PSA2016: The 25th Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association

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The Lab Associates Program: Training and Preparing Graduate Students for Interdisciplinary work with Neuroscientists

While interdisciplinarity has obvious benefits, there are costs associated with an interdisciplinary approach to research. In particular, the demands on young researchers can be much higher than in traditional research environments – requiring them to become experts in more than one area. This raises a specific set of challenges for young researchers interested in interdisciplinary projects and for those who are training them. The Lab Associates Program at the University of Western Ontario is designed to address these challenges. The primary goal of the program is to create a new generation of ‘embedded’ philosophers who are comfortable working in both philosophical and neuroscientific contexts.

The Lab Associates Program provides philosophy graduate students at the University of Western Ontario interested in neuroscience with the opportunity to be placed in a neuroscience lab at the Brain and Mind Institute. Rather than providing training as neuroscientists, training focuses on enabling participants to contribute to the research environment of a neuroscience lab as philosophers – bringing to bear a particular skill set in much the same way that other members of the lab environment contribute different skill sets to collaborative research. This approach is, to our knowledge, a novel one which has already begun to bear fruit. Participants in the program have become involved in the day-to-day activities of neuroscientific research, given collaborative talks at the Brain and Mind Institute internal speaker series, have made contributions to publications in neuroscientific journals, and have even become involved in designing and operating experiments.

As part of the Lab Associates Training Program, new trainees are provided with basic instruction on concepts, theories, and methods in neuroscience. They are also provided with models and exemplars that demonstrate how philosophers can successfully engage with neuroscientific practice in philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, and ethics of neuroscience. After initial training, trainees are placed in labs of their choosing, where they participate in the activities of the lab.

In this poster we present the structure of the Lab Associates Program, the successes of the program, and future objectives. Much of the success of the program depends on specifics of the relationships between philosophers and neuroscientists at Western, and the adaptation of the program to the specific needs, challenges, and strengths of ongoing research in philosophy and neuroscience at Western. As such, Our aim is not to present a one size fits all program, as our experience suggests that general models are limited in applicability. Instead, we provide a framework for creating and sustaining a program that trains philosophy graduate students to participate as active members of a lab environment.

Author Information:

Jessey Wright    
University of Western Ontario

Robert Foley    
Rotman Institute of Philosophy & Brain and Mind Institute


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