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Multi-disciplinary Philosophy PhD Programs

One of my favorite researchers is Chandra Sripada. Sripada is a professor of both philosophy and psychiatry. My research also crosses the humanities-science divide(s). So, I often wonder how to replicate a multi-disciplinary career like Sripada’s. A look at Sripada’s CV reveals a career path involving multiple advanced degrees, internships/residencies, etc. If you are like me, then you (or your partner) might want a more efficient path to a career. In this post, I share advice about how to obtain multi-disciplinary training from philosophy graduate programs.

1  Crowd-Sourced Advice

Someone recently asked me where to find empirically oriented philosophy Ph.D. programs in the US. As you will see below, I posted a short version of their question to Twitter. You can find the programs and researchers that my colleagues recommend by clicking the link to the tweet and scrolling through its replies.

If you want a bit more advice on what Ph.D. programs to look for and how to make the most of those Ph.D. programs, then you can find my advice below.

2  My Advice

There are two kinds of Ph.D. programs that can offer training in both the humanities and the sciences. One kind of Ph.D. program offers you multi-disciplinary training culminating in a multi-disciplinary diploma—e.g., a Ph.D. in Philosophy & Psychology. Another kind of Ph.D. program offers multi-disciplinary training culminating in a single-discipline diploma—e.g., Ph.D. in philosophy that involved formal training in psychology. In short, some programs’ degrees allow multi-disciplinary training and others require it. I am familiar with both kinds of programs. So, I will talk about both below.

2.1  Voluntarily Multi-Disciplinary Programs

Successful researchers like Joshua Greene and Felipe De Brigard have been able to do research in psychology and neuroscience. However, their Ph.D.s are, technically, in philosophy. How did they do it? They sought out training beyond their PhD program’s department. Fortunately for them, they were in departments that have great relationships with neighboring science departments. In such well-integrated departments, graduate students can find training in other disciplines so long as they seek it out.

Here is a (working) list of universities with well-integrated departments that can offer multi-disciplinary training despite offering single-disciplinary diplomas. (Feel free to add to the list by contacting me or just replying to the tweet above).

Aside from getting into a well-integrated department, how can you seek multi-disciplinary training? There are a few ways.

Attend events held by other departments. Most research-oriented academic departments hold brown bag lunches, colloquia, conferences, workshops, etc. So, you can learn about another discipline by simply attending their department’s events.

Take classes in other departments. Obvious courses include stats courses, method courses, and overview courses. Some departments even have one-credit courses that involve merely attending a department presentation once a week—making it easy to expose yourself to other disciplines and their researchers. I have found all such courses to be beneficial.

Build relationships with researchers in other departments—regardless of whether you attend their events or take their courses. Here’s how I have done that:

  1. Find the people in other departments whose work I admire.
  2. Email those people to (a) explain what I admire about their work and (b) ask if I can meet them in their office, at a cafe on campus, or in their lab meetings.
  3. Discuss their research (and my research if they show an interest) at the meeting.
  4. At the end of that meeting, ask about continuing the relationship—e.g., by asking about the possibility of their joining your dissertation committee, your attending their lab meetings, your contributing to one of their projects, etc.

In my experience, researchers are often glad to have another kind and helpful grad student around—especially if someone else is paying them. So, in my experience, few researchers turn me away when I ask them to continue the relationship.

2.2  Formally Multi-disciplinary Programs

Some multi-disciplinary Ph.D. programs offer degrees that require formal training in multiple disciplines. Some of these programs have been around for decades. Others have been established in the past decade. These programs often provide a Ph.D. in two or even three fields. For example, the University of Colorado at Boulder offers a “Triple” Ph.D. in Cognitive Science, Neuroscience, and a third discipline (like philosophy, computer science, etc.). This is made possible by the university’s Institute of Cognitive Science.

Here is a (working) list of universities that offer such formally multi-disciplinary degrees. (Feel free to add to the list by contacting me or just replying to the tweet above).

Recap

There are two kinds of multi-disciplinary graduate programs. One allows students to get formal training in other departments. Others require it. Whether one kind of program is a better fit for you probably depends on who you are and what you want from your graduate experience. Speaking of what you want from your graduate experience, you might also be interested in some other posts on that topic.

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Nick Byrd

Nick is a cognitive scientist at Florida State University studying reasoning, wellbeing, and willpower. Check out his blog at byrdnick.com/blog

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