Alumnus Profile: Mike Perry


Philosophy Makes Sense in the Workplace for MA Grad

written by Philosophy MA grad (2019) Cody Brooks

What should we do when we disagree? For SFU Philosophy MA alum, Mike Perry, researching the philosophy of disagreement strongly shaped the way he approaches conflicting opinions inside and outside the workplace.

“The MA program gave me a safe place to explore and also gave me insight into how I work best.”

May 13, 2020

For SFU Philosophy alum, Mike Perry, researching the philosophy of disagreement for his MA pro paper still influences his approach to the workplace. 

"I wrote my pro paper on the epistemology of disagreement,” he says. "I really do believe that we should give the opinions of our peers a lot more weight than we normally do."  

And this attitude is what drives Mike in the workplace as he explains, taking disagreement seriously is not only for philosophers; we should all be in the habit of doing this.

“From my work on disagreement I’ve developed a conciliatory attitude, and I think that’s the right attitude to have in the workplace.”

Mike completed a BA in Philosophy at Simon Fraser University before joining the MA program in 2013. In addition to his work as a graduate student and Teaching Assistant, he also worked as a clerk in the campus bookstore. After completing his MA degree, he quickly landed a position working in the office of the Vice-President of Research as a research assistant.

“Although experience and networking helped, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the job if I didn’t have a master’s degree,” he says, noting that his philosophy experience is often useful in interviews and cover letters.

Since then, Mike has continued his career at the university and is currently the manager of academic and administrative services in the Department of Economics.

“The MA program gave me a safe place to explore and also gave me insight into how I work best.”

What got you interested in philosophy in the first place?

When I was in high school I didn’t realize that philosophy was a subject at all. I cared about philosophical things. I’d argue with my friends about whether God existed, but I just didn’t think that there was a discipline that actually studied these things until I got to university. I read Animal Liberation by Peter Singer, and thought wow, these arguments are super convincing. And that was really cool, that I could read a book and read someone’s arguments and feel compelled to change my behaviour. Looking back, I suppose that atheism and animal rights got me unto philosophy.

What moments in the Philosophy MA program stand out?

My favourite part of the whole MA was making friends and meeting people.

However, two aspects of the program itself come to mind. One was the President’s Dream Colloquium, which you could take for credit as an MA student in philosophy. 

It’s a series of public lectures that run over the course of a semester on a specific topic, and there’s a credit course that runs in parallel. So, if there is a speaker coming up who’s talking about climate change, then you have readings about climate change. Everyone in the course goes to the public lecture together; afterwards, the class and the speaker would all go to dinner together. So, after the readings every week you got to meet the person who wrote the paper. It was really social and fun, like a seminar course, but with dinner and a Meet the Author session thrown in.

The other transformative moment that jumps out to me wasn’t really a moment but more of a personal realisation about myself. I did all my course work and then I just had to write the professional paper. No problem, I thought; but it took a year and a half later to actually finish it. In the process, I learned that, for me, any large open-ended project that involved creativity and independent thought was a challenge. So even though I didn’t go onto an academic track, the MA program gave me a safe place to explore this and also gave me insight into how I work best.

Is philosophy still a part of your life?

It’s a huge part of my life! People would always ask me, why are you studying philosophy? What’s that going to do for you? But I’ve always thought, it’s not only about your job! It’s about leading a fulfilling life.

For me, the questions in philosophy are important and interesting. I think about that stuff every day, and it makes my life richer. It doesn’t really matter what kind of job I’m doing, because it gives my life a kind of depth that it wouldn’t have had otherwise.

“I’m always listening to a lot of philosophy pod casts; I always have philosophy on the mind.”

How about some examples?

Well, leading up to the elections I was thinking a lot about politics: why do I have the beliefs I have? Am I justified in holding those beliefs? What obligations do we have as citizens? Have I discharged my obligations? Am I informed enough to vote?

I had kids recently. I think a lot about things like: what kind of relationship I want to have with my kids? What’s the appropriate relationship for my parents to have with my kids?

I also think a lot about free will kinds of questions. For me it’s a way of coping with the world. Often if I make some mistake, I think, was I really ultimately responsible for that? Probably not. And that gives me a little solace.

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