Student Research: What, Why, How, Who?

What is Research?

When people say “research,” they often think of people in white coats gathering around a bench to pour out test tubes and cause chemical reactions. But not all research is like this. There’s more to research than STEM. Read More

Can you give some EXAMPLES of philosophical research?

Absolutely! Check out the internships our students completed at the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health & Wellness; and click through to the student research sections of our "Philosophy For the World" page.

WHY do research in philosophy?

Two instrumental answers:

  1. One benefit is its job market payoff. Our students have gone on to some amazing careers, including as researchers.
  2. Another benefit is its payoff on standardized tests.

But philosophical research is also valuable for its own sake. It helps you rethink basic assumptions and find new ways of thinking. Research in philosophy doesn’t have a single method. It can be done in a wide variety of ways, if you’re asking philosophical questions and learning philosophical lessons. There are philosophical novels and poems, movies and plays, even philosophical games.

My philosophical research has very directly shaped how I think. Most straightforwardly, my views on the middle east have changed, and on Indigenous people’s rights and decolonization, as have my views on solidarity and justice and immigration and the environment and many things. I think I’ve become a person of greater integrity and empathy than I was before. Of course, that probably doesn’t say much because I was a jerk before. But philosophy has helped. However, my philosophical research has also enabled me to understand better and learn about a wide range of issues because in order to apply your philosophical research to the world you need to learn something about the world. So I started reading environmental history and Indigenous peoples’ history and geography and political science and economics and sociology. That kind of thing. This is a good reminder that disciplines don’t compete; good research is very often interdisciplinary.

--Avery Kolers

In short, philosophical research most often doesn’t look like research in labs. It’s rare that you’d be hired on to be part of a team that was managing equipment and so on. There are some philosophical research labs and some philosophers who try to organize their students into a ‘lab’ model, but the fact is, most often, philosophical research is something you do on your own and in conversation with people.

So where do I go to get started?

  1. Anyphilosophy class.
  2. If you’ve taken a bunch of philosophy classes already, consider an independent study, an internship, or a thesis. To find a mentor, look at the full-time faculty list and consider: i) whose classes have I taken, and done well in; ii) given the question(s) I’m interested in, who would be a good fit?