By Sharee Fink | January 2014

Making a Major Decision

In the early stages of her journey at MSU, Jenny Carmichael was a philosophy major concerned about her chances of becoming a successful philosopher in today’s job market. Determined to make sure that she had ample professional opportunities when she graduated, Jenny decided to incorporate the field of engineering. With this surprising academic dual major, Jenny has been able to explore her true passion, philosophy, while also practicing and honing her skills as an engineer.

Utilizing Resources for Success

Jenny was recently selected and sponsored by Texas A&M University (they paid her way) to attend its Early Modern Philosophy Initiative and deliver “Spinoza and Anomalous Monism,” a piece she wrote with the help of the College of Arts & Letters’ Undergraduate Research Initiative (CAL-URI). CAL-URI is a grant distributed to undergraduate students seeking financial support to complete research. Jenny became involved with CAL-URI with the encouragement of professor Debra Nails, who then became her mentor for the research project.

Most of Jenny’s research has been sparked by her interest in topics taught briefly in her philosophy courses. “In [Nails’s] class about early modern philosophy, we only scratched the surface.” Jenny said. “And upper-level classes on the topic weren’t offered. In CAL-URI, I was able to look at issues that I wasn’t able to in my classes.”

Besides expanding beyond her coursework, Jenny also found support from fellow philosophy major students. “It’s not like [our teachers] are just teaching us something. We’re all working on philosophy together.” Maintaining a close relationship with professor Nails also proved crucial to completion of the CAL-URI project, as Jenny often looked to Nails for help if she needed clarification during her research.

In addition to help from MSU faculty, the college’s foreign language requirement was also a boost to Jenny’s research.  After taking two years of Latin, Jenny found that her experience with the language was helpful when later translating some philosophers’ work for her project with professors from Grand Valley and Michigan. “If I hadn’t [taken Latin], I would’ve missed out on a deeper, richer understanding  of philosophy.”

After submitting a Plato-themed essay, Jenny also won the 2013 Lewis K. Zerby prize, an annual award offered by the Philosophy Department that honors the best undergraduate essay of the academic year.

Deciding on a Future

Over the next few semesters, Jenny says she is looking forward to a schedule filled with graduate school and PhD program applications. And, as she approaches the end of her pursuit of dual undergraduate degrees, Jenny realizes that she may face scrutiny from future employers for having such a novel academic background. Still, few would dispute that this Spartan is well poised for a unique future as a “philosophical engineer” or an “engineering philosopher.”