Mark Bourgeois completed his PhD in Philosophy this year at Loyola University Chicago, with a dissertation analyzing the concept of natural function in biology, and comparing it to function in artifacts. He also has a Master’s in philosophy from Miami of Ohio, and a BA in philosophy and a BS in physics from the University of Illinois. He spent several years as an engineer in the telecom industry, mostly with Lucent Technologies, working on big optical backbone networks before starting his PhD.
His areas of expertise include philosophy of biology; metaphysics; ethics education; engineering ethics; research ethics; clinical ethics; engineering design; and regulatory policy.
Interview with Mark:
Mark, what brings you to the Reilly Center?
Basically, the new EESE project – Ethics Education for Scientists and Engineers. This is an NSF sponsored three-year project to provide sustained, in-depth ethics education to 15 second- or third-year doctoral science students per year. I was hired to manage the project. I should note that I had applied for this very grant myself, so when I saw the job posting, it was a case of “if you can’t beat them, join them”.
What will your main responsibilities be while you're here?
Collaborating with Don [Howard] and Melinda [Gormley], I will need to flesh out the details of the project. We have a lot to accomplish to get the program operational in time for a first run early next year, and to begin recruiting the first cohort this fall.
Tell us more about your educational background.
It’s pretty varied between humanities and engineering, which I think is a good fit with the Reilly Center. That will be a nice change for me because for a long time I have been the philosopher among engineers and vice-versa.
While I earned my doctorate at Loyola, I also worked at Northwestern University, first managing an engineering education center, then teaching engineering design. Throughout that time, I was also engaged in various ethics education efforts, including introducing ethics into freshman and senior design courses, and creating and teaching a graduate course on regulation and ethical issues in the food, drug and medical device industries.
What are your main areas of research?
In general, my main interest is in teaching ethics to technical students – especially the big picture social and ethical issues like climate change and emerging technologies. I think engineers and scientists do not get enough opportunity in their education to think about the impact of their work on society, and so they often end up thinking that these are not their concern.
I’d also like to begin applying the insights of moral psychology to the teaching of ethics, and to understanding public perception of these kinds of issues.
How did you becoming interested in your field?
I think it has to do with the fact that I was an engineering student like that myself as an undergrad, before I started taking philosophy courses.
But I think it is really more because it is an area which allows me to indulge both my technical and intellectual proclivities, and is so rich and varied that there is no chance of it becoming stale or boring.
I also think that it is a prime area where philosophers can have a direct impact on, or at least be directly engaged with, major social issues.
What do you most hope to accomplish while you're at Notre Dame?
I’d like to see the EESE project become a permanent fixture here, and one of the things that defines the Reilly Center for grad students. I’d also like to forge closer links with the engineering school, especially at the level of undergraduate education. For example, there seems to be no engineering ethics course for ND undergrads, which I think is a big opportunity for the Reilly Center.
What do you like to do in your spare time (if you have any)?
Well, I just bought my first house. So, I think that answers both questions.
Any questions for us?
If anyone wants to suggest a good Indian restaurant, or place to get a beer that isn’t a chain eatery, I’m all ears!