was one of many few faculties that succeeded on that depend. And it was useful that we each bought in,” she says with amusing.
Bringing philosophy to the neighborhood
Wells speaks fondly of the philosophy program, noting that the tight-knit tradition there is without doubt one of the chief causes that she needed to attend MIT. “Persons are actually enthusiastic about participating collectively in conversations about all several types of philosophy,” she says. Nevertheless, in March 2020 — simply six months into her PhD — these kind of conversations all of a sudden turned more durable to have, because the Covid-19 pandemic pressured folks into isolation. Previously 12 months, as campus life has resumed, she has performed a important position in rebuilding the division neighborhood, serving because the social chair and organizing a number of studying teams. “After we got here again in-person, I noticed that there was this entire dimension of what it means to be a thinker that I used to be lacking,” she says.
Wells additionally believes that it’s critically necessary for philosophers to interact with college students and college outdoors of the division. She says, “I really feel that if my work doesn’t try to interact with questions that the broader neighborhood is asking, then I’ve missed out.”
Her publicity to pc science as an undergraduate has served her effectively in integrating philosophy into the MIT schooling system. She has labored with a number of totally different know-how ethics packages, together with the Experiential Ethics course and Embedded EthiCS at Harvard College. After serving as a trainer for MIT’s Experiential Ethics program, she is now one of many administrators. “I wish to give college students the possibility to discover how even little software program programming choices have moral dimensions that affect each themselves and the broader society,” she says.
Wells has additionally co-directed the Philosophy in an Inclusive Key Summer Institute, a weeklong summer time program for undergraduates from underrepresented backgrounds. She notes that, traditionally, philosophy has not been a various discipline of examine. “It’s been superb to see these college students so energized and empowered by the possibility to ask these questions in regards to the world and to try this in a supportive atmosphere,” she says. “To have a hand in making the philosophical neighborhood extra inclusive by creating that atmosphere is one thing that’s actually significant to me.”
Probing deep questions
Wells’s perception within the significance of neighborhood engagement additionally extends to her work. “I wish to floor my analysis questions in real-world experiences,” she says. “My dissertation examines the methods by which occupying totally different social roles, comparable to being a lady or a physician, impacts each the ways in which we behave and the ways in which we resolve what to do.” She additionally investigates how these social roles affect our ethical accountability for our actions.
In contrast to many PhD college students, Wells’s analysis doesn’t essentially need to be an extension of the work of her advisors, who’re Sally Haslanger, the Ford Professor of Philosophy and Girls’s and Gender Research, and professor of philosophy Kieran Setiya. Though they supply common suggestions and steering, she conducts most of her work alone. “This can be a problem in some methods as a result of you must be very self-confident and motivated. Different folks can’t work out what your query is for you,” she says. Nevertheless, she notes that there are some benefits to this sort of independence. “Additionally it is actually stimulating as a result of I’ve this unbelievable freedom to discover what’s thrilling to me.”
Along with her analysis, Wells additionally serves as a instructing assistant for a number of undergraduate philosophy programs. “Instructing philosophy at MIT is totally different from instructing philosophy at different universities as a result of lots of the college students we’ve got are by no means going to take a philosophy class once more,” she says. “You might be engaged on this fixed problem of getting college students excited in regards to the materials.” She admits that she was nervous about this instructing problem however has been pleasantly shocked by how engaged and enthusiastic the scholars have been in her lessons.
Lately, when Wells asks herself “What ought to I do?” she is aware of the reply. “I want to keep in academia, as a result of I like instructing and analysis. There’s nowhere else the place you are able to do philosophy on this manner,” she says.
She additionally acknowledges that her time as a PhD scholar has pressured her to rethink her values: “I’ve come to see throughout graduate college that the issues that matter to me most are the relationships with the folks I like. It’s far more necessary to me to pursue a life the place I can interact with communities in thrilling and fruitful methods than it’s to proceed racking up the tutorial accolades.”