An Interview with Maia Bernick ’15

Maia Bernick

Interview by Colleen Hanson ’19

In recent years, the Department of Philosophy has interviewed alumni and graduating seniors about their experiences as philosophy majors, how philosophy has prepared them for post-graduation, and what advice they have for current students (you can find some of those interviews here and here.)

After graduating from the University of Puget Sound with a philosophy major and a bioethics emphasis, alumna Maia Bernick ‘15 studied law at the University of Seattle Law School. Bernick currently works for the Washington State Department of Health as a staff attorney. Bernick says, “The division I work in helps the healthcare profession programs ensure that everyone is following their standards of practice and rules and helping with public safety.”

When discussing her interests within philosophy, she said, “I am very interested in how philosophy is going to develop in advancing AI technologies, robotics, cybernetics and how that’s going to change our whole human identity because we’re going to have to compete with something that’s as smart as us and I don’t think we’re going to be able to handle it. The first thing that got me interested in AI/robotics was the whole imminent care crisis, with not as many younger folks and a huge generation of people in the next five to twenty years who are going to need long term care because they are seniors and we are critically understaffed in terms of long term care workers. So, people are starting to theorize how AI can kind of step in. As of right now, I don’t think we or anywhere else in the world have robust enough or reliable enough AI to actually apply any help. But maybe in the next 10-15 years, we could have nurse bots or bots that do the functions of medical assistants like take pulses and other kinds of readings, or bring people food/drinks – to kind of ease off that gap a little bit. That was the first area of robotics I was interested in and it kind of grew from there.”

When asked about the relationship between her philosophy major and her studies in law school, Bernick recommended against going to law school thinking that you will study philosophy, but she emphasized that this is “not to dissuade people from going to law school because it opens up a lot of doors. I think a lot of people have a closed mind about what a JD can give you, and it doesn’t just mean being an attorney. [You can] go into politics or rule writing, there’s just a lot of different fields.” She added that “the philosophy major is an excellent foundation in terms of skills to prepare you for law school. Because of persuasive writing and critical reading and analysis skills, you are going to be better off than a lot of your peers in law school who came in with different majors that don’t emphasize those skills.”

She went on to talk about the relationship between philosophy and the law, as well as her personal experiences learning about them:

“I interned with a judge and I helped with recommendation memoranda – which is basically when you look at a case and you say, ‘based on the law, this is what I recommend you rule.’ And you would research such law. I had one hell of a time doing this because I would be like, ‘The law says this, but public policy…’ ‘Public policy’ means ethics in the legal world; it is code for ethics. I didn’t get in trouble with my judge but I had to be told that when you’re making rulings, you can’t just use what you feel is ethically right – or even what is ethically right – because the law and ethics are not the same.”

“That’s one of the things I had learned here [at Puget sound] too is that…there are instances when [the law and ethics] do overlap, but I would venture to say that it’s the minority of the time. So I think that if you’re gung-ho about ethics, law school may not be the place for you because you’re not going to get to it really. Or, don’t go into a field after law school where the strict reading of the law matters because you will feel frustrated.”

Bernick was motivated to go to law school because she wanted to directly help with some of the ethical issues she was studying in philosophy and bioethics. She says,

“I wanted to directly interact with people a little more. And you know it’s funny because I originally wanted to go to law school to do elder law and help individuals with their end of life planning. I’m really passionate about normalizing end of life conversations and preparations and stuff like that, and I ended up in a field where I don’t have a client. My “client” would be the state of WA because I work for the state at the Department of Health as a staff attorney. We help to make sure people are getting good care. In that way, I kind of circle back to bioethics because I’ve always been interested in healthcare. So I’m back kind of where I started but I’m doing a little more ground floor work versus, I don’t know, if I was an ethicist in a hospital I might just be sitting in a room reading cases and coming out with a ruling, etc.”

Bernick offered some advice to current philosophy students:

“Here’s my small piece of advice: what really got me passionate about philosophy is, find what you’re already interested in – and for me it was robotics – and think about ways that you can incorporate philosophical study into that. That can include ancillary fields. So, because I’m interested in robotics, I want to learn about philosophy of mind because you can think about how humans think and how that can be applied to robots.  I just think that when you’re studying theory after theory and sometimes it’s not about subjects you’re particularly interested in, it can just feel like you’re reading words and it’s dense so finding ways to tie it to stuff you’re already interested in can really enhance the experience and learning. This is just personal to me, this may or may not apply to others but some people can study for the sake of studying and I will tune out if I don’t care about what I’m studying. I think finding a way to tie it to something you’re already passionate about helps because there is a philosophy of everything. It doesn’t even have to be stuff you study in class. I think that’s the best advice I can give that’s more narrowly tailored and has more of a practical application.”   

Bernick also offered her advice to philosophy students thinking about law or graduate school:

“One piece of advice I have for people interested in grad school is to take a gap year. This is totally my personal experience and based off of anecdotal experience, but I think that people who take gap years and work or volunteer or even just rejuvenate themselves after college or whatever you do with your gap year (or years) – I wish I would have done it, for one. Especially if you’re someone who has gone straight through school. This may be different for people who are going to college at a different stage in their life (and that’s also badass if you’re doing that), but for people who have gone straight from kindergarten through (they call them KJDs in law school), it’s not like you’re not going to do well but – anecdotally – it seems that people generally did better when they took a gap year…”

“I think it does have to do with mental fortitude. You’ve rested and I think if you come back to something after a few years, you know that that’s what you want to do and you’re not just like, ‘I don’t want a job so I’m going to go to graduate school.’ Obviously, I carve out exceptions – if you’re someone who knows you’re not going to do this again if you take time off, then there’s something to be said about that because you get a job and you start making money and it becomes harder and harder to go back to being a student and having to put stuff on hold. If you’re like, this is the only time in my life I feel like I can do this – awesome. Or, if you’re coming out of undergrad feeling motivated and energized, then you should definitely do it. But if you’re someone who is like, yeah, I’d like to do grad school but I’m not jumping to do it – also just speaking practically, I hate that everything people do has to be informed and the consideration is how practical it can be for employment down the road.”

When asked about her experience with the job search after law school, she said,

“Everyone is like, ‘it’s always about who you know, it’s always about networking.’ I didn’t network. I don’t network. I can talk to you one-on-one because we’re in a one-on-one conversation, but I don’t like false interactions with people which is what networking is. I did some forced networking but it was never for anything I actually wanted to do and I never followed up on it. So, I think people have done a disservice by overestimating how many people can actually get a job through networking because it may not be one in a million, but it’s more rare than you would think. I think it might be easy to get an internship word-of-mouth where they don’t have to pay you, but with a job, you have to go through the grovel most of the time…”

Alumni Updates: Raffi Ronquillo ’14

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The paths that people choose to take can lead them all across the world; in Rafael Ronquillo’s case, his degree in philosophy led him to Guatemala, where he is applying his philosophical background to help a small community.

My name is Rafael (Rafi) Ronquillo and I have been serving in the Peace Corps in the western highlands of Guatemala as a Maternal and Child Health Volunteer since March of 2018. I live in a community of about 6,000 people in the department of Sololá and serve with my partner, Rachel Moore, who is also a Puget Sound graduate, (class of 2016).

While it’s true that these days I’m spending more time eating tortillas than I am writing term papers, I’ve found that studying philosophy in college has had many practical applications here in the Peace Corps. First and foremost, it has helped me understand other’s perspectives in a rich and more contextualized manner. Secondly, spending time reading and grappling with complicated texts and concepts has allowed me to feel comfortable taking a break from something in order to come back to it later with a fresh perspective. These two skills have benefitted me immensely here in Guatemala.

I like to think that regularly having to evaluate written arguments has given me the ability to seek out and engage with differing perspectives. I run into many community members while working at our local health center who are hesitant to seek certain forms of health care, like vaccines. I was initially confused and frustrated as to why so many people were disinclined to receive free, potentially life-saving treatment. It wasn’t until I was able to read more into the country’s violent history with governmental institutions and talked to individuals in my community about their history that I was able to gain a richer perspective on the matter.

The ability to be patient is another skill I’ve found incredibly rewarding here in Guatemala. That skillset is something that the study of philosophy helped me hone. One of my mantras here in the Peace Corps has been, poco a poco, or little by little. This mantra has helped me persevere through countless uncertain work and interpersonal situations here in the country. I’ve been able to step away from a problem, gather evidence, synthesize that evidence with context and form a solid plan of action. This slow and methodical process was something I used countless times while studying at Puget Sound.

I look back fondly at my time spent at Puget Sound. The lessons I’ve learned while studying philosophy have stuck with me over the years since, and I have no doubt they will continue to prove useful in the years to come.

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Sienna Murphy ’21 presents her work at Undergraduate Philosophy Colloquium

On November 8th, the 19th Annual Steven Humphrey Undergraduate Philosophy Colloquium was held in Louisville, KY and featured Sienna Murphy ’21. Sienna presented her paper titled “Credibility Excesses as Cases of Testimonial Injustice during the colloquium. The colloquium was featured on Louisville’s The Voice Tribune, you can read about it here.

Sienna sent us the abstract for her paper:

How credible we take a person to be largely depends on our own prejudice. Our judgements can either benefit or harm the person targeted depending on if they embody a stereotype that works for or against them. Miranda Fricker argues that judgements only truly harm the person when we give them less credibility than they deserve, constituting an instance of Testimonial Injustice. In this paper, I challenge Fricker argument and display instances where harm can also occur even when we give the person more credit than they deserve. Ultimately I argue that credibility excesses play a far more central role in testimonial injustice than Fricker claims.

And she reflects on her experience attending the colloquium:

Presenting at the colloquium was an incredible experience! This is my first time presenting at any conference, and it was such an amazing opportunity to not only share my work outside of my university, but also to meet other young philosophers and learn about their passions in the philosophy field. The conference lasted one day with 8 undergraduate speakers and one keynote speaker. We were each given 20 minutes to present, followed by a 15 minute question and answer session. Presenting was an invaluable experience. It was wonderful to share my work outside of my university. In a way, I felt like it was the first time my philosophical work actually had an impact on people other than myself and my professors, and that was an extraordinary feeling! Additionally, it was wonderful to get so much feedback on my paper.

The Louisville philosophy department was extremely welcoming and supportive. Not only did they provide the funding for all of our travel and accommodation expenses, they also generously hosted a reception afterwards at the home of Steven Humphrey. This allowed me to socialize with the other presenters and the faculty members in the philosophy department.

Overall, I would say that my first conference experience was a success! I got to meet some amazing young philosophers, and I learned about my own abilities as a young philosopher!

Nice work, Sienna!

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Women’s Philosophy Conference

The Metropolitan State University of Denver is presenting a conference for female and non-binary undergraduate philosophers to showcase their work. The goal of this conference is to provide a forum for female and non-binary undergraduates to connect with peers and engage in a welcoming, philosophical community. All genders are welcome to attend the conference or to serve as commentators or session chairs and help build this community further.

To be considered for presenting at this conference, students are asked to submit an 8-10 page philosophical paper. There are no restrictions on the subject matter but diverse perspectives are highly encouraged.

The submission deadline is January 24, 2020, and the acceptance notifications will be out by February 10, 2020. A $500 prize is offered for the best paper. To submit a paper, electronic submissions should be sent to egoodnic@msudenver.edu.

If your paper is accepted, you can apply for a University of Puget Sound travel award here

This conference is a wonderful opportunity to engage in a community centered around inclusivity and diversity in philosophy. If you’re interested, look here for information on previous conferences.

James Conley ’20: Summer Research on Kierkegaard’s Early Works

James Conley, a ’20 Philosophy major, embarked on his summer research project last summer to explore Søren Kierkegaard’s works in depth. (For more information on Summer Research Grants in Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, look here!)  Here, he provides details on his project and his experiences working on it:

My summer research project focused on Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s early aesthetic works. Kierkegaard published two of his most enduring books, Either/Or and Fear and Trembling, in 1843, at the onset of his career. The content of these books is not traditional systematic or analytic philosophy, but rather pseudonymous accounts of life, love, value, and experience, akin to literary fiction, from three primary pseudonymous characters invented by Kierkegaard. The three pseudonymous characters embody three conflicting existential perspectives or modes of living that Kierkegaard wanted to highlight and set against each other dialectically in the mind of his reader. His intention was to develop the subjectivity and self-understanding of the reader in an indirect and inward way, something not possible in an analytic, critical philosophical project. These existential perspectives are the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious, represented in Either/Or: Volume I, Either/Or: Volume II, and Fear and Trembling respectively.

In order to understand Kierkegaard’s existential dialectic, my research narrowed in on one central theme salient in each of the three accounts. This theme is love. My research culminated in a paper detailing the philosophy of love of each of the three pseudonyms and juxtaposing them in order to gain insight into Kierkegaard’s project. The aesthetic philosophy of love, embodied and valued by the first pseudonym in Either/Or Volume I, is akin to a refined hedonism. Love, for the aesthete, is only valuable and existentially effective in its romantic form and as long as it provides pleasure or distraction. The ethical philosophy of love embodied and valued by the second pseudonym in Either/Or Volume II, values social conventions and institutions, such as marriage, presupposing a roughly Hegelian belief that commitment to and identification with the universal conception of ethics is fundamentally important and the highest mode of living. The religious philosophy of love, discussed by the third pseudonym in Fear and Trembling, values a subjective and fully faithful relationship with God and a subsequent experience of earthly love and desire founded in faith.

My interest in Kierkegaard was sparked initially by my time spent studying abroad in Copenhagen in the fall of 2018. Copenhagen is the city where Kierkegaard lived most of his life. He often wrote poetically about his surroundings and used the city as an illustrative device for his philosophy. My immersion in the city left a deep and insightful impact on my philosophical growth and understanding of one of the most important philosophers of the 19th century. Thank you, Copenhagen.

I was aided in my project by the University of Puget Sound philosophy department. Specifically, Sara Protasi, my academic adviser who helped me apply for the research grant, and William Beardsley, my research adviser, who spent many hours with me discussing and helping me to understand Kierkegaard and helping write my research paper.

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Great Lakes Philosophy Conference — Ethics in Action

Sienna Heights University is calling on students with a passion for ethics in the world today! The Great Lakes Philosophy Conference will be held in Adrian, Michigan on April 3rd through April 5th, 2020.

To be considered in joining this conference, students are asked to write papers related to the theme of “Ethics in Action.” Possible paper topics include trends in ethics, interpersonal ethics, social ethics, ethics within and across disciplines and specialties, the intersection of ethics and politics, applied and professional ethics, metaethics, and ethical theory, but alternative prompts are welcome as well. The official submission requirement page is here.

A special stream will be featured for presentations relating to the topic of “The Crisis of American Democracy.” The goal for these presentations will be to compile them into a publication as conference proceedings.

All undergraduate and graduate students are welcome to submit a paper. Final papers should be appropriate for a 20-30 minute presentation and contribute to an inclusive, collaborative environment. To submit a paper, you will need to submit an abstract of up to 500 words here. The deadline for submissions is on January 1st, 2020 and the deadline for acceptance notifications is on January 8th, 2020. There are $100 respective prizes for the best undergraduate and graduate student papers.

If your paper is accepted to be presented at the Great Lakes Conference, you can apply for a travel award here!

This is a wonderful opportunity to get involved with people from all sorts of different fields and professions! If you have any questions, email lharper3@sienaheights.edu for more information.

Philosophy Party: October 25th!

Happy midterms everyone! Hopefully, things aren’t too stressful, but luckily the Philosophy Department has the perfect way to unwind!

On Friday, October 25th, the Philosophy Department will be hosting an event for all philosophy majors, minors, or any students interested in philosophy — come by for an afternoon of games and free food! It will be hosted from 3:30p.m. to 5:00p.m. in the University Club on 1302 N. Alder Street.

Hope to see you there!

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