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Applying Lessons from the Past to Social Challenges of the Present

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Stony Brook, NY; Stony Brook University: Philosophy Graduate student Jessica Sims won the American Association of University Women award.
Philosophy graduate student Jessica Sims won the American Association of University Women award.

Philosophy PhD candidate Jessica Sims is not content to remain safely ensconced in the ivory tower. Drawing upon classic works by Aristotle and Heidegger, Jessica addresses pressing contemporary social concerns while also advancing her field. Recently, Jessica was recognized for this innovative research with a 2016-17 American Fellowship from the American Association of University Women (AAUW).

Jessica is working to develop a therapeutic approach that helps victims of domestic violence regain physical and psychological autonomy. Her research explores the nature of human consciousness from a philosophical perspective in order to determine how it can be conditioned by abuse. She develops a new concept called existential captivation in her dissertation in order to explain why some victims of violent assault refuse to leave their attackers. Mary Rawlinson, Department of Philosophy Chair, believes that Jessica’s work “promises significant results for feminism and political philosophy.” Rawlinson went on to describe Jessica’s project as both “timely” and “brave.”

Established in 1888, the AAUW American Fellowship is one of the oldest and most prestigious sources of funding exclusively for women. It supports women scholars who are completing doctoral dissertations, conducting postdoctoral research or finishing research for publication. For the 2016-17 academic year, AAUW awarded a total of $3.7 million to more than 230 scholars and research projects through six different fellowship and grant programs. AAUW offers not just financial support, but also a supportive network of mentors.

“We have a long and proud history of supporting exceptional women scholars through our American Fellowship program. This year’s group includes women who are leaders in their institutions and their fields working on issues related to sexual violence, race, and other topics of importance to women and girls. They aren’t just brilliant, they are agents of change,” said Gloria Blackwell, AAUW vice president of fellowships, grants, and global programs.

For Jessica, this was a perfect alignment of her research agenda and the aims of a particular fellowship. When asked what advice she has for other graduate students seeking awards of this caliber, she emphasized that it is all about fit and perseverance. Early in her graduate career, Jessica applied for several different awards unsuccessfully. Later when she had advanced to candidacy, she focused specifically on awards like those provided by AAUW with an emphasis on advocacy for women and girls. Jessica believes that finding the right fit between her goals and those of the organization was key to her success.

Graduate students interested in external awards like AAUW should consult with their departmental mentors and External Fellowships Advisor Jennifer Green in the Office for the Integration of Research, Education, and Professional Development.

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