As someone who is hoping to attend graduate school in philosophy, with the eventual aim of entering academia, I tried my best to interview as many academics as I could for this alternative experience. One of my interviews was with Jason LeViness, a recent Richmond graduate who is now attending graduate school in philosophy at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. A physics and philosophy major at UR, Jackson decided late in his college career to apply to graduate schools in philosophy. Luckily, he got accepted to UNC, which is one of the best departments in the world for the academic study of philosophy. At UNC, Jackson is surrounded by some of the leading philosophers in the field and students from across the world. With Jackson, I discussed his experience with graduate school, the environment of the philosophy department, and navigating through the challenges of academia.
One of my biggest takeaways from this interview was how academically intense and rigorous life is in graduate school. As a first-year doctorate student, Jackson does not have teaching duties but his coursework is enough to keep him really busy. He tells me that most of his weeks are spent in classes and his weekends are spent wading through several hundred pages of philosophy. Even though life in graduate school is far more challenging and intense than college, it has its advantages. The most notable benefit is the sheer amount of academic freedom that one gets in grad school. Jackson tells me that is basically free to study whatever he wants and for whatever question or issue he is interested in, UNC usually has a world-renowned scholar working on it. Jackson tells me that for the first time in his academic life, he can study whatever he wants, set his own schedule, and collaborate with whomever he wishes. For him, then, the negatives in the form of academic intensity are easily outweighed by the positives in the form of academic freedom.
A stark difference between life in graduate school and college, however, is how the students approach their studies. Jackson tells me that most of his fellow graduate students think of themselves as professionals, much like their non-academic friends who work regular 9 to 5 jobs. They think of their research as jobs and events like academic conferences etc. as networking opportunities. This professionalization of graduate study is something that Jackson has a hard time coming to terms with. Personally, I’m not entirely sure what to make of the professionalization either, but the other aspects of graduate study (especially the academic freedom) seem really appealing to me.