Amit Hagar, Professor, Indiana University, History and Philosophy of Science & Medicine

Amit Hagar, Professor, Indiana University, History and Philosophy of Science & Medicine

BY: Catherine Nygren

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Amit entered his philosophy program with a clear idea of what he wanted to write about: the foundations of modern physics, especially the philosophy of time, the notion of objective chance, and the concept of physical computation. He appreciated his department’s precise program, and faculty were open to conversations about his work and when he needed advice. He never felt particularly like a member of a department community, but he was older, with a family, and was very driven to finish, as well as being from a different cultural background. Amit also notes that philosophers of physics are often outside the expected sphere of most philosophy departments; instead, he did a lot of interdisciplinary work with the Physics department, who, despite being initially wary, often collaborated with Amit. Even now, many of Amit’s lectures are in physics departments.

As an international student, he had little opportunities for scholarships. Instead, he supported his studies and his family by leading tours to various areas in the Americas, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. Fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, as well as with experience of both the cities and various mountain ranges, Amit funded his PhD largely through these tours. Amit’s language skills also helped him learn professional academic English, which he had to teach himself upon arrival with the aid of a private tutor.

Amit finished his degree in four years: he already had credits from his Master’s degree, he wanted to finish quickly, and his supervisor didn’t micromanage him. He could have finished more quickly, but he was advised to slow down, which allowed him to do a lot of additional reading. Amit remembers going to the statistical physics section of the library, choosing a shelf, and reading most of the books on it. He has learned to balance this quickness and reflection, remembering that “Sometimes I need to do more thinking. Sometimes I just go fast and sometimes I should slow down.” However, he also notes that the advice he often received was too cautious, and that his intuition has been, so far, correct. “If you believe in your idea, test it first with friends, but then defend it!”

Even before he defended his dissertation, Amit had started applying for positions. He interviewed for a job in the UK, and turned down a post-doc in Jerusalem. Instead, after submitting his thesis, he sent out about 60 applications and accepted a von Humboldt post-doc in Konstanz, Germany. After that year of working and publishing, he sent out another 60 applications, ending with a tenure-track job in Delaware. The fit wasn’t quite right, so he sent out a final 10 CVs to jobs that he really wanted. He landed one interview at Indiana’s Department of History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine, where he is now a full professor and department chair.

Amit is currently shifting his career towards biophysical modeling, focusing on cancer research, and away from philosophy. Rather than theories that might not have real world applications for another 500 years, he is now focusing on applying his previous work on probability to the life sciences. Although he is proud of his work on the foundations of physics, Amit wants his research to have a more immediate impact on humankind.

Amit entered his philosophy program with a clear idea of what he wanted to write about: the foundations of modern physics, especially the philosophy of time, the notion of objective chance, and the concept of physical computation. He appreciated his department’s precise program, and faculty were open to conversations about his work and when he needed advice. He never felt particularly like a member of a department community, but he was older, with a family, and was very driven to finish, as well as being from a different cultural background. Amit also notes that philosophers of physics are often outside the expected sphere of most philosophy departments; instead, he did a lot of interdisciplinary work with the Physics department, who, despite being initially wary, often collaborated with Amit. Even now, many of Amit’s lectures are in physics departments.

As an international student, he had little opportunities for scholarships. Instead, he supported his studies and his family by leading tours to various areas in the Americas, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. Fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, as well as with experience of both the cities and various mountain ranges, Amit funded his PhD largely through these tours. Amit’s language skills also helped him learn professional academic English, which he had to teach himself upon arrival with the aid of a private tutor.

Amit finished his degree in four years: he already had credits from his Master’s degree, he wanted to finish quickly, and his supervisor didn’t micromanage him. He could have finished more quickly, but he was advised to slow down, which allowed him to do a lot of additional reading. Amit remembers going to the statistical physics section of the library, choosing a shelf, and reading most of the books on it. He has learned to balance this quickness and reflection, remembering that “Sometimes I need to do more thinking. Sometimes I just go fast and sometimes I should slow down.” However, he also notes that the advice he often received was too cautious, and that his intuition has been, so far, correct. “If you believe in your idea, test it first with friends, but then defend it!”

Even before he defended his dissertation, Amit had started applying for positions. He interviewed for a job in the UK, and turned down a post-doc in Jerusalem. Instead, after submitting his thesis, he sent out about 60 applications and accepted a von Humboldt post-doc in Konstanz, Germany. After that year of working and publishing, he sent out another 60 applications, ending with a tenure-track job in Delaware. The fit wasn’t quite right, so he sent out a final 10 CVs to jobs that he really wanted. He landed one interview at Indiana’s Department of History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine, where he is now a full professor and department chair.

Amit is currently shifting his career towards biophysical modeling, focusing on cancer research, and away from philosophy. Rather than theories that might not have real world applications for another 500 years, he is now focusing on applying his previous work on probability to the life sciences. Although he is proud of his work on the foundations of physics, Amit wants his research to have a more immediate impact on humankind.

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