Brigid Evans

Meet Brigid Evans, recent SHAPS Master of Arts, Philosophy graduate

In 2018 Brigid Evans completed her Masters by research in the areas of political philosophy and philosophy of education. Brigid’s research focuses on educational justice, specifically in relation to the inclusion of students with disability in mainstream classrooms. On a recent trip home from her new base in the UK, she chatted to Carley Tonoli about reflections on her research, career, and hopes for the future.

I became interested in philosophy during high school. My school offered Ethics as a subject in Year 10, and Philosophy in VCE. I was instantly taken with philosophy’s approach to learning and understanding; of questioning deeply held assumptions to discover truth and gain wisdom.

I love the insight philosophy provides into the requirements of justice and how these requirements can or ought to be attained. Philosophy can offer an important contribution to the pursuit of justice.

My favourite Philosopher is definitely Iris Murdoch. I’ve had a soft spot for her since being introduced to her work in year 12. Iris’s work really resonated with me, and she was the first female philosopher I’d come across.

Iris was the beginning of my frustration with the male bias in philosophy. My three-year high school philosophy education looked at one female and countless males. There are so many brilliant women in the history of our field and they so rarely get the attention they deserve!

After completing my undergraduate studies, I became a secondary school teacher through the Teach for Australia program. In an effort to combat educational disadvantage, the program offers high achieving university graduates the opportunity to complete a Master of Education, whilst actively teaching in disadvantaged schools.

Five years teaching in secondary schools really inspired my Masters’ research project at the University of Melbourne. During that time, I’ve taught a diverse range of students but one stood out. He was capable and kind, but socially and academically isolated, in part due to my fellow staff members’ attitudes towards teaching an autistic student. Teaching him was ‘too difficult’, and his learning and social connections suffered at a result.

My project focused on examining the ways in which integration could lead to educational injustices for students with disabilities. This resulted from my initial research, which suggested that these potential risks to marginalised or disadvantaged groups were not captured by the philosophical arguments for integration as a moral imperative.

I argued that where integration and educational justice were in conflict, due to negative attitudes held by teachers, educational justice ought to take priority. This can be achieved two ways; through voluntary separation of students with disabilities into schools that better support their learning and wellbeing, or though changing teacher attitudes.

When teachers wantonly hold attitudes towards students that negatively impact on learning, I believe those teachers are failing in their duties towards those students. Increasing support and training for teachers to improve their self-efficacy regarding teaching students with disability, or students from marginalised and disadvantaged groups, is necessary if integration is to be considered an imperative for schools.

My research supervisors were Daniel Halliday and Karen Jones. Both have been an incredible support throughout, not just my Masters, but throughout my entire career in philosophy at the University of Melbourne and beyond.

Dan actually encouraged me to do my Honours in Philosophy, and to transfer my Masters from Monash to work with him at Melbourne. He continually sought out opportunities for me and helped shaped my work into something I’m really proud of. Karen I credit – almost single-handedly – with teaching me how to write. The opportunities she creates for research students are both rewarding and generous.

It’s hard to pick just one highlight from my time at the University of Melbourne! The local and international conferences were all up there – partly to be able to share my work and engage with brilliant minds from around the world, and partly because who doesn’t love funded travel to amazing destinations with all your mates?

Working on Ethics Matters, a TV show for teenagers (hosted by Dan Halliday) that explores complex ethical problems and, also, being sent to England to meet with several philosophers to discuss my research, were the most rewarding experiences during my time at Melbourne.

Finding a balance between teaching, research, and having a social life was really challenging. Teaching and research are particularly hard to balance as you always feel like you can and should be doing more. There’s no clear point where you can say you’re done – you can always improve your lesson plans, teaching resources or feedback just as you can keep reading, writing, and editing.

Setting clear boundaries for myself in terms of the times and days I work really helped – treating both as a nine-to-five job, giving myself time to relax and having that routine improved my stress levels and the quality of my work enormously.

My advice to incoming postgraduate researchers is to treat it like a job  find a routine and stick to it, don’t let studying take over your entire day or week. I found having a job outside philosophy kept me grounded and driven, and ensured that I used all the time I had wisely.

Since graduating from the University of Melbourne, I’ve just started a PhD at the University of Warwick in the UK. I’m still working out the specifics of my project, so this might change, but I’m looking at the social rights and responsibilities of individuals and what foundational settings – such as schools, families, and social media – ought to be like to ensure the appropriate development of our social capacities.

My SHAPS cohort is one of the things I miss most now that I’m in the UK – it’s such a lively and supportive community at Melbourne. I’m not one for gushy statements but I do really miss everyone – not just for the philosophical debates and assistance we’d offer each other, but because the cohort is just a group of mates – nerdy weird philosophers but great mates.

Looking to the future, my broad and loft goal is to help achieve educational justice for students with disabilities – I could see myself starting my own school or continuing in research. I hope, whatever I’m doing, I’m still teaching and researching in some capacity.