Profile with Meghan Sullivan

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Meghan Sullivan (North Carolina & Balliol 2005) is the John A. O’Brien Assistant Professor Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. Hailing originally from North Carolina, she holds a BA in Philosophy and Politics from the University of Virginia, a BPhil in Philosophy from the University of Oxford and a PhD in Philosophy from Rutgers University.

Rhodes Project: Where do you call home?

Meghan Sullivan: In the bigger philosophical sense, South Bend (Indiana) now feels like home. I’ve lived here for two years and I’ve made a lot of friends and started to put down roots. It actually reminds me a lot of North Carolina and the area where my family lived. I’m originally from Greensboro. Greensboro is a bigger city than South Bend, but Midwestern and Southern culture are very similar. People are very friendly; you spend a lot of time in other people’s homes, you see your neighbors in the grocery store. I like that.

Rhodes Project: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Meghan Sullivan: I think if you had told me in high school that I would end up being a philosophy professor I would have been horrified. I wanted to be a lawyer for a long time, at least when I was in high school. It took a little bit of talking myself out of that idea when I was in college. Once I realized I really liked philosophy, it still took a year or two for me to build up the courage to want to do the PhD route rather than go to professional school.

Rhodes Project: What is your favorite part about academia?

Meghan Sullivan: It’s probably tied between teaching and going to conferences. Conferences are great. One of the best parts of my job is that I get to travel a lot and present work or respond to other people’s work. In the last year, I got to go to England, China, Toronto, New York, and New Orleans. That’s really fun and something I wasn’t really expecting when I decided to go for a PhD. That part of the job is really great: you make all these friends in the philosophical community that live everywhere, especially after six years of graduate school and years and years of professional life. You work on huge projects with people all around the world. I just started teaching our really big version of the Introduction to Philosophy at Notre Dame and that’s really fun. We have between 100 and 200 students and we tackle the really big questions of life and existence together. I get a lot of inspiration from that.

Rhodes Project: What did you find strangest about Oxford?

Meghan Sullivan: That’s a huge question. I was actually just back recently and so I’m starting to have nostalgia. I think I’ve crossed over into that. I don’t know if it was because it was the first time I spent in graduate school, or if its peculiar to the Oxford system, but for the very first time I spent a lot of my working day alone. A lot of the time at Oxford, I spent all day studying, or reading, or writing alone. That was definitely strange coming from an undergraduate situation where you have class every day and you have a lot of interaction with people. That certainly struck me as strange at the time. And so was the wearing of sub fusc. It was good preparation for the rest of graduate school though. I came back to the U.S. for the rest of my PhD.  I had coursework for another year, but then I was on my own again writing my dissertation. So in some respects, the Oxford system was good preparation for the kinds of things I had to do later on.

Rhodes Project: Knowing what you know now, if you weren’t in academia what would you want to be doing instead?

Meghan Sullivan: I thought about this a lot about a year before I went on the job market because the job market in the humanities is so bad right now. I think I probably would have liked to go into business, either consulting or the legal side of business. I certainly love being a philosopher, but I also really like the challenges of working in teams and using analytical skills to solve big problems. I honestly don’t know how happy I would be in business, but at least that was what I was thinking if the academic job market didn’t work out.

Rhodes Project: If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would you go and why?

Meghan Sullivan: I actually just got back from my dream vacation. I have a brother who is high school-aged and he and I just took a two-week vacation to Munich, Prague, and Helsinki. The Scandinavian region was incredible. If I could go back anywhere in the near future it would be Finland, Norway, or Sweden in the summer: it is absolutely beautiful, people are so nice, there are all sorts fun outdoorsy things you can do, and it is very easy to navigate. It was really right up my alley. They also have their own history and traditions that they are very proud of. The sun goes away for like two hours a day in the summer – it was just absolutely incredible.

Rhodes Project: Can you describe a meal you’ve had recently that stands out?

Meghan Sullivan: My neighbors here, who are also college professors, cook quite a bit. Most of the best meals I’ve had recently have been with them. We just got a Whole Foods in South Bend—that makes South Bend sound so pathetic—which means that our options for fresh seafood in the Midwest have improved dramatically. My neighbors made moules frites for me with mussels in white wine. They got a bunch of French fries from Five Guys, the fast food joint. They crisped up the fries in the oven and served them with the mussels. That meal was actually amazing.

Rhodes Project: What brings you the most joy in life?

Meghan Sullivan:  Probably some combination of my faith and my family. I don’t get to see my family as often as I would like, especially now that I live out here. My parents and my youngest brother moved to Florida six years ago. I have a middle brother who got married last summer and he and his wife live in Black Mountain, North Carolina. And my grandfather lives in North Carolina. When we’re together it’s wonderful. I loved taking that trip with my brother over the last couple weeks.

Rhodes Project: If you could have one super-power, what would it be and why?

Meghan Sullivan: Probably like Jean Grey-style telekinesis – really the specific kind she has in X-Men, which also endows her with other powers, like the power to fly and have incredible strength. It makes her very smart and extraordinarily empathetic, until she goes crazy. I definitely want to be Jean Grey. 

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