Speaking Truthfully: An honest review of the University of York’s Department of Philosophy

The Philosophy department is a quaint, fairly small looking building that sits between Vanbrugh and Wentworth College. The lobby area has recently been extended so as you walk in it is not unusual to see a few students dotted amongst the sofas frantically typing essays or talking to their lecturers.

Philosophy itself is a challenging subject but interesting once you get to grips with it.

It forces you to question the foundation of many of your beliefs or to question things you would have never doubted otherwise. For example, does the chair you’re sitting on exist? (And other peculiar questions like that.) It’s therefore important to have a department dedicated to nurturing your inquisitive side and there to provide opportunities for you to learn in different ways. I think the University of York’s Department of Philosophy does this pretty well and I’m here to tell you how and why!

The staff working in the department are very friendly and dedicated.

Lecturers I have had in the past have even offered to extend their office hours in order to help students with any enquiries you have (usually before an exam or assessment). If you miss this contact period then they are always an email away. I also like that the staff all understand that philosophy is not the easiest of subjects and are willing to give book recommendations or dedicate more time to explaining difficult concepts.

Your fellow students also bring something to the table – because many study different joint honours, such as philosophy with history, English or politics (like myself). This often means they bring unique insight to the seminars you attend. Similarly, you may find two or more of your modules for the term have material that can be applied to one another.

One of the best things about having prestigious lecturers is that you get to meet the writers behind your reading face to face.

I found these particularly interesting last year when studying the module ‘Contemporary Philosophy of Art’. If you don’t understand their paper or want to know more about the reasoning behind it then they can freely tell you in person. For me this brings a unique personal element to learning philosophy.

In the first two years of your degree, a few modules are compulsory. However, beyond first year the degree becomes more flexible.

This means you can cater to your interests: from ethics, God and morality to philosophy of emotions or Kant. There is more control over the content you are exposed to and the direction your degree goes in each year. This is something you become grateful for since many courses on campus (mainly non-humanities based) do not get the luxury of choosing many of their modules.

The student’s voice is also valued within the department and it is not unusual for you to be encouraged to give your view about a module you are studying.

Sometimes it’s because it is a new module and they want to find out your first impressions, but the most important thing is that feedback provides guidance for change and improvement. So it helps if you fill out these forms, and when you do, be specific about what you like and do not. However, if something is bugging you or you have any recommendations for the department that’s where representatives come in. They are nominated members of the student body who essentially act as mediators between the students and the lecturers/department. Philosophy has module reps, course reps and a department rep. Recent changes the department has implemented (or promised to) based on student feedback include: more coffee events, printer credits and a having a whiteboard in the department building.

Another thing you can look forward to are the interesting public lectures which the Philosophy department host each term.

They are open to everyone (so you have permission to drag a friend along) and they are a great way to become familiar with concepts you didn’t get the chance to study or are curious about. Some may also find these lectures helpful for dissertation inspiration (if entering into third year). I attended an emotionally charged lecture held last term by Kevin Timpe an American Professor from Calvin College. It was about making society more inclusive and was given from a philosophy of disability angle- an area which he specialises in. Additionally, last year the department also previously hosted Eleonore Stump who is one of the world’s top experts in all things Thomas Aquinas.

So, to conclude…

Philosophy is an incredibly versatile degree- helping students to develop skills such as problem-solving, analysis, creativity, writing skills. Add to this typical degree skills of conducting, research, working to deadlines and condensing information; you’re basically a force to be reckoned with. This means you are not just limited to being a religious studies teacher (despite what some may tell you). You are capable of doing pretty much anything from finance, marketing to law or politics (ie the civil service). The department’s Careers Liaison Officer is always on hand to give guidance on any career-related questions you have. In addition to this I recommend making the most of the University’s Careers Department; they cater to all students whether you know what you want to do after graduation or whether you do not (so no pressure there!)

Ultimate conclusion: the University has a great Philosophy department, one that matches the subject itself which is also pretty fantastic!