Mike Mathias

Where do you work? What is it like working there?

I’m an Assistant Professor. I have a joint appointment in the Philosophy Department at Union College and in the School of Management at the Graduate College of Union University. I’ve been at Union College for five years and at GCUU for one year. In the Philosophy Department I teach courses in ethics, political philosophy, philosophy of law, and modern philosophy. I’m responsible for the business ethics curriculum in the School of Management.

What kind of additional training does this job require besides your Bachelor’s in Philosophy?

I have an M.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Rochester.

What is a typical day like?

I usually start the day writing in my office at home. I go to campus late-morning, and I teach in the afternoon. I meet with students to talk about philosophy, advising, or just to chat over a game of chess. I’m usually on campus three or four nights a week. My management courses are night courses, and the Philosophy Department sponsors a lot of extracurricular activities on campus in the evening.

Does your job involve travel?

I usually travel to three or four academic conferences per year. These are great opportunities to talk shop with other people interested in the same issues that I am and to see friends from other colleges and universities. I’ve had a chance to travel to a lot of places that I probably would not have visited otherwise.

What do you like most about your job?

This is a difficult question, because I like almost everything about my job. I love teaching. Introducing students to new and novel ideas and to new ways of thinking is exciting to me, and it is tremendously gratifying to see my students mature into original and independent thinkers. I also really like being able to think long and hard about issues that deeply interest me, and to be able to share my thoughts on these issues through my own scholarship. There is also a good deal of flexibility and autonomy that comes along with my job.

What is the least favorite part of the job?

Grading. It’s a really important part of the teaching process, and I take it very seriously, but it can be a dreadful task.

How do you feel Philosophy has prepared you for this job? Is there anything philosophical about what you do? Do you think your background in philosophy and your interest in philosophy have any relevance in your current life and career?

Since I’m an academic philosopher, majoring in philosophy obviously was good preparation for my job. The Philosophy Department at WVU did an excellent job preparing me for advanced study of philosophy and, later, for teaching. I had a broad understanding of the discipline thanks to my undergraduate education. I studied ethics, political philosophy, and philosophy of law with Danny Shapiro, metaphysics and epistemology with Sharon Ryan, philosophy of religion and philosophy of language with Ted Drange, logic with Ginger Klenk, the history of philosophy with Richard Montgomery, and critical theory and postmodernism with Henry Ruf. Sharon and Danny were great mentors and gave me a lot of good advice, particularly when I started thinking about graduate school and a career in academics. Later, when I started teaching, I often looked back at the syllabi and notes from my courses at WVU and thought about the teaching styles of some of my favorite professors.

What attracted you to Philosophy/Why did you choose to major in Philosophy?

When I arrived at WVU I intended to pursue a career in the law, and, like so many other misguided pre-law students before and after me, I thought that meant I should be a political science major. I had always been interested in philosophy of religion, so I took a couple of courses in this area with Ted Drange. They got me hooked on philosophy. I also soon discovered that what really interested me about law and politics were the theoretical questions of ethics, and legal and political philosophy. I ended up pursuing a double-major in philosophy and political science, and this was a wonderful combination for me. It brought together the empirical methods and findings of political science with the enduring normative questions of philosophy.

What advice would you give to an up and coming student considering majoring in Philosophy?

Philosophy addresses some of life’s most important and intriguing questions. As it happens, philosophy also has great practical value, preparing you for a wide range of careers. Even so, philosophy is not for everyone. Answers to life’s big questions do not come easily. Finding them requires long and careful thought. If you’re looking for ready-made answers, philosophy is not for you.

What would you say to someone who was worried about the job prospects of Philosophy majors?

There is a very funny scene in an episode of the Simpson’s where Kent Brockman (the local TV anchorman) is doing a story from the local unemployment office. He starts the story with the line, Unemployment it’s not just for philosophy majors anymore. That line became my stock reply to those who expressed skepticism about my job prospects.

Philosophy majors do have to do a bit of work selling themselves to potential employers, since most people don’t really know what is involved in studying philosophy, but ultimately I think that it is an easy sale. Philosophy majors are trained to follow and communicate difficult ideas. They are trained to think critically and to think about original solutions to problems. These are very marketable skills and they can be applied in a wide range of careers.

Philosophy is also a great course of study for pre-professionals. I would argue that it is the single best major for pre-law students. Philosophy fosters all of the skills that law schools value, and philosophy majors as a group consistently achieve among the highest scores of all majors on the LSATs. Medical and business schools increasingly prefer students who can think, read, and write well, and who have some fundamental understanding of what shapes human experience. So, studying philosophy in addition to the traditional pre-med and business curriculum can be a real asset. Philosophy is a great major for aspiring journalists, too.

Students thinking about pursuing an academic career in philosophy do need to be aware that admissions to good graduate programs and the job market are highly competitive. I advise students interested in pursuing an academic career in philosophy to consider first going to a good M.A. program. This can be a good stepping stone to a first-rate Ph.D. program, and immersing yourself in philosophy for a year or two can be helpful in deciding whether a career in academics is right for you.

Do you consider yourself a Philosopher?

I think that everyone has a philosophy. Everyone’s thought and actions occur against a backdrop of assumptions and beliefs about the nature of the world and our place within it. But simply having a philosophy does not make one a philosopher. Being a philosopher involves living an examined life, which requires uncovering and critically evaluating the assumptions and beliefs that lie behind one’s thought and actions. I do consider myself a philosopher in this sense.

What is the number one thing you learned from your experiences as an undergraduate Philosophy major at WVU?

As a philosophy major at WVU I came to see learning primarily as an end in itself, as something to be pursued chiefly for its own sake rather than simply as a means to some further end.

What are your current interests/hobbies?

I’ve always been into outdoor activities: camping, hiking, mountain-biking, and fishing. I’m also interested in astronomy (the starry skies above and the moral law within,’ as Kant said). Right now, I’m trying to learn how to play the piano. I play a really mean Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

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