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Three cheers for philosophy

By Janet Harron | May 14, 2012

Memorial University’s Department of Philosophy just scored a hat trick.

Philosophy department graduate Kyla Bruff has been named the winner of the 2012 Erasmus Mundus Scholarship, which will allow her to pursue graduate study in Europe for the next two years. Ms. Bruff is the third Memorial University philosophy alumni in a row to be awarded the prestigious prize, following Joseph Carew in 2010 and Steven Woodworth in 2011.

Acting department head Dr. Arthur Sullivan is justifiably thrilled at the news.

“First and foremost, this is just a fantastic opportunity for these three students," he said. "It also goes to show that our top students at Memorial are absolutely world-class. Of course, it is also a nice endorsement for the quality of our own undergraduate program in the philosophy department, that these three successive students are able to succeed in this prestigious competition.”

The award, which was established in 2007 by the European Commission, has a total value of 21,000 euros annually and is offered to between seven and 10 students from outside the European Union. The winner studies at three European universities over the course of two years. All classes and course work are in French and German.

Ms. Bruff already speaks fluent French thanks to her background in French immersion and the French minor she completed along with her honours in philosophy in 2011. She is planning to undertake intensive language studies in German during her two years abroad.

Ms. Bruff, who is currently teaching English to Francophone students in St. Pierre, was surprised to learn of her win because, unlike Mr. Carew -- who also happens to be her cousin and who originally encouraged her to apply for the scholarship -- and Mr. Woodworth, she does not yet have a master's degree.

“I think, however, that the Canadian system allows for intense studying and research at the BA (honours) level, which is fondly looked upon by certain international committees,” she said. “By completing my honours major in philosophy, an additional major in political science and a minor in French, I feel that I was able to combine my interests at the undergraduate level in a way that adequately prepared me to apply for competitive programs and scholarships such as the Erasmus Mundus.”

Ms. Bruff wasn’t familiar with philosophy as a discipline when she began her degree program in 2007, but after taking an introductory course with Dr. Seamus O’Neill she soon realized that “philosophy was a discipline which allowed me to think critically about the things I had already learned and to address questions concerning my own existence and way of life."

As she continued her degree, she says she also found that philosophy allowed her to intensively explore political and gender issues – women’s oppression in particular.

She acknowledges the role of the department’s professors in igniting a  “passion for philosophy.”

“By always being available for discussion outside of class, open to the modification of essay topics and even offering to lend students their own personal books, the professors in the philosophy department encourage students to go beyond their limits and to challenge themselves," Ms. Bruff said. "Students  graduate not only with a comprehensive background in the history of philosophy, but also with a broad set of analytical skills.” 

Ms. Bruff hopes to write her thesis at the University of Toulouse. The other two universities she plans to attend will be among the Université Catholique de Louvain, the University of Prague and the University of Coimbra, where her predecesser Steven Woodworth is currently finishing up a semester before spending his summer immersed in German.

No doubt Ms. Bruff and Mr. Woodworth will be congratulating themselves on where philosophy has taken them when they meet up at the University of Toulouse in September.