Stepping into the Ivy League

By Paul Mayne
June 07, 2012

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LeisingerPaul Mayne, Western News
Western student Matthew Leisinger, Honors Specialization in Philosophy, will be heading to Yale University this fall to begin his PhD.

Matthew Leisinger came more than 4,000 kms from his hometown of Prince George, B.C., to earn an undergraduate degree in Philosophy from Western. So what’s another 1,000 kms – especially when he’ll find himself walking the hallowed halls of Yale University this fall?

Leisinger, who graduates this week, is preparing to pack up and move to New Haven, Conn., in August, his home for the next seven years while he earns his PhD. With an interest in early modern German philosophers such as Immanuel Kant and Gottfried Wilhem Leibniz, Leisinger knew in high school that philosophy was the route to go. And Western, he said, was the right choice.

Known for its medicine and business schools, Western’s Philosophy department flies under the radar, he said.

“It’s a shame because Western’s Philosophy department is one of the best, if not the best, in Canada. And not just because of the Rotman Institute, which is fantastic,” Leisinger said. “I don’t think I could have gone to a better place in Canada to get to this sort of position. The Philosophy department here is unique because it’s a really big department, 30 or so faculty; but classes are small and really accessible. You have well-known and established professors who are more than willing to talk with you.”

Leisinger is one of two Scholar’s Electives students graduating this year and going straight into the PhD program, with fellow philosopher Emily Kress also heading to Yale in the fall. The philosophy department at Yale offers full funding (tuition, fees and living expenses) to all of its incoming PhD students.

The Scholar’s Electives program is designed to provide an intellectually stimulating learning environment for students who wish to undertake a truly interdisciplinary and/or intensive laboratory research experience. With only 50-75 students accepted to the program each year, the goal is to foster a community of scholars who have diverse disciplinary and research interests, but a general intellectual curiosity about most disciplines.

Leisinger knew he wanted to go to graduate school, but wasn’t sure where he was going to land. He sent applications to 11 schools – receiving eight acceptance letters from such schools such as Harvard, Cornell, University of California-San Diego and, of course, Yale.

“I did better than I thought I would, so I was pretty excited,” said Leisinger, who visited four of the potential schools. “I was in total disbelief. I was just hoping someone would take me. You never have enough evidence to know if you made the right decision or not, but I felt at Yale they had a really good community of people who are interested in the same things I am.”

He said it was intimidating just visiting the historic school

“I had conversations with some of the older students who were just so smart and you wonder ‘How do I fit in here?’” Leisinger laughed. “I just tell myself they were in the same position when they first started.”

While Leisinger is proud of his accomplishments and what lies ahead, it goes a bit deeper for his parents.

“When I was getting my acceptance letters back in March, I would call my mom at work as they would come in,” he said. “With each progressing acceptance she was getting happier, and then when I told her Yale, she was like ‘aaahh.’”

While a number of years off, Leisinger said he would love to return to Canada to teach after he adds Yale graduate to his list.

“I look forward to what lies ahead,” he said.


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