Professor Susan Feldman is the chair of the Philosophy Department. This semester, I have a chance to be a student in her PHIL 103 – Logic class. Even though I am a Computer Science and Mathematics double major, I really enjoy the class since it helps me to think more logically, which benefits my process of doing Computer Science and Mathematics assignments a lot. I have had some talk with her before and she did give me some really good advice despite the fact that I am not a Philosophy major. Also, Professor Feldman has spent nearly four decades being an instructor at Dickinson College. This time, I decided to reach out to her to see how her experience at Dickinson College is.
Name: Susan Feldman
Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
HC: Can you tell us about your position at Dickinson College?
I am a professor of Philosophy.
HC: How long have you been to Dickinson College?
Before Reagan became president – 1980.
HC: Why did you choose to come here?
I got a PhD. I was looking for a job. In then as in now, academia is really a competitive job market, so that it really is the colleges you get to pick. So, I felt lucky to get a job. But, I was happy once I got this position and colleges are very very different from this day.
HC: How different is Dickinson back then? How has Dickinson changed since you started working here?
Any number of ways. Faculties are larger, the teaching load is less. We have way more support in technology available for both faculty and staff, as well as for students. Back when I started at Dickinson, there were no computers. Faculty had to bring their own typewriters. There was no Internet. We had to send letters written on paper, either through campus mail if it was for the campus, or the US mail if it was off-campus. You would have to use telephones, not cell phones, because there were no cell phones. There was no voice mail. In those days, if I wanted to get an article from a Philosophy journal, first, I would have to go to the library, and do use a set of reference volumes called the Philosophers Index to look up an article. The Philosophical index was a series of many volumes, and you would first have to look up a topic alphabetically and then it would point you to an article by an author. Then you would have to go to a different volume to look up the article by that author and read the abstract. Then you would decide if that was an article that you wanted to read. If it was, you would go to the basement and look for the journal which was all on paper in the stacks. If they had it, you would have to go to the xerox machine, with a pocket full of nickels to pay to copy it.
In those days, as you can see, it was an ancient time, you know. The technology was very primitive, so doing the simplest things, what we regard as the simplest things, took so much longer. In the late 80s, nobody has individual computers, but each department might have a terminal. The terminal would connect to the main frame, and you could then access the computing power of the main frame, depending on your level of permission and you could use it to send emails. We got our first individual computers on campus in the early-90s, I think. So, huge changes in technology.
HC: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Just seeing this happening as they are thinking through problems or ideas and suddenly they light up, and you can see their ways of thinking begin to change.
HC: What are the challenges that you encounter when being a professor of Philosophy? And, how did you overcome them?
Well, there are certain challenges. The challenge is trying to master something, really understand an idea, a position or a book, and so on. That’s always a challenge. Trying to put it down and writing, that’s always a challenge, too. When I’m thinking about teaching, the challenge is trying to figure out how to best present something to my students, and so I have to try to figure out where my students are, in terms of what they understand and what they don’t understand. And, how to explain the ideas to them, how to connect the two pieces – the students and the ideas. So, that’s always a challenge.
HC: What is your favorite thing about Dickinson? What makes you enjoy being here?
Well, I still enjoy Philosophy, still enjoy the students (smile).
HC: What are you planning to do after your career at Dickinson? What is your goal?
I guess, trying to understand things better than I do now. Throughout my life, I have tried to make sense of things, so now I just keep trying to do that.