Newsletter | The Rational Enquirer Issue #5

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Issue 5 | Spring 2018

Inside this issue


A Time of Transition

Chair of the Department moves from Dave DeVidi to Patricia Marino

      Dave DeVidi     Patricia Marino

Dave’s statement:

“It has been a pleasure working with the department -- faculty members, staff, and students -- these past six years. I feel like we’ve managed to do some good things together, including launching a new PhD program, establishing mentoring programs for grad student teachers, increasing the number of philosophy majors, welcoming Women’s Studies and Cognitive Science programs into the Department, and graduating many graduate and undergraduate students who are off doing important things. I’m proud to be associated with a Department where so much excellent teaching and exciting research is happening. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to serve as Chair.”

Patricia’s statement:

“I can't believe it's been fourteen years since I joined the Philosophy Department. How time flies! Our department has changed a lot since then: we've lost several valued colleagues to retirement and gained many wonderful new people. I am grateful to all the previous chairs I've had the pleasure to work with -- Richard Holmes, Tim Kenyon, and Dave DeVidi -- for shepherding us through the years, and especially to Dave for his help and guidance as we make the chair transition. I'm eager to  build on the initiatives and accomplishments of my predecessors, by strengthening our connections with other disciplines and departments at the University, nurturing our community of students, faculty, staff, and alums, and facilitating my colleagues' original and creative research. To alums I'd like to say: keep in touch! Drop by for a talk, or an awards ceremony -- or just send us an email occasionally and let us know what you're up to.”

From Debbie Dietrich to Angela Christelis

Alums will want to know that, after an excellent career of vital importance to the Philosophy Department, Debbie Dietrich is retiring. Stepping into Debbie’s role will be Angela Christelis. They’ve both offered photos and reflections.

   Debbie Dietrich Angela Christelis

Debbie's statement:

“Approaching this date has been an interesting roller coaster of emotions. After working so long, you start looking forward to retiring: waiting for the time when your days will be your own, when you don’t have to get up, “get your face on” to greet the world, don’t have to answer to a million different people telling you how, when and why.

But as that magical day approaches, all that free time becomes a little daunting, not having a scheduled routine scary, and the prospect of not seeing all those people whom you’ve been interacting with for years leaves you empty.

Okay, I will learn to manage the free time and an open schedule, but how do I adjust to not seeing people who have been such a huge part of my life for so long? Hours spent with the people at work often surpass the hours spent at home with a partner or your kids.

I will miss my graduate students. One of the primary reason I remained in the Philosophy Department for almost this entire time is because of the rewarding experiences working with graduate students. My most valued friends are graduate students from this department. Friendships created while interacting with students in the department, sometimes even managing to have lasting impact on their lives, and in long, heated discussion lasting sometimes until closing hour at the Grad House. I honestly feel that I benefited as much from the grad students as they have benefited by my role as Graduate Coordinator in their lives. I always tell people I could travel the world visiting my graduate students. Maybe that’s what I’ll do.  

During my years here, I’ve witnessed a complete turn-over of faculty. The first faculty hire I was involved in was Paul Thagard’s, who retired about a year ago, so one faculty rotation seems like a good departure point. I’ve seen undergraduates in our program become faculty members so I think I should make my exit before their kids start walking into the department. The faculty of the Philosophy Department bears as much responsibility as the graduate students for my long tenure here at Waterloo. I cannot list every act of acceptance and kindness because I would surely miss someone or something that is important to me. Every Chair or Graduate Officer I’ve worked with over the years have been extremely considerate of my work/life balance and generous in allowing me to benefit from the learning opportunities available on campus, exhibiting genuine concern for my progress rather than stressing over what had to be put on hold during my absences from the office while attending classes. The entire faculty proved to be an excellent resource for my academic work, providing great advice, especially the tip of how to transform an A paper to an A+ paper.

There are countless stories of faculty’s eccentricities I could relate, which would keep you reading. But I can’t give everything away, I have to save something for my memoirs.

So, thank you for the memories, thank you for the friendships, and thank you for all the opportunities for personal growth. Lots of life skills to take into new adventures.

Take care.”

Angela's statement:

“As many of you know, I’ve been around the Philosophy department for aeons, starting as an undergrad and working my way through various roles over the years. I’m very happy to be back here again, working with many of the people who made my academic career something I will always cherish. I look forward to re-establishing contact with the many alums I’ve had the pleasure of befriending over the years, as well as easing the way for our future alums (who I hope will stay in touch as they make wonderful careers for themselves). Of course, every silver lining has a cloud, and taking up the position of Graduate Coordinator and Administrative Assistant to the Chair means that Debbie is retiring. I will miss Debbie a great deal. She was a fantastic resource when I was a grad student, and one of the best supervisors I have ever worked for. I wish her the best and I hope I can adequately fill her very nice shoes.”


Inviting All Alums to Annual Awards Ceremony!

You’re invited to the Philosophy Department’s Annual Awards Ceremony, which takes place on Wednesday, April 11th, from 2:30-5:30 p.m., in HH 373. Good food and fun celebration! A featured address will be delivered by an alum: Wil Candlish. He's the Manager of Community Participation and Employment Services at KW Habilitation. Also in attendance will be distinguished alum, and long-time department benefactor, Bob Ewen.


Alumni Profile

Cristina Balaita

Cristina Balaita

Cristina Balaita is currently a fourth-year medical student at the University of Toronto. Next year, she will pursue residency training in Psychiatry. She says that: “My training in Philosophy has been invaluable in developing my ability to think critically and to examine the underlying assumptions of my field.” Congratulations and best wishes, Cristina!

Profile of An Alumni Couple

Jason Davis and Poonam Dohutia of Ottawa

Poonam and Jason with family

We caught up with Poonam Dohutia and Jason Davis, both former graduate students in our department, now living and working with the federal government in Ottawa. We posed a series of Qs, and they each replied with some colourful As:

Q1: You met in our department here at Waterloo. Could you describe how you met, and then talk a bit about your grad-level research, and why you were interested in those subjects?

Jason:“We first met in Sept 1997, in the small lecture room adjacent the secretariat office. It was my third day at Waterloo, and Poonam’s first week out of Asia. I was taking courses in Physics, Math, and Philosophy after my undergraduate, and Poonam was retaking her Master’s in Philosophy that she had already received from the University of Delhi. In that room we took the first in a series of courses offered by Dave DeVidi on Logic: the first was Logic as a basis for arguments in Metaphysics. (BTW, Poonam was also TA for a course I took in the Philosophy of Mind that term, and she marked me (and all students) rather harshly.) My Masters in Philosophy was very much centred on Dave’s research fields: my three papers in lieu of thesis were about Fitch’s Paradox, Modal Logic, and possible worlds.”

Poonam: “My doctoral level research was on Metaphysics, Epistemology, Philosophy of Language and Relevance Logic. Having come from India, where there are multitudes of languages (23 constitutionally recognized and 100+ if you count various other languages and dialects), Philosophy of Language was very close to my heart. During my Masters in India I was influenced by Kripke’s work on semantics. As I was trying to figure out the meaning of counterfactuals statements -- like, “If my parents hadn’t met…” -- under the late Graham Solomon and Dave’ influence, I was propelled towards Relevance Logic. Classical logic with binary truth values seemed rather limiting in making sense of counterfactuals.”

Q2: Can you please describe what you do now: job titles, nature of your work?

Jason: “My title is Intellectual Property (IP) Advisor.  I’m a patent agent before the US and Canadian patent offices.  I provide advice on patenting inventions, prepare patent applications, argue for them before the patent offices or amend them so that they will be accepted, and disseminate knowledge of the IP system in general, and of patents in particular.”

Poonam: “I am a Policy Analyst at the Temporary Foreign Workers Directorate, at Employment and Social Development Canada. I provide policy advice, and do policy development work, on issues relating to The Temporary Foreign Workers Program.”

Q3: How did -- or, does -- your PHIL training help enable your career and current job? Did it hinder you in any way? How would you advise current PHIL students to best make use of their PHIL training?

Jason: “I attribute any skill I have in writing to my time in the Philosophy Department. It was wholly formative for me. Secondly, understanding the legal systems around patents in different countries is a lot like understanding other complicated structures of understanding in philosophy. Finally, but by no means least, once you understand a few logical systems in a formal way, the process of arguing is clearer, and more efficient. While I have never explained to an IP examiner the difference between intuitionistic logic and classical logic (and there are plenty of places in patent law that need such distinctions!), reasoning is fundamental to my job, and I am greatly indebted to my professors for my time there. To balance this, I have to say that my undergrad in Physics-Math was necessary for me to become a patent agent, and was essential to understanding the range of technologies I work with. But to be a good patent agent, at least an undergrad in Philosophy, or Law, would be invaluable.”

Poonam: “Through my training in Philosophy, I have developed skills to consider issues critically, to see the big picture, and to argue clearly in writing when providing policy advice to Ministers and other senior officials on very complex issues. I have worked in very interesting Departments such as Environment Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada, and now Employment and Social Development Canada. I have worked in various socio-political issues surrounding Indigenous populations, infectious diseases, immigration policy and science-related policy issues such as scientific integrity, endangered species, and species-at-risk. My current job requires me to review Regulations and Acts regarding issues relating to temporary foreign workers. My training in philosophy in analyzing and synthesizing issues has helped me immensely in dealing with analysis of Regulations and Acts. My advice to current PHIL students would be to talk to people who are working in their fields of interest—whether that’s academia or outside. Figuring out the policy world was not easy. I really benefited from talking to people in the government who have philosophy degrees. Take advantage of alumni.”

Q4: What is your single favourite piece of philosophy, or philosopher, and why?

Jason: “That’s hard to say. To laugh with, or at, I think I like Nietzsche. Perhaps Hume. In theology I’d take Epicurus. My rational fallback is always Sextus Empiricus, as viewed by an Intuitionist.”

Poonam: “It’s a hard choice to make. I have really enjoyed Jain Philosophy for its relativism. I was trained in Western Analytical philosophy. One piece of Western Philosophy that I could re-read and re-learn new things from is Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, as well as Saul Kripke’s Naming and Necessity. From the non-analytic camp, I have enjoyed reading Sartre’s work on existentialism. I also enjoy more contemporary writings by Noam Chomsky and Amartya Sen.”

Q5: What's a favourite story, or specific memory, from your time in our Dept?

Jason: “I have great memories of the fun we had as grad students. Friendships, disputes. Odd-ball teachers and students (myself included, but certainly not my wife). I liked explaining to some colleagues with certain entrenched views that, if Aristotle’s definition of teleology was right, then axle grease for an ox cart was the telos for a certain bodily fluid that might otherwise find use in human reproduction.”

Poonam: “The Department was the first and only world I knew outside of India when I started. Lots of fun memories including the pitchers of beers with Rolf George and Jim Van Evra, arguing and procrastinating with colleagues/friends. Not so fond but memorable: when a certain Prof (I will leave it up to your imagination) asked if I understood his arguments in class because well, it was in English after all… or being asked if I had ever seen a Yogi in India. One of the best memories was Van Evra telling Dave that he was going to file a lawsuit “for torturing children” because our then-two month old baby Darshanaa was in his Logic seminar. BTW, our daughter Darshanaa (we also have a son Millan—means “Union”, as in the union function in set theory or fusion) was named Darshanaa because “Darshan” is the Sanskrit word for Philosophy and Jason and I met in the Department of Philosophy.  I think that is a fun story.”

Faculty Profile

Greg Andres

Greg biking

Before he bikes across the province, we were able to catch up with faculty member Greg Andres.

Q: Greg, you've an especially interesting, multi-faceted role here as a faculty member in the Department. Please explain, and tell us which is your favourite.

A: “I’m a Lecturer here in the Department of Philosophy. My official title is Business Ethics Coordinator. My job, among other things, is to ensure that the Professional & Business Ethics course runs smoothly across all sections across all three semesters. The course is mandatory for Arts and Business students, which makes the course one of the larger ones in the department. Roughly 600 students take the on-campus course each year. (The course is also offered online and is always well-populated.)

When Philosophy Ph.D. students instruct their first on-campus course, it’s usually the Professional & Business Ethics course. Teaching your first on-campus course of 150 students can be incredibly intimidating. So, another part of my job is to mentor and guide these first-time instructors. I enjoy this aspect of my job immensely. 

In addition to my work in the Department of Philosophy, I also work with WatPD (Waterloo Professional Development). WatPD provides professional development courses to Co-op students on their work-terms. These courses seek to help students develop the so-called “soft” skills like communication, conflict resolution, and critical thinking. I have authored two courses for WatPD: Developing Reasoned Conclusions, and Ethical Decision Making. The courses are online and run all three semesters. Roughly 2000 students take my professional development courses each year. Thankfully I have a contingent of undergraduate Teaching Assistants to help me with the marking!”

Q: Your teaching reflects broad competence and interest, ranging from logic and game theory to terrorism and business ethics. Plus, you've a reputation for experimenting with new things, technology, and group work. What motivates your teaching?

A: “One of the perks of being a Lecturer is being able to teach a broad range of topics. No two semesters are alike, which keeps me on my toes. I spend most of my time teaching students who are not philosophy majors. I love this part of my job. It affords me the opportunity to develop new ways to teach complex philosophical concepts to students who have an interest in philosophy, but who are not majoring in philosophy.

I have “gamified” many aspects of my courses, making my lectures very interactive and student-focussed. In addition to this, I have my students (with my guidance) collectively construct marking rubrics for their essays. These rubrics are generally quite good, and the students become very vested in their work in the process. I have also experimented with “flipping” one of my courses. What this means is that students read the textbook and watch video lectures on their own time, and then come to class to discuss the topic of the week in groups. Though I guide the discussions with question sets, students have a lot of autonomy in their learning. From what I can tell, students have responded very well to this model of instruction.” 

Q: In fact, you're developing a book on business ethics. Please share the details.

A: “Following the “write the book you want your students to read” advice of some of my colleagues, a few of us in the department have decided to write our own business ethics text. The focus is on ethical decision making in the workplace. This University is very big on encouraging students to be disruptive innovators. Our starting point in the book is that there are good ways—and bad ways—to be a disruptor. Our message in the book is that business serves at the pleasure of society, so to speak… and that profit-seeking is not unconstrained by social and ethical considerations. The book project is a collaboration between myself, graduate students and professors emerita from the department. It’s a lot of work, but I’m very excited about it.” 

Q: And you're planning to bike across the country next year? Why? How? Awesome!”

A: “Basically I needed a new life goal. I can’t run anymore, so doing another Ironman race is out of the question. I was lamenting this fact one day during lunch, and one of my colleagues off-handedly said that I should take up bike touring. That comment stuck with me, and a couple of weeks later I decided to cycle coast-to-coast in 2019. My plan is to leave Victoria mid June and arrive in Halifax the third or fourth week of August. I plan to camp most of the way… unless the weather is really miserable, then I’ll book myself into a hotel. To prepare, I am going to cycle around southern Ontario this summer. The trip this summer will be about 1900km in total. This will give me a good sense of how many kilometres I can do in a day, and how many days in a row I can comfortably be on my bike. I plan on tweeting and blogging about my adventures. You can follow me here if you like:

Philosophy blog

Did you know the Department of Philosophy has a blog ? Find out more about our presentations, publications, events and other news of all kinds.

What's new with us?

Welcome to the fifth edition of The Rational Enquirer, the Department of Philosophy's alumni newsletter.

What's new with you?

It's always great to hear from alumni. We'd love to know what you are up to, so please send an email to Tawnessa Carter.


Philosophy Awards, April 11, 2:30-5:30 p.m. in HH 373.

If you’d like to receive details about these events as they’re confirmed, get on our mailing list! Contact our administrator for alumni relations, Tawnessa Carter, and she’ll be sure you’re added to our list.

Read the previous issue of the Rational Enquirer.