Eric Thomson '93

Philosophy Major | Bioinformatics Scientist at NIH
picture of Eric Thomson

Why did you major in philosophy?

I majored in philosophy because it was the only discipline where we could explicitly tackle certain meta-level questions that don’t get addressed elsewhere. For instance, what is science and how do we differentiate it from other disciplines? Why is quantum mechanics so damn weird? How do conscious experiences relate to brain processes?  Nowadays, some of these questions are part of first-order science (e.g., consciousness is now taken seriously in neuroscience), but at the time they were pretty esoteric.  

What interesting stuff did you do as a UNH undergrad?

My best experiences as an undergrad, aside from my classes, were attending and presenting material from classes at conferences, and contributing to undergraduate philosophy journals. This helped give me a sense of the amount of toil and effort that goes into a piece of philosophical writing, and how much this effort can improve the quality. The conferences also helped provide a much better sense of the broader philosophical community and trends and personalities.  They were also just a lot of fun.  

What are you doing now?

I am currently a Bioinformatics Scientist at NIH in Durham North Carolina. In practice, what this means is that I get to work with neuroscientists to help design experiments and analyze data. Being a philosophy major at UNH was extremely helpful for this: philosophy hones your ability to think and critically analyze complex scientific papers, and to construct large-scale software projects.  My main problem is knowing when to turn it off.
Any advice for students considering a philosophy major or graduating with a philosophy major?

For people considering majoring in philosophy, I think it is a great major, especially if coupled with a major or minor that is directly relevant to your philosophical interests (e.g., I was a biology major and worked in a neuroscience lab at UNH). Creativity and conceptual innovation don’t come in a vacuum they often come from playing in the dirt.  So please don't ever be scared to play in the dirt.