At a liberal arts college, students are encouraged to pursue a diverse variety of subjects, rather than study a single discipline they believe will foster future success. The lack of specialization is often met with the argument, “But what can you do with that?” A panel of Hamilton College alumni assembled on Friday, Sept. 16, to answer this question, showing just what a student can make out of his or her liberal arts education—specifically, a concentration in philosophy. The panel was co-sponsored by the Career Center and the Philosophy Department.
The panel discussion, titled “Life After Hamilton: What Do You Do Anyway With a BA in Philosophy?” featured Hamilton graduates Eric Bowman ’04, R. Andre Chapman ’07, Alexandra Plakias ’02 and Jessica Yau ’08.
Associate Professor of Philosophy Katheryn Doran introduced the panelists. In her opening, she told the audience that the presentation could have just as well been called “What Do You Do Anyway With a BA from Hamilton College?” Almost any bachelor’s degree may be difficult to turn into a career given the current status of the job market. But Bowman, Chapman, Plakias and Yau are all testaments to the viability of a liberal arts diploma.
Plakias was the first to speak. She completed her Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Michigan this year, and this semester she is teaching at Rutgers University as a visiting assistant lecturer. She quoted one of her students when explaining what the decision to study philosophy entails: “I plan to think every day.”
And that she does. Plakias says that philosophy has taught her “how to ask questions,” which enables her to engage in cross-disciplinary conversations with friends and new acquaintances. Many people shy away from subjects that are unfamiliar to them, but as a philosopher, Plakias embraces the opportunity to explore new intellectual territory. In the spring, she will be conducting research at the Center for the Study of Mind in Nature, in Norway.
Following Plakias was Chapman, who said he applied his studies at Hamilton directly to his current work in criminal justice. Chapman received his MCJ (Masters in Criminal Justice) from Boston University this year and has since been working for the American Arbitration Association. He believes that his studies at Hamilton, specifically his focus on race and ethics, have benefited him greatly at his current job.
“I wanted to learn about learning,” Chapman said as to why he chose philosophy as an undergraduate concentration.
Bowman steered the panel in a different direction, toward the idea of financial security. “Once you graduate, you’re going to find that you learned nothing about money,” he said. It is true that most college students live in a sort of financial bubble, without taxes or bills to pay. Even if a student has taken out a loan, he or she is usually given a generous amount of time to pay it.
“I don’t believe in having a job,” said Bowman. His personal philosophy may seem incompatible with his insistence upon financial independence. However, Bowman has used his entrepreneurial savvy to maintain his lifestyle of choice. Since his years at on the Hill, Bowman has been inventing ways to generate income. He launched his computer consulting company, Geeks of Gotham, while still studying at Hamilton. During his years as a student, he also invested in his first house, and now owns several. These houses make up his company, Bowman Properties, Inc.
Bowman also purchased the copyright for Bobby Short’s collection of performances and recordings in 2008 and has since been collecting royalties.
On his decision to concentrate in philosophy, Bowman said that it was purely a matter of interest. People had always told him that his major would have little to no bearing on his career path, so he chose to study a subject he found exciting.
For Yau, philosophy was a concentration choice of happenstance. She knew she wanted to eventually go to law school, but how she intended to get there was not something she thought much about. After taking a few classes in the philosophy department, though, she fell in love with the subject.
This May, Yau received her JD from Boston College, and over the summer she took the Massachusetts Bar Examination.
Yau left the audience with reassuring words: “Any degree from Hamilton will be enough to help you succeed in any career, but if you love philosophy… Hamilton is the place to study it.”