Illuminating interdisciplinary writing & research in Moral Psychology: A speaker series

Illuminating interdisciplinary writing & research in Moral Psychology: A speaker series

Academic Year:
2021 - 2022 (June 1, 2021 through May 31, 2022)
Funding Requested:
Project Dates:
Overview of the Project:
This grant will fund 3-4 guest speakers, including at least 2 academic philosophers and at least 1 academic psychologist, for COGSCI 302: Moral Psychology during Fall 2021 (beginning in October 2021). This seminar class is currently being taught for the first time as an Upper Level Writing Requirement (ULWR) course and is thus heavily focused on helping students (24 in total) develop their writing and research skills.

Moral psychology is an interdisciplinary area of study that draws from both moral philosophy and empirical cognitive science. In addition to sharing their content-level expertise with students via a brief presentation - students will read a paper by each speaker in preparation for their visit - the speakers will explicitly address this question: How do philosophers and psychologists differ in their academic writing and in their overall approach to the study of moral psychology topics? Speakers will share insights about their own writing process and discuss how to conduct fruitful interdisciplinary research in moral psychology, bearing in mind their own disciplinary training and the need to engage effectively with scholars with different academic backgrounds. Students will have the opportunity to ask questions and engage in discussion with each speaker.
Final Report Fields
Project Objectives:

COGSCI 302: Moral Psychology, an interdisciplinary, upper-level, writing-intensive (ULWR) course that examines questions at the intersection of empirical cognitive science and moral philosophy. Given the multi-disciplinary content of the course and the varied academic backgrounds of the students, I built explicit reading, writing, and research skills-based instruction into the course. The speaker series, which was generously funded by this grant, was one important way of incorporating transparent, skills-based instruction into the course.

In addition to sharing their content-level expertise with students via a research presentation and interactive question and answer session, all three speakers reflected on their writing process, discussed how they conduct interdisciplinary research in moral psychology, and shared concrete tips for writing well. 

More specifically, the speaker series contributed to the following (student-centered) learning goals for the course by addressing and/or modeling a number of specific skills, including:

  • Learning to identify discipline-specific features of effective writing in moral psychology;
  • Improving communication skills by learning how to express and present ideas clearly, succinctly, and persuasively;
  • Distinguishing between different kinds of questions and goals that inform philosophers’ and psychologists’ approach to the study of topics in moral psychology;
  • Identifying ways in which writers and scholars from different disciplines sometimes talk past each other in debates in moral psychology; 
  • Identifying concrete ways in which scholars from different disciplines may more fruitfully engage with each other, such as by explicitly defining normative concepts up front and acknowledging when their methods and arguments depend on contested definitions/concepts/assumptions;
  • Learning to engage constructively with others in an effort to move inquiry forward; 
  • Recognizing the limitations as well as the strengths of the positions they choose to argue in favor of; and 
  • Learning to ask and respond to well-informed, charitable questions.
Project Achievements:

All 22 undergraduate students enrolled in COGSCI 302 were impacted by this project. The high overall quality of students’ final research papers and anonymous student feedback on official course evaluations both indicate that the speaker series successfully provided insight into the research and writing process in moral psychology and helped students develop these skills themselves. 100% of students agreed or strongly agreed with the following statements:

  • The guest lecture sessions provided helpful insight into research and writing in Moral Psychology (custom question I added to official course evaluations)
  • I gained a good understanding of concepts/principles in this field.
  • This course helped me to develop my writing and revision process. 

Additionally, students provided written comments about the speaker series in their course evaluations indicating that they found the guest lecture sessions particularly valuable for their learning: 

  • “I really enjoyed all of the guest lectures, and found it so cool and interesting to be able to hear directly from people whose papers we were reading in class.
  • “I really liked the guest lectures, I would definitely keep those and I feel like it was super helpful to engage with the readings by asking a question rather than always responding to a prompt.”

This project enabled me to provide an enriching, effective learning experience for my students in this course that I hope to replicate in future iterations of this course as well as in other upper-level, writing-focused cognitive science courses.

The activities and achievements of this project have been shared with my colleagues in the Weinberg Institute both informally (e.g. discussed via our Slack Workspace). I have also discussed the project more formally in my annual report materials. Finally, I have been invited speak on a panel about course design that is being hosted by, and for, UM graduate students in the Department of Philosophy in late March 2022 and will discuss this project with them as an example of a high-impact learning experience in a skills-based, interdisciplinary course.