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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Thursday, February 29, 2024

Mikel Moyer continues philosophy education at Tufts after a 30-year career in pharmaceuticals

Mikel Moyer is pictured.

As a liberal arts institution, Tufts University offers students the flexibility to indulge in their various academic curiosities and interests. For second-semester Master of Philosophy student Mikel Moyer, his time at Tufts continues his journey back to school after working in the pharmaceutical industry for 30 years. 

Moyer graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in chemistry in 1981. After getting his doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 1986, Moyer worked as a medicinal chemist. 

“I worked in various therapeutic areas [such as] immunology, inflammation, cancer research [and] psychiatric disease a little bit,” Moyer said. “And so, as a medicinal chemist you can apply your chemistry skills to a variety of different therapeutic areas.” 

After years of working at pharmaceutical companies, Moyer retired in 2015. Unsure of his future plans, Moyer had the opportunity to explore his interest in reading, particularly in the subject of history. 

“I was reading history, but there was no systematic element to it, and I didn’t think I was really retaining that much or learning that much,” Moyer said. “I sort of started looking around for ways to learn more efficiently.”

Moyer’s desire to learn led him to the second degree bachelor's program at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, a desirable location since he had been living with his wife in Boston since 2009. This program allowed Moyer to get a degree in history while having his general education requirements fulfilled by his first bachelor’s degree. After taking a course on social and political thinkers, however, he shifted his focus towards philosophy. 

“I decided to take a single philosophy course on social and political thinkers just because I was interested in it and had no experience in history or philosophy from my Michigan degree,” Moyer said. “And I ended up really loving the philosophy course, and so I switched to a philosophy major, history minor.”

Moyer and his wife later established the Dr. Nelson P. Lande Endowed Student Support Fund, named after one of Moyer’s professors at UMass Boston, with the intention of helping out students who have general financial needs.

“This is to aid students who are suffering from either food insecurity or … [if] they have financial needs just to sort of exist,” Moyer said. “We wanted to provide support for that program, and that’s what we have done.”

Moyer’s interest in philosophy and career in chemistry do not have much overlap, primarily because Moyer was not as interested in chemistry after retiring. However, Moyer did identify a slight connection between the two disciplines.

“In organic chemistry … there’s sort of a logical pathway that you have to think your way through from whatever starting material you’re beginning with to the product at the end,” Moyer said. “Similarly, there’s a logical thought process in philosophy that one can go through, and so in a very broad sense there are some similarities.”

After getting his second bachelor’s degree, Moyer applied to graduate philosophy programs in the Boston area, and he accepted a position at Tufts. Even though Moyer has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and is in his second semester at Tufts, he still feels like a philosophy novice.

“I still feel like I’m a baby in philosophy, I mean I’ve just barely scratched the surface,” Moyer said.

While Moyer feels he has a lot to learn, he has acquired some new skills through his philosophy education. For example, philosophy has reshaped the way he approaches the world around him by improving his ability to admire different arguments.

“I learned that you can appreciate an argument even if you disagree with the conclusion that the argument comes to, and I think that’s a useful perspective,” Moyer said.

Since part of philosophy is taking apart a philosopher’s arguments, Moyer believes that the ability to think through arguments logically is an important skill that can be applied in the real world. 

“There are … parts of philosophy which can be applied to issues of relevance today,” Moyer said. “For instance, philosophical discussions around responsibility, punishment, play a role in how we think about incarceration and rehabilitation and important issues like that.”

At the same time, Moyer recognizes that some philosophical arguments are more far-removed from everyday life.

“There are also parts of philosophy that are very abstract and esoteric and finding a correlate to everyday life is difficult,” Moyer said.

Furthermore, Moyer believes that completing the philosophy readings for his coursework have improved his concentration skills.

“The ability to focus and concentrate for reasonably extended periods of time is something that’s very important in philosophy,” Moyer said. “Sometimes we don’t practice that very often in today’s world.”

Although he has enjoyed his philosophy education, Moyer was initially anxious about getting back into the groove of schoolwork after his many years in the workforce. Fortunately, Moyer enjoys doing the readings and writing papers. He has instead been challenged with starting out as a beginner in a new field after many years working in the pharmaceutical industry. 

“At the end of a 30-year career working in the same area, you develop some expertise, some experience, you sort of know the issues, you have a perspective on things that’s based on knowledge and experience,” Moyer said. “And to go from that back to being a baby, that was an adjustment, it’s quite humbling actually which is not a bad thing for a student.”

Moyer sees value in the writing skills that are gained through the study of philosophy, which can be applied to many different fields of work and study. 

“Thinking about how to lay out your argument to address criticisms that you anticipate someone might have to your argument and address those criticisms … is good practice for a lot of different styles of writing skills,” Moyer said. 

As he has returned to education, Moyer feels his professors are crucial to his philosophy studies. 

“It takes someone that really knows the area to help me understand the significance of what I have read, and so that’s been hugely valuable,” Moyer said. “I've been fortunate to have really excellent professors to help understand the material.”