Kendra working on this year's BC Ethics Bowl regional competition with SFU Philosophy prof, Nic Fillion


Student Profile: Kendra Wong

July 21, 2020

Translating Philosophy Skills into Arts Co-op Success

Classroom skills lead to fast offer co-op placement extension for PHIL Major undergrad, Kendra Wong

Kendra Wong, who is currently pursuing a Philosophy Major with a Concentration in Law, has plans to head to law school on graduation. Not only do philosophy grads achieve high LSAT scores and do well in law school, Kendra also considers what she’s been taught in the classroom translates well into any career. Far from the ‘worthless’ label given to arts and humanities in the popular press, Philosophy classes at SFU have prepared her well for a “real” job. She’s brought skills learned in philosophy classes into real life in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences co-op program, working with CIRNA (Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs) for two terms.

And this has certainly translated into success during her co-op placement; according to Tyler Schwartz, former FASS Co-op Advisor (now Co-op Coordinator for Sustainable Energy Engineering at SFU’s Surrey Campus), Kendra wound up breaking the record for fastest offer for an extension ever. Her manager knew he wanted to extend her within the first three weeks of her term. It usually takes 2 months.

Kendra, In Her Own Words

As part of our Philosophy In Real Life (PHIL IRL) series, Kendra generously took time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions on why she chose SFU Philosophy and where she thinks the subject fits in with future career plans.

What brought you to philosophy as subject and SFU Philosophy as a department?

I was part of the Mini program at Eric Hamber Secondary, and as an opportunity for enrichment, my Socials Studies teacher invited a retired UBC law professor, Steve Wexler, to come in and work with us. He had a background in Philosophy and law and specialized specifically in Aristotle and Plato. Every other week we worked our way through Plato's Apology together, with him explaining the context behind the text, and sharing his own thoughts. Even at this high school level, Steve made Philosophy—a topic I previously thought I wouldn't enjoy—interesting and amusing. My appreciation for Philosophy was fostered through his enthusiasm.

When I first joined SFU I tried courses from a number of different departments while searching for my subject major. Out of all of them, I found PHIL121 and PHIL150 incredibly engaging. As I took more Philosophy classes, and learned more about the different branches, I realized that I highly enjoy Philosophy, and that there’s more to explore.

Is philosophy useful in real life beyond the university?

I think philosophy is extremely useful. In all of my classes, I have been asked to analyze and deconstruct texts, as well as communicate my own thoughts, through class discussions and assignments. Not only am I a better reader and writer, as a result of my Philosophy classes, but also more articulate when I speak.

 Philosophy also forces you to ask questions--which I've always been big on (yes, I'm that person). It provides a methodical way of approaching questions and forming answers. And answers tend to lead to more questions. Asking questions, and acknowledging the unsureness of our reality, forces you to think in a different way, one that is more critical and yet still open. I love the discussion aspect of philosophy.     

“Arts and Philosophy students are strong at communicating, synthesizing information, and analyzing texts. These skills are needed in a variety of careers, regardless of your factual knowledge base.”

Where does philosophy fit in with work?

Philosophy forces you to consider both sides of a position. You have to anticipate objections to your line of argument form defences, allowing you to consider other rational positions. This isn't just applicable to academia; I think it's easier to communicate with others on a daily basis when you are able to consider others' positions and use empathy. It’s also useful for analyzing and constructing arguments.

Writing and generally communicating articulately are important regardless of the job. The ability to consider others' positions rationally also helps working in teams. I think, as a result of philosophy classes, I'm much better at listening to others even when I don't agree, synthesizing ideas, and making compromises.

Can you describe how your philosophy classes prepared you for your recent co-op placements?

I think my Philosophy classes did well in preparing me. Arts and Philosophy students are strong at communicating, synthesizing information, and analyzing texts. An Arts degree, and Philosophy especially, provides you with the skills to succeed in a variety of circumstances.

As a junior analyst with CIRNA, more specifically with the Treaties and Aboriginal Government department, communication was a large aspect of my job. I was working with negotiation teams, who, in turn, collaborated with a large number of different groups: with other CIRNA colleagues, with First Nations, with other federal government departments, and with their provincial counterparts.

I attended formal negotiation meetings, as well as more informal meetings, where I was able to see how negotiators communicated and worked with all of these different groups. Meetings also allowed me to see how work is distributed--and the negotiation teams allowed me to complete follow-up work on my own, which often involved further communication. I was also involved in a lot of correspondence between the federal government and First Nations, including drafting and editing letters.

Another large aspect of my job was research work to aid negotiations. I am particularly proud of a timeline I produced, which involved sorting through and organizing primary sources from up to 70 years ago. I determined which documents were relevant to our central question(s), and, from there, established a timeline of events and correspondence that spanned over 50 years. Again, the work I did here used the skills fostered in my philosophy classes.

Volunteering: BC Ethics Bowl

Kendra has also been involved in BC Ethics Bowl. This is an outreach program led by Philosophy professor, Nic Fillion that introduces high school students to collaborative dialogue as they discuss ethical issues.

"Over the past few years, the BC Ethics Bowl has grown very quickly with the support of the SFU Philosophy Department. This would not have been possible without the support of talented, smart, and engaged students, Kendra being the prime example! For this year's event, Kendra has taken an active role in helping with research about the benefits of this event for participating students, and she's played a pivotal role in the organization of the Regional competition. It was a pleasure to have her as a student a few years ago, and even more so to work with her on this great project!"
Nic Fillion, Associate Professor SFU Philosophy and Organiser of BC Ethics Bowl



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