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Science needs more Philosophy

School of Medicine PhD student publishes column in Nature on how her background in philosophy has improved her scientific reasoning

Rasha Shraim is studying towards a PhD in Genomic Data Science in the School of Medicine, Trinity College Dublin, and she has a BSc in Biology and Philosophy. Although these two realms may seem antagonistic, it has been said that philosophy and science share the tools of logic, conceptual analysis, and rigorous argumentation. Rasha’s training to date has been diverse; she describes how she studied fish for her undergraduate biology thesis and yeast for her post-graduate thesis. Now, under the supervision of Professor Lina Zgaga and Professor Ross McManus, she is researching gene-environment interactions in human complex diseases and traits. Rasha found the time to publish a career column in Nature (published 23rd April 2021), regarded as the world's leading multidisciplinary science journal. In the column, Rasha described her background, the skills that she learned through philosophy, and the impact her knowledge of philosophy has had on her scientific career.

Rasha explained:

“Many concepts and skills that I learned through philosophy, which first seemed unrelated, have impacted and continue to impact my research. I wrote about how logic, analytical thinking, and philosophical exploration have improved my scientific reasoning and creativity. I also discussed how studying ethics informs my decisions and pushes me to do better science. My goal was to encourage other researchers to explore philosophy and to recognize that there are valuable lessons to be learned from other disciplines.”

Rasha hopes to inspire other researchers to explore philosophical topics and writing and suggested some starting texts in the Nature column. She described how philosophy may compel scientists to examine the impact of their research and approach more carefully. She explained:

“I recently participated in a biomedical Data Ethics workshop, alongside other participants from the School of Medicine. We learned that the tools of biomedicine are developing rapidly while the ethics lag behind and it was clear that all of us in this field can benefit greatly from reading and discussing ethics (including topics such as consent, autonomy, ownership).”

As well as philosophising over scientific theory and writing for premier scientific journals, Rasha serves as a student representative for her Centre for Research Training in Genomics Data Science cohort as well as chair of this year's organising committee for the Systems Genomics symposium.

You can read Rasha’s Career Column in Nature here: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01103-x

You can learn more about the CRT in Genomics Data Science programme here: https://genomicsdatascience.ie/