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PhD Students Embark on 'Open Graduate' Journeys

March 23, 2016

The fifth cohort of Open Graduate Education students. Not pictured: Hannah Marshall.

Ten graduate students are pursuing broadened graduate studies as part of the fifth class of Brown University's Open Graduate Education program, selected from a highly competitive pool. Through this Graduate School program, doctoral students gain the flexibility and resources to pursue a master's degree in a secondary field while they earn their doctorates at Brown University.

David Abel intends to explore the limitations of knowledge by combining studies in Computer Science and Philosophy. "Computer Science is a new field and I think a classical field can help with CS and vice versa," says the doctoral candidate in Computer Science, who will pursue a master's degree in Philosophy.

The aim is to foster novel research targeted at foundational philosophical questions at the heart of artificial intelligence and theoretical computer science, according to his application. He thinks the general investigation of Philosophy will equip him to better explore complex questions. "New technology has the potential to increase inequality in the world," he notes.

There are complex social and economic issues associated with autonomous cars, he adds. "I want to look at the societal impact of technology, and on the research side, there are a breadth of questions about the limitations of intelligence.

David AbelDavid Abel"It is encouraging to know that Brown University advocates interdisciplinary research," says Abel, who imagines his trajectory as a computer scientist would otherwise be more traditional. "I will have a foot in two departments and bring ideas together from both departments." He credits Richard Heck, the Romero Elton Professor of Natural Theology, for encouraging him to apply for the Open Graduate Education program and appreciates the support of his adviser, Professor Michael Littman.

The aim of the program is to enhance the educational options for excellent graduate students, catalyze new interdisciplinary pursuits, and prepare students for the demands of the job market, says Peter M. Weber, Dean of the Graduate School. "We were thrilled with the quality of the proposals and look forward to seeing the scholarship that results from these unique combinations of studies."

The fifth cohort includes:

  • David Abel, Computer Science, seeks a master's in Philosophy
  • Doria Charlson, Theatre Arts and Performance Studies (TAPS), enters the master's program in History
  • Jessica Emerson, Behavioral and Social Health Sciences, seeks a master's in Cognitive Sciences
  • Valeria Federici, Italian Studies, seeks a master's degree in History of Art and Architecture
  • Margaret Geoga, Egyptology & Assyriology, undertakes studies in Comparative Literature
  • Warren Harding, Africana Studies, also seeks a master's in Comparative Literature
  • Robert Kashow, Religious Studies, pursues a master's degree in Anthropology
  • Yuan Liu, Chemistry, pursues a master's in Engineering
  • Hannah Marshall, Anthropology, enters the Social Analysis and Research program
  • Miriam Rothenberg, Archaeology and the Ancient World, pursues studies in Earth, Environment and Planetary Sciences

Doria CharlsonDoria CharlsonWhile studying at Stanford and applying to graduate schools, Charlson noticed the Open Graduate Education program and found it "very appealing." Now a second-year doctoral student at Brown, she sees it as a way to gain a stronger historical foundation for her research on performance historiography and understanding of North African and French colonial history.

"The program will allow me to branch out and have a larger community of colleagues and broader conversations," she says. "The credentialing will be helpful," she adds. "It will allow me to think more broadly about jobs I'm qualified for, and having some legibility as an expert will make me more relatable to more faculty."

Warren HardingWarren Harding

Harding thinks a second area of study will "add an extra layer of competence" and expand connections and international resources. For his studies on black Caribbean migrant women writers, "having a good grasp of translation is important," he says. Harding found strong support for his proposal from Associate Professor Keisha-Khan Perry and Director of Graduate Study (DGS) B. Anthony Bogues in Africana Studies and from Esther Whitfield, the DGS in Comparative Literature.

Emerson sampled classes in Cognitive Science before applying to the program. Now, as a new member of the fifth cohort, she looks forward to serving as a connector between two departments.

Yuan LiuYuan Liu

For those interested in applying for the program, Liu stresses the importance of having a clear, strong motivation. The first-year PhD student in Chemistry is pursuing Engineering studies and aims to develop new experimental methods to explore the unknown scientific territory. For example, he would like to work on new ways to cool down and manipulate single molecules.

"The motivation comes from you," he says, "and you need to persuade others by your ideas." 

~Story by Beverly Larson; photos by Susan Ely