Ava McAlpin, '09


When you first came to Princeton, what did you think your major would be?

I thought I would major in Classics. I took Latin from sixth grade on and loved studying it because of the close attention paid to language—both word choice and sentence structure.  I also appreciated the opportunity it afforded me to deeply analyze a text.

What made you decide to major in Philosophy?

My first semester at Princeton, I took a 300-level ethics course taught by Peter Singer.  It was my worst grade of my undergraduate career, but I enjoyed how much the class challenged and engaged me.  I also took a course on metaphysics and epistemology taught by Kwame Anthony Appiah and was drawn to learning about new ways of thinking about thinking.  By choosing to major in philosophy, I didn’t venture that far from my original plans.  Philosophy has many cross-overs with Classics—not only because there are classes in classical philosophy, but also because the discipline of philosophy requires paying close attention to language along with rigorous analysis.  I was also attracted more broadly to the cross-disciplinary nature of philosophy and concentrated in political philosophy.

Are there any stories about your experiences as a Philosophy major at Princeton that you would like to share?

I always enjoyed coming up with clever hypotheticals for my essays and independent work.  I remember, however, that my thesis advisor, Michael Smith, told me to go through a draft of my thesis and cut any sentence to which I was deeply attached, under the theory that those sentences actually do the least work and are too precious.  This “kill your darlings” method of writing still serves me well in my current career as a lawyer.

What did you do immediately after leaving Princeton?

After taking a planned year off to go to cooking school in Italy, travel in Thailand, and write for food publications, I went to law school.

What do you do now?

I am a lawyer in New York and litigate on behalf of companies, individuals, and estates in media, entertainment, and the arts.  Most of my cases involve issues of copyright and trademark. [This interview was conducted in May 2018.]

Final words?

If you can write a thesis for Princeton’s Philosophy Department, you can write pretty much anything.  Writing a philosophy thesis provides invaluable practice in explaining and distilling complex concepts. It’s also wonderful to be part of a smaller department where you truly get to know the professors.