Charles Pence, ‘07


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

I came to Princeton as a physics major. In fact, I'd wanted to be a scientist for quite a long time, since I was a kid.

What made you decide to major in Philosophy?

Two years into my physics degree, two things happened. First, I became progressively more disenchanted with physics. All we seemed to be doing was dry calculation, a competition of how many triple-integrals you could crank out in the time it took you to finish an exam. That wasn't why I wanted to be a physicist, and I wasn't very good at it. Second, I took logic – as a distribution requirement, because I thought it'd be easy! – with Hans Halvorson. (I'm now the poster child for distribution requirements.) At some point that semester, I pulled up his CV, and realized he was a philosopher who worked on topics in physics and published in physics journals. A few meetings later, and I'd learned about the philosophy of science. Turns out that all the questions about the sciences that I was really interested in were being asked by philosophers! A change of major quickly followed.

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

What makes Princeton such an outstanding place to get a philosophy education is the caliber of people that are constantly floating through the hallways. Fellow undergraduates, the graduate students, the faculty, visitors to campus – all these are people that I'm still interacting with as a professional philosopher. I've even co-authored a publication with a former preceptor (Lara Buchak), based on work that I did for a course as an undergrad!

What did you do immediately after leaving Princeton?

I headed to the University of Notre Dame's Program in History and Philosophy of Science to pursue my PhD. While I was there, I switched fields a bit, from the philosophy of physics to the philosophy and history of biology.

What do you do now?

I'm an Assistant Professor at Louisiana State University, teaching and doing research on the philosophy and history of biology. I'm really, really lucky to get to do this every day, and there's nothing I'd rather be doing. [This interview was conducted in 2015.]

Final words?

Thanks for the chance to share my experience. Hard not to sound corny, but I really will always have amazing memories of my time in the Philosophy Department, and I couldn't recommend it any more highly to prospective majors!