Chiara Sedola standing in front of a bookshelf and smiling at the camera

Liberal Studies student takes research to international conference

June 11, 2024
Author: Eric Zimmer

Chiara Sedola presented her work at in Washington, DC.

When Chiara Sedola wrote a paper for a VIU class, she had no idea her work would take her to Washington, DC to present at a conference.

But that’s exactly how things played out for the fourth-year student, who is majoring in Liberal Studies and Biology.

The paper she wrote was for a third-year Liberal Studies class and it was about “the limitations of scientific knowledge and the possibility of integrating evolutionary biology with Aristotelian teleology.” Teleology is a branch of causality giving the reason or an explanation for something as a function of its end, its purpose or its goal, as opposed to as a function of its cause. One of Aristotle’s examples is an acorn’s reason for being is to become a fully grown tree.

Chiara says she chose the topic because while science is great at explaining how things work, it doesn’t give a clear guide on what’s ethically right or wrong. And bringing back Aristotle's idea of purpose in nature could potentially help people decide what's ethical, especially when dealing with tricky questions brought up by new technologies.

“The topic is thought-provoking and perhaps even a bit contentious,” she adds. “Although my opinion on the matter is not yet settled and I’m still grappling with the ideas, approaching the issue of ethics in science from my two areas of study has enriched my understanding of a very complex issue.”

Chiara says being selected to present her paper at the conference in Washington was a surprise. “Out of nowhere, I received an email on behalf of the Liberal Studies Department saying that they would like to nominate me to present at the Association for Core Texts and Courses’ annual undergraduate conference,” she recalls.

She was hesitant to go at first, because of her limited travel experience and the fact she would be travelling solo. However, after giving it some more thought, she decided to accept the nomination.

“I edited my paper to tailor it to the conference’s theme, sent it off and waited for their evaluation,” she says.

Then came the news her paper had been accepted. “I was so excited,” she remembers.

The conference was hosted by American University, with students from across North America attending. The first day featured a keynote speaker and a dinner. The second day was for student presentations, which were followed by discussion periods.

“Although I'm always a bit nervous about presenting, after my initial nervousness wore off, I think it went well,” she says. “The students and faculty members attending did ask some tricky questions, but the discussion was similar to my Liberal Studies seminars, where participants are committed to having a good conversation that enriches everyone’s understanding.”

The experience also helped her learn more about how to prepare and present her work, as well as thoughtfully engage with an idea from multiple perspectives.

“I think these are important skills for any career, as well as life in general,” she adds.

Chiara plans to apply for a master’s program in Library and Information Sciences once she graduates from VIU.

“I’ve worked at a public library for several years,” she says. “There are many kinds of libraries, some of them specializing in the biological sciences, and I think this would be a great way to use everything I’ve learned at VIU.”

She encourages current VIU students to “be on the lookout for similar opportunities to share their work. I would also recommend that students look into the grants that VIU and VIUSU generously provide students who are participating in conferences. I really felt supported and encouraged by my professors and peers and I couldn’t have done this without them.”

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