Academic Stories

Fourth-year student studies the philosophy and math of urban violence

UChicago’s HIPS program helps Jade Benson bridge diverse interests through an interdisciplinary course of study

When she began her undergraduate studies at the University of Chicago in 2016, Jade Benson was set on majoring in mathematics. Then she started taking her required Core classes. 

“My SOSC course completely changed my direction,” said the fourth-year from Colorado. “I was captivated by the philosophical texts and the classroom discussions…I had never felt that way about a subject before, and I knew that I had to switch out of math into something more focused on philosophy.”

Portrait of Jade Benson in front of ivy-covered buildings.
(Photo by Zola Yi)

At UChicago, students not only discover new interests but can also choose majors that cater to all of them, no matter how varied those interests may be. Along with seven other students in her year, Benson bridged her interests in math, philosophy and social science by majoring in History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Science and Medicine, or HIPS for short.

A quintessentially interdisciplinary program, the HIPS major gives students the chance to study science from a more humanistic perspective. Along with courses in chemistry, physics and biology, HIPS students are required to take courses on subjects like medical ethics, anthropology and epistemology. As stated on the program’s official website, the major’s overarching goal is for students to understand “science in terms of its historical development, conceptual structure and social role.”

For Benson, the HIPS program gave her firsthand experience with the quality of UChicago’s undergraduate teaching. “The HIPS professors are outstanding,” she noted. “They take us very seriously and challenge our ideas, while constantly encouraging us to expand and think through related topics.”

Just as importantly, the HIPS program also offered Benson the chance to learn on her own terms. “I enjoy the freedom to design my own educational path,” she commented. “The major does an excellent job of balancing the technical requirements of STEM subjects with giving students space to find their own passions and to explore them deeply. It has allowed me to explore so many new topics while I develop my writing, critical thinking and speaking skills.”

Benson’s plans for her upcoming BA thesis aptly reflect the multidimensional nature of the HIPS program. Expanding on the idea that violence is a “disease,” she intends to examine philosophical definitions of violence and whether they can inform quantitative analyses of urban conflict.

“I am interested in exploring how violence is studied through the lens of disease models, especially in Chicago,” Benson noted. “My thesis aims to take a current area of interest within the social sciences and use it to understand how philosophy can influence how we quantitatively study and understand violence.” 

Benson’s involvement with HIPS has also influenced her life beyond the classroom. For the past three years, she has been a research assistant at NORC, where she is currently writing a paper on sleep quality. This summer, she is interning at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and she hopes to pursue a career in public health after graduation. 

“The HIPS major is constantly informing what I want to do,” said Benson. “My HIPS courses influence the way that I analyze the rhetoric and work in this field [public health]. I find myself constantly thinking over discussions I’ve had in my HIPS courses and will hopefully continue to do so after I graduate.”

On the whole, Benson counts her experience in the HIPS program as one of the most meaningful parts of her time at the College. Above all, she hopes that more students will consider joining the program in the future:

“If you are the type of student who is excited by the possibility of designing your own program, wants to make meaningful connections with a close group of students and loves to discuss philosophy in collaborative environments–you will be a great fit.”