Jordan Walter, '10, spent three of his four years at the University of Richmond researching the source of the dysentery-causing bacteria Shigella's virulence with biology professor Laura Runyen-Janecky.
Like many biology majors, Walter arrived at Richmond with hopes of attending medical school, and he'll realize his dream this fall when he enters the University of North Carolina School of Medicine's dual M.D./Ph.D. program.
Unlike most future doctors, however, Walter says it was his decision to double major in philosophy that gave him a competitive edge over other applicants.
He first became interested in philosophy after studying several major works in a freshman seminar.
"We were reading Nietzsche and Plato, and I was fascinated by it," Walter said. "I decided to take an introductory philosophy class just for the fun of it. I really liked it, so I decided to take more — and then that turned into a minor, and then that turned into a major."
He says that while the two disciplines couldn't be more different, the study of one improved his performance in the other.
"Unlike biology, philosophy doesn't have many obvious direct uses, but I think the indirect rewards you get from studying it are endless," Walter said. "It encourages reading and writing critically, and really teaches you to dissect and synthesize the logic behind certain views or theories. Philosophy has really helped inform my study of the sciences."
The dual degree program at UNC will allow Walter to earn doctorates in both medicine and microbiology in seven to eight years.
"I've always been drawn to the medical side of science, and when I got to college I discovered that I also really liked research," Walter said. "I've never really been great at making up my mind, so I just decided to do both.
"I also love learning and seeing the bigger picture of things, and the M.D. and Ph.D. integrated into one program was right up my alley. It brought in the medical knowledge and also the rigorous training involved with scientific research."
Walter says that ideally he'd love to build a career researching one of the major infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria or the AIDS virus. He looks forward to traveling the world to study them and thinks his background in philosophy can inform his scientific research.
"I've always been interested in world views, and how what people think about their world shapes what they ultimately do in it."