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How a Ph.D. Can Change Your Perspective

How a Ph.D. Can Change Your Perspective

Date published: May 11, 2017

The canon of the Western intellectual tradition is vast. Selecting a dissertation topic from the likes of Homer, Plato, Shakespeare and Tocqueville can be daunting, but the nine newly minted Ph.D.s of the Institute of Philosophic Studies (IPS) at the Braniff Graduate School of Liberal Arts found new perspective in studying timeless classics.

Tiffany Schubert, IPS-Literature, entered her coursework thinking she would likely write on comedy. Rather than tackling the genre of comedy as a whole, Schubert made the decision to focus on one of comedy’s conventions: happy endings, which, as Schubert indicated, are “often maligned and overlooked by literary scholars.” Schubert defended her dissertation, “A History of Happy Love: Happy Endings in Medieval Romance and the Novel,” in fall 2016.

“My dissertation focused on literature, on happy endings, but also wrestled with a philosophical question what is happiness?” Schubert said. “Indeed, I think my question about happiness arises naturally out of graduate study at the University of Dallas, which is focused not simply on professionalization, but on imparting a vision of education that seeks freedom, truth, wisdom, and virtue — the good life — happiness.”

This particular shift in study from considering literary happy endings to treating the big question of “what is happiness?” may be unique to Schubert, but she is not alone in the new perspectives gained from graduate study at UD.

Joshua Mayo, also IPS-Literature, found that his studies at Braniff sharpened his reading and writing, and have enabled him to “pass on the joy of the liberal arts” at Grove City College, where he now teaches composition and literature.

“The Braniff Graduate School is extraordinary, I think, because it is firmly rooted in a classical conception of humanistic learning. It takes seriously the project of cultivating the human soul through an encounter with the Living Tradition,” said Mayo. “Students here read great works in community and ask the fundamental questions, and the places where you can do that are becoming fewer and fewer. Here, at least, learning is still about wisdom and virtue.”

Two other newly minted Ph.D.s from this year’s graduating class are Ross Hunt and Emily Ferkaluk, both in IPS-Politics, both interested in the importance of primary texts and their influence upon life today.

Hunt’s dissertation, “The Unsocratic Teaching of Xenophon’s Education of Cyrus,” was developed from years of reading and loving the text before and during his time at UD. After completing his graduate coursework in 2009, Hunt and his fellow UD doctoral student Matthew Brownfield founded Nasica Consulting Services, a political consulting firm named for Scipio Publius Nasica, a defender of the Roman Republic. Learning political theory rooted in the study of human nature led Hunt to make strategic and tactical decisions for this firm. Yet this, he explains, is only the beginning of the value.

“The greatest thing my education contributed to my professional career was perspective,” said Hunt. “All too many political professionals enter the work of running political campaigns in idealistic zeal. Many are disappointed to discover that men are not in fact angels, and this realization is prone to give rise to cynicism and a certain self-serving ambition. Classical education elevates our expectations for human nature while moderating our expectations for politics. The sort of education the Braniff Graduate School offers has the power to preserve those who would engage in practical politics both from the Scylla of ambition and from the Charybdis of idealism.”

Another student in IPS Politics, Emily Ferkaluk focused her studies on a similarly foundational text. She defended her dissertation, “A Political Use of the Imagination: Interpreting Tocqueville’s and Beaumont’s On the Penitentiary System,” in summer 2016.

“The idea for my dissertation stemmed from an abiding interest in Tocqueville's political understanding of democracy and an inquisitiveness regarding the lack of scholarship or knowledge about Tocqueville's first published work,” said Ferkaluk.

After beginning her studies, Ferkaluk realized that in order to conduct an informed close reading of On the Penitentiary and understand its meaning and purpose, she would have to translate the text first. No small feat, such a close reading of primary texts, done in conjunction with students and professors from multiple disciplines, is a skill that Ferkaluk says she is glad to take away from her education at Braniff.

“The most unique, and perhaps the most valuable, aspect of the Braniff Graduate School are the relationships formed across disciplines,” said Ferkaluk. “Learning from professors and fellow students steeped in knowledge of English literature, philosophy and politics gave me a wide perspective on the issues we grapple with as human beings.”

By Commencement, nine students of the Institute of Philosophic Studies will have earned their Ph.D.s after publicly defending their dissertations. With topics from Plato to More, Homer to Heaney, Ph.D. candidates have done extensive and impressive work on several of the most important facets of the Western intellectual tradition.

Congratulate Ian Dagg, Joshua Mayo, Carle Mock, Jason D. Stevens, Joshua Trevino, Ross Hunt, Tiffany Schubert, Emily Ferkaluk and Aaron Turner on their newly minted doctorates, which they officially received at Commencement on Sunday, May 14, 2017.