Bidisha Mallik teaches philosophy and ethics at UW Tacoma, and plans to teach Environmental Philosophy and Sustainability next fall. She considers her role as a teacher to be a lifelong commitment, and that teaching philosophy greatly impacts the shaping of student minds. Between her time as a professor and experiences as a so-called “travel freak,” professor Mallik spoke with the Ledger to tell us about herself and provide advice for undergraduates.
1). Where did you attend college as an Undergraduate and Graduate student?
I did my undergraduate studies at the University of Calcutta in India. My specialization there was Geography and Cartography. My interest in environmental studies took me to the United Kingdom where I did my master’s in Environment and Development from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. After graduating, I spent some time doing environmental journalism and research in the Himalayan mountains on social and environmental issues in the course of which I decided to get a Ph.D. My doctorate in Philosophy is from the University of Texas at Denton where I specialized in Gandhian and Environmental Philosophy.
2). How did you decide on your field of study/expertise? What drew you to the subject?
That is a long, convoluted story. My grandparents played an instrumental role in inspiring me to the study of literature and philosophy hailing from both East and West, and … their long-term interest in the life and work of Mohandas K. Gandhi brought me to understand and appreciate his philosophy that teaches that inner transformation of the individual must be the starting point of outer transformations for social change. Simultaneously, my father, inculcated in me a deep interest to learn about the world from experience. I was passionate about nature as I grew up and developed a keener passion for the mountains, which led me to travel and hike in the Himalayan country in the north of India. There, in one serendipitous encounter, I came to meet the Gandhian activist, Sunderlal Bahuguna and his wife, Vimla Bahuguna, who were pioneers of the nonviolent forest protection movement called the “Chipko” in which village people hugged the trees to protect them from commercial felling. Incidentally, I learned that the source of their inspiration for nonviolent social change was not Gandhi, but the mentorship of two European women, Madeleine Slade and Catherine Mary Heilemann who came to Gandhi to work with him. The story of these two extraordinary women opened my eyes to the possibility of positive change that one could bring to the world — a thing I always aspired to do, but didn’t know how. I became intrigued and wanted to learn more, which ultimately drew me into philosophy to pursue my doctoral studies. I am currently working on a book project — a culmination of my doctoral research — on the contribution of Slade and Heilemann to social development and environmental sustainability.
3). When did you decide that you wanted to be a professor? What drew you to UWT?
I didn’t know that until I began teaching courses in philosophy during my graduate career. That experience itself helped me see how empowering and transformative a career in teaching could be. I recall a student in my ethics class who told me how learning and confronting alternative viewpoints other than his own helped him see the nobler side of moral duty towards self, which caused him to give up drugs. From this, I realized that a teaching career in philosophy could potentially make greater impact in shaping human minds and through that, bring about a change in society, because education, as W.B. Yeats said, “is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Plus, teaching is a rewarding experience in that it has helped my own growth both as a scholar and a learner. Thus, I have come to choose teaching not just as a career path but also as a lifelong commitment. I was drawn to UWT mainly because of its interdisciplinary approach to education, the diverse and vibrant student body and the small student-faculty ratio.
4). What classes do you teach here at UW Tacoma? Which ones do you most enjoy
I teach Introduction to Philosophy, Introduction to Ethics, Ethics in Society and Practical Reasoning at UWT. I enjoy teaching all of my classes simply because I love what I do, but if you want a favorite, that has to be the one focused on ethics. I also plan to teach courses on Environmental Philosophy and Sustainability and am currently planning to teach a course on the Ethics of Nonviolence next fall.
5). What do you like best about teaching at UWT?
What I absolutely like about UWT is its students. I have taught at other institutions in North America, but what I find here is unique and motivating for me as a teacher. The students come from diverse backgrounds and they are energetic and eager to bring their own knowledge to the classroom and beyond and are committed to contribute to their own community and to the world at large. Very inspiring!
6). What is the hardest part of being a professor?
[The] hardest part is to be able to find time enough to get all that you want to do apart from teaching, such as finishing your writing projects, attending faculty meetings, organizing community meetings and field trips and most importantly, finding a balance between work and personal life.
7). What advice can you offer undergraduate students?
Undergraduate education is one of the formative stages of your life and you should be able to make the best of it as the experience as a whole would be life-changing in terms of broadening your horizon and helping you get a clear idea of what career path you may finally take. Thus, making the best of your time at college would mean not just bagging good grades, but participating in class discussions mindfully, communicating well with your professors and seeking their advice whenever needed, maintaining good connections with classmates and making good use of school resources and opportunities for learning as they come.
8). What are some of your hobbies?
When at home I love to do gardening, cooking, or reading. But I really like hiking and going places such as exploring the nature, art and culture of the beautiful Pacific Northwest. An odd sporadic hobby I have is to do garbage picking in my local neighborhood area to arouse environmental consciousness and social responsibility. Plus, I am passionate about music and love to go to concerts.
- Professor Mallik grew up in Calcutta, India.
- Mallik has been a vegan for 10 years.
- Mallik considers herself a travel freak. She traveled to Europe and Africa on a sea voyage and saw half the world at a young age of eight. She has additionally traveled to Thailand, United Kingdom, Austria, Czech Republic, Canada, and many countries and places of South Asia.
- She is ‘quite mad’ about Beethoven and his music, and can’t wait to attend the upcoming Beethoven Festival in Seattle next year! She plans to travel to Vienna to celebrate his 250th birth anniversary!