Andrew Kirton

Andrew Kirton

I did philosophy at Manchester on and off over a period of 12 years (start of a BA to the end of my PhD), which is a fair chunk of adult life.

As such, I could be a terrible source of testimony about how good a place it was, having known little else. Or, I could be a really good one. For informative-blurb purposes let’s go with the latter.

I have generally always puzzled over the vague hack comedian concern ‘what is it with people?’ and how bendable morality can be in the wild. During my MRes, I took a module run by my supervisor Dr Thomas Smith called ‘Promises and Obligations’. Taking the module, it struck me that trust was the multi-headed hydra underneath those issues.

Trust seems to be morally weighty because we are, as a matter of brute fact, vulnerable to other people, and trust of others is ‘about’ that vulnerability. But what vulnerability really amounts to is surprisingly hard to pin down. The PhD proposal I wrote on how I would pin it down was enthusiastically written enough to win favour with the School of Social Sciences funding panel (it didn’t hurt that there is ongoing ‘crisis of trust’ in western democracies. Silver linings!)

I was pretty fortunate to get a funded PhD place, as I was initially not even second in line for funding. Like the half-remembered Earl of some backwater, the opportunity came to me when those higher in the funding succession list declined their offers, or got a premium funding package upgrade, on account of showing-off grades. Lesson being; give it a go!

The community in the Manchester philosophy department was supportive and intellectually nurturing.

The range of topics staff and other postgraduates work on provides a wealth of angles/takes/questions that won’t otherwise occur to you. Even if others’ research topics seem so esoteric as to be another language, you’ll be surprised at how much some questions resonate through the walls between them.

It’s worth sinking into the culture of seminars, conferences and workshops that go on. You’ll look appealing in future jobs you apply to (both academic and not), which often seek people who take time to build ongoing cultures/relationships within the place you work and externally.

Supervisors and lecturers also provide very helpful guidance in crossing the academic employment landscape for when you complete, should you desire to, as I can attest.

Just after the PhD, I started a 6-month Research Assistant post - on a British Academy funded project - based at the Blavatnik School of Government, in Oxford. The post bore fruit in the form of a co-authored paper and a research report into how the private sector can corrode trust between citizens, and what regulation could limit this.

I’m now in a 3-year lectureship at the University of Leeds’ Interdisciplinary Ethics centre, where I help non-Philosophy students think critically about a wide range of interesting ethics-in-society topics, relevant to their disciplines and future professions.

I am also working on turning my thesis research into something that can be read more broadly, as I worry about standard hand-wringing contemporary trust issues like the state of political discourse, climate denialism etc, but I’ve also had a great time chatting to people who study trust in other fields (eg in women’s prisons) who have gotten in touch after encountering my thesis.