What were your favorite philosophy courses at UCLA?
Philosophy of Science, Political Philosophy
Are there any philosophical issues, readings, or topics that have stayed with you since graduation?
I spend a lot of time currently on theories of explanation. I was introduced to these theories in my philosophy classes at UCLA and I integrate those theories into the psychology classes that I teach at DePaul University in Chicago nowadays. In particular, I have taught psychology students the theories of explanation proposed by Hempel, Salmon, and van Franssen and applied those theories to work in psychology. I also think about political philosophy as it relates to policy proposals to address the problem of consumer fraud and domestic violence.
Have you read any philosophy recently that you would recommend?
I am a cognitive psychologist, so I mostly read cognitive psychology nowadays. However, I have been spending a lot of time reading philosophy of science recently. This is especially the case since there has been a crisis within psychology over the past few years over issues of replication and validity and justification. I spend a lot of time on theories of explanation: Hempel, Salmon, van Franssen.
What was your first job or endeavor after UCLA?
After UCLA I graduated with my Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from UCLA in 2002, I had a postdoctoral fellowship at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee from 2002 until 2004. In 2004, I was hired as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at DePaul University in Chicago and I received tenure and promotion to Associate Professor in 2011. I will soon be going up for promotion to Full Professor.
What lessons or skills from philosophy do you use in your career?
I use my training in philosophy from UCLA both in my teaching and my research in my current position as an associate professor of psychological science at DePaul University.
I teach cognitive psychology, judgment and decision making, and psychology of women. I use my training in philosophy teaching all of these classes. Psychology departments spend a lot of time teaching our students about hypothesis testing and research design. Our students get good training on those issues, but lose sight of the reason for doing any of this in the first place, namely to explain psychological phenomena. To address this deficiency in our students’ training, I cover issues of explanation extensively in all of my classes. In my cognitive and judgment and decision making classes, I cover levels of explanation, causal explanations (sometimes contrasting them with nomological deductive explanations), and information-processing theories of explanations of psychological phenomena. In my psychology of women class, my students spend a lot of time studying evolutionary explanations (which we heavily criticize), learning theory explanations, cognitive explanations, social role explanations, and other theories such as objectification theory to explain women’s–sometimes unique–experiences, skills, and behaviors. I introduce cognitive psychology as a way to get at some issues in epistemology. I also cover philosophical theories of causation in my cognitive psychology class. Finally, I touch on issues in ethics in my judgment and decision making classes, both undergraduate and graduate. I was first introduced to thinking about issues in these topics in my philosophy classes at UCLA.
My primary research area nowadays is in consumer fraud, although I also have a couple recent papers on domestic violence, so I think a lot about policy implications. In making policy recommendations to address problems of consumer fraud and domestic violence, I think a lot about Rawls and other political philosophers who I studied as an undergraduate philosophy major at UCLA.
Do you have advice for current students or recent graduates about how to take advantage of and continue their philosophical education?
Not everyone who is interested in philosophy can or should become a philosophy professor. However, almost every discipline can benefit from philosophical methods and insights. Some who are interested in philosophy, perhaps most, should consider pursuing other disciplines where those methods and insights are sorely needed.