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What is it like to be a PIKSI Graduate Assistant?

This is a guest post by Asia Ferrin. Asia was a PIKSI Graduate Assistant during PIKSI 2012.
by khepler Jul 16, 2015
Contributors: Asia Ferrin

Asia FerrinThis is a guest post by Asia Ferrin.  Asia was a PIKSI Graduate Assistant during PIKSI 2012.

Serving as a Graduate Assistant for the 2012 Philosophy in an Inclusive Key Summer Institute (PIKSI) was one of the best experiences I had in graduate school.

I participated in my fourth summer as a graduate student, shortly after I had started my dissertation. Looking down the barrel of a dissertation, I remember feeling overwhelmed by graduate school before attending PIKSI. Yet, by the end of my PIKSI experience, I was chomping at the bit to get started on my work and felt a deepened commitment to philosophy.

Everything about the experience was revitalizing. The speakers and session leaders were fantastic. Working with Ellen Feder was great; she was supportive, energetic, kind, and funny. And I came to adore the students instantly. They were sharp, curious, and enthusiastic. I felt like I learned as much from them as they from me, given their diverse social and educational backgrounds. My co-graduate assistants were also amazing. We worked well together as a team, and I appreciated the chance to commiserate over the challenges of grad school with outside peers who had unique perspectives and insights. Even though PIKSI meant long hours and hard work, I felt fresh and motivated by the end of the week. Years later I still try to tap into that excitement as I’m finishing my dissertation.

Ferrin with her cohort of undergraduate students
Ferrin with her cohort of undergraduate students

PIKSI not only energized me, but also inspired new teaching ideas. Taking cues from Ellen Feder’s session on social contract theory and Charles Mills’ session on political liberalism, I incorporated sections of Mills’ The Racial Contract, and Moller Okin’s Justice, Gender, and the Family into my Introduction to Philosophy Course. This upcoming Fall, I will be teaching a course on Oppression, Privilege, and Resistance, which I likely would not have imagined as a course topic if not for PIKSI.

In addition to influencing the content I choose for courses, PIKSI affected my methodology for teaching philosophy. Shannon Sullivan’s session at the beginning of PIKSI on “Experience,” in which we focused on excerpts from Dewey’s Experience and Nature and Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk highlighted the relationship between our experiences and philosophy. One of the central tenets of my teaching now is that philosophy ought to be relevant to my students’ diverse experiences, which guides the tone of my class, the activities I choose, and how I engage my students. I like to think I share the spirit of PIKSI every time I teach.

Finally, PIKSI helped me shift from mentee to mentor. I was incredibly lucky as an undergraduate to have outstanding mentors encouraging me to pursue philosophy and graduate school. I have always been committed to paying that mentoring forward. PIKSI gave me that opportunity and helped me see myself as a mentor. Since the institute, I have continued mentoring some of the students from my PIKSI cohort, started a mentoring relationship with a McNair scholar at my undergraduate institution, and mentored incoming graduate students in my PhD program (one of which, was a participant at PIKSI 2012). Mentorship is now a central component of my service as an academic.

I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate in PIKSI. I hope it continues to serve undergraduate and graduate students for many years to come.

Asia Ferrin is a philosophy doctoral student at the University of Washington, Seattle. As an undergraduate, she participated in the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program, a program designed to prepare first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented students for graduate study. She works primarily in Ethics, Feminist Philosophy, and Philosophy of Implicit Bias. Her dissertation explores how automatic, intuitive, gut-reactions guide moral judgments and decisions. In 2014-2015, Asia will be a Faye Sawyier Predoctoral Teaching Fellow in the Humanities Department at Illinois Institute of Technology—a private, Ph.D.-granting institution with focus on science, technology, and design.