Aja Watkins ’17
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My Story

Aja originally chose to study philosophy and mathematics as a way to engage with a wide range of coursework, but she was surprised to learn that these two disciplines overlapped quite a bit. In order to prepare for law school, she added a minor in Law and Public Policy. Studying three unique fields helped her realize the importance of interdisciplinary thinking to solve practical and theoretical problems. Aja graduated in December 2017 with a B.S. in Philosophy and Mathematics.

My Path
Why Philosophy and Mathematics?

Philosophers are ready to question everything, and mathematicians answer every question rigorously. Aja believed that the combination of these two features is a powerful tool for making progress in intellectual inquiry. Additionally, there are many interesting areas of overlap between philosophy and math, including logic and philosophy of mathematics and also many more areas such as game theory and epistemology.

“The more philosophy and math courses I took, the more I realized how much these disciplines have in common. Luckily, I was able to use many of the mathematical tools I was learning when answering philosophical questions – and I was also able to apply a philosophical frame of mind to my math coursework.”

Transformative Coursework

PHIL 2001- Ethics and Evolutionary Games taught by Professor Rory Smead first introduced Aja to interdisciplinary approaches to philosophy.

“Ethics and Evolutionary Games, which I took during my first semester, taught me not only about theories regarding the evolution of particular behaviors, but also demonstrated the efficacy of using mathematical models to approach philosophical questions.”

PPUA 5260- Ecological Economics taught by Professor Matthias Ruth tied economics, physics, and biology together – another instance of interdisciplinary approaches, but this time to problems in public policy.

“Ecological economics is an alternative to standard economics using a few key insights from other disciplines. Critiquing standard views – something philosophers do all the time – is also important for policymakers and other practitioners.”

MATH 5131-Introduction to Mathematical Methods and Modeling taught by Professor Solomon Jekel is a capstone course for math majors and explores various applications of differential equations models.

“I used a system of differential equations, normally used for contagious diseases, to model the spread of the opioid epidemic, and found that even an imperfect model can offer insights about real-world dynamics.”

A world at School, Global Youth Ambassador
Service Learning

Aja was a teaching assistant for four semesters for the PHIL 1115-Introduction to Logic course offered by the Philosophy Department. This experience gave her an opportunity not only to hone her logic skills, but also to gradually become more familiar with pedagogy and course preparation. She greatly enjoyed witnessing so many students from a variety of majors learn about formal logic.

Dialogue of Civilizations

Aja participated in Dialogue of Civilizations with Professors Berna Turam and Kathrin Zippel in Berlin during the summer of 2016. The Dialogue focused on the Turkish migrant populations in Berlin and the particular social and economic challenges they face.

“I really appreciated the impact of locating our studies of a group of people within that group of people.  It was very rewarding to hear directly from the individuals affected by the sociological phenomena we were studying, and to live alongside them, if only for a few weeks.”

A restaurant in Berlin on Aja's Dialogue of Civilizations.
Experiential Learning
Aja took Northeastern’s experiential learning model to heart and participated in many internships and volunteer opportunities as well as co-op. She focused on getting to know Boston, as a new resident, which she primarily accomplished through volunteer work in Roxbury and Chelsea. Most of Aja’s work experiences were education-related: both of her co-ops, in addition to a few volunteer experiences and internships, dealt with questions of educational opportunity and equity. For example, her last co-op was at Boston After School & Beyond, an organization that seeks to increase opportunities for youth to participate in after school and summer programs. She also worked on the Save Our Public Schools (No on 2) ballot question campaign in 2016. Overall, Aja had a multidisciplinary set of experiences outside of the classroom.
Aja went on an alternative spring break trip (through NU) to Jinotega, Nicaragua in 2014. Working with Outreach 360 on teaching children English literacy.
Aja presenting her project at the 2018 CSSH Undergraduate Research Forum.
Final Thesis Project

Aja finished her time at Northeastern with an Honors Interdisciplinary Thesis. She used an agent-based model to simulate and analyze school choice policies.

“The Honors Interdisciplinary Thesis project served as the perfect culmination of my education-related work experiences and my coursework – I was finally applying the analytical methods I had learned to a subject I was passionate about.”

Next Steps

Aja graduated in December 2017. Although she considered law school, graduate school in public policy, and graduate school in philosophy, Aja ultimately decided to pursue a PhD in philosophy at Boston University starting in Fall 2018. During the spring and summer in between, she volunteered at the New England Aquarium, participated in reading groups at Northeastern about social choice theory and the evolution of cognition, and worked part-time at the Massachusetts State House.

Billie Weiss/ Northeastern University
This was Aja's Northeastern Story... where will yours lead?
Adam Glanzman/ Northeastern University