GradFUTURES Community College Teaching Fellowship Spotlight: Ian McKeachie (GS, Philosophy)

Oct. 21, 2021

In the GradFUTURES Spotlight series, Princeton graduate students share in their own words about their experiences in one of the GradFUTURES Fellowship programs: the Community College Teaching Fellowship Program, the University Administrative Fellowship Program, or the GradFUTURES Social Impact Fellowship Program. 

Where and when did your Fellowship take place?

I was a Community College Teaching Fellow in 2020. I spent the spring semester of 2020 shadowing a philosophy professor at Rowan College of South Jersey, and then I spent the subsequent fall semester teaching philosophy 101 at the same school.


I received undergraduate degrees from Columbia University and L’Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris; the former in political science and philosophy, and the latter in Middle Eastern studies. In 2017, I joined the Princeton philosophy department as a doctoral student. I now work on the history of philosophy, specifically the relationship between Immanuel Kant and the school of Leibnizian metaphysics that predominated in German philosophy before him.

What drew you to the Community College Teaching Fellowship?

I love teaching, and wanting to teach had been the primary reason that I had decided to pursue a Ph.D. The Community College Teaching Fellowship was an opportunity to broaden my horizons as an instructor. It allowed me to work in a close one-on-one mentorship with an experienced teacher and to take the lead on designing and teaching my own course. I was drawn to the Community College Teaching Fellowship as an opportunity to pursue teaching beyond Princeton and to take on more responsibility with a larger teaching role in my academic career.

In particular, I wanted to pursue the Community College Teaching Fellowship in order to interact with a diverse student body and to serve students outside of the Ivy League, who lacked the resources and privileges of many of the students I had previously taught. Moreover, the Community College Teaching Fellowship was an opportunity for me to introduce academic philosophy to students who had no prior experience with it, and to help new people become passionate about a field I love. Many of my students had no prior exposure to or interest in philosophy, but my course was an opportunity for me to show them what the field was like and why I care about it; the experience of seeing people connect to philosophy for the first time was unique and special.

Can you share a bit about the Fellowship and the kinds of experiences you had while a Fellow?

The Community College Teaching Fellowship is a partnership between Princeton and three community colleges in New Jersey. I worked with Rowan College of South Jersey, which is located in Gloucester County. RCSJ is affiliated with Rowan University, and many RCSJ students complete their two-year degrees before transferring to Rowan University for a four-year bachelor’s. While at RCSJ, I taught philosophy 101, where I covered a range of topics in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and social philosophy. I found that my students were bright, hard-working, and invested in learning.

How did these experiences help you?

Actually serving as the instructor of record for a course was transformative. There were plenty of things that I knew in theory, but that I had never previously had the chance to put into practice. Actually having to wrap my brain around syllabus design, to deliver lectures every week, to host office hours and answer student emails, gave me a tremendous depth of insight into what life is like as a professor. It unquestionably made me a better teacher; there are some things that can only be learned by doing.

Can you share some reflections on the mentorship component of the Fellowship?

The mentorship was an invaluable part of the experience, and it allowed me to develop a relationship unlike any of the professional connections I have with professors at Princeton. We discussed pedagogy, syllabus design, textbook selection, assignment structure, how to deal with plagiarism, and a variety of other topics. I was also afforded the opportunity to sit in on departmental faculty meetings, getting an insider’s glimpse of conversations that are normally only had by professors.

Best advice for Graduate Students considering a Fellowship through GradFUTURES?

Apply for Fellowships that reflect your passions. There are teaching opportunities through GradFUTURES, but if teaching isn’t your thing, there are also professional development programs in all fields and areas. The most important thing for an application is to show that you care about what you’re doing—that you want the Fellowship not just to check a box on your CV, but because it will help you develop experience in something you’re passionate about.


Read more GradFUTURES Fellowship Spotlights here!