Heather Stewart is a Ph.D. candidate and Instructor of The Rotman Institute of Philosophy at the University of Western Ontario. She works primarily in the areas of feminist philosophy, bioethics, and social and political philosophy. Hear Heather in episode 103 of The Path to Authenticity.
If your life were a novel, what would be the title?
Midwestern Mischief and Mayhem
Where were you born?
Northern Kentucky, Cincinnati, Ohio
Where is the place you call home?
Louisville, Kentucky – although I haven’t lived there since mid-2016, it will always be the place I try to get back to, and where I feel most at home.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Growing up, and even when I entered university, I thought I wanted to be a pediatrician. I’ve always known I wanted to care for people, and especially vulnerable people, and that was the career that initially stuck out to me as offering a way to do it.
What is your profession?
I am a philosopher! I research, write, and teach philosophy, and I feel incredibly lucky that I get to say philosophy is my job!
What profession, other than your own, would you like to attempt?
Music journalism. That would bring together my love of writing, as well as my passion for music. It would be really cool to pick the brains of many of my favorite songwriters and musicians, and to help share their stories and amplify their voices.
What is your favorite quote?
“But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” – Ernest Hemingway, from The Old Man and the Sea
What is your preferred form of creative expression?
My main outlet for creative expression is writing philosophy. I know the caricature of philosophy is that it is dry and boring, but I find it a fun challenge to try to bring my own voice into my philosophical writing, and to write in ways that convey the urgency of whatever I am working on and also connects to people. Other than philosophy, I enjoy dance, and occasionally write poetry.
What is your favorite movie, song, and work of art?
I am going to cheat on literally all of these, I am sorry! My favorite movie of all time is Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. I also must add The Empire Strikes Back, which is probably the movie I have watched the most times over my lifetime. Favorite song is way too difficult to narrow down to one. Top three are Relatively Easy by Jason Isbell, Expectations by Katie Pruitt, and Rubber by Ruston Kelly. My favorite work of art is Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (yay bisexual representation!). However, my grandmother, who is 100 years old, and truly the most beautiful soul, is an incredible artist, and I have many pieces of her artwork that I absolutely cherish, including a portrait of my parents when they were quite young.
Who do you admire most?
My grandmother, Juanita Rose Buechel, or, as I call her, “Nanny.” I previously mentioned that she is an incredibly-talented artist, but she is also such a pure, simple, and genuine soul, who has truly inspired me in more ways than I can ever fully understand or recount.
Over the course of your life, what is an issue with which you have repeatedly struggled?
I have routinely struggled with self-doubt, in general, and in my work in particular. As I wrap up my Ph.D., and despite the many opportunities that I have had to present or publish my work, I still regularly experience imposter syndrome (the sense of “do I really belong here? Surely someone is going to realize that I don’t!”).
In childhood, who was your celebrity crush?
As a child, both Lizzie and Gordo from the show Lizzie McGuire. Around high school I also had major crushes on both Anderson Cooper and Rachel Maddow – which says a lot about me on multiple levels.
What historical figure would you most like to meet?
There is tie here. Two of my personal heroes passed away this year, Representative John Lewis and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
What natural gift or ability would you most like to possess?
I wish I was naturally talented at any instrument at all, though I have always dreamed of learning piano.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I think the answer to this will be (very soon) earning my Ph.D. For now, I will say getting this far in graduate study at all. I was the first in my family to attend college or university, and to now be in the homestretch of a doctorate is both exciting and surreal.
What quality do you admire most in a person?
Intellectual humility and openness to different perspectives, ideas, and having one’s mind changed.
What is something you would like to learn about?
This one is tough. My immediate reaction was “literally everything.” I am a philosopher after all – the love of wisdom is real! But to pick one thing, I would love to have a deeper knowledge and understanding of non-western cultures, beliefs, and practices.
What do you wish more people knew about you?
I wish people had a real sense of just how hard I have worked to get to where I am, in the face of more obstacles than many people could imagine. I have, of course, benefitted from invaluable mentorship and a touch of good luck, but I have worked so, so hard to end up in this place, where I am able to do what I love and make a modest living doing it. But, the less glamorous part of that backstory involves many setbacks, moments of rejection, long hours and sacrifices, and many, many tears. The path to graduate study and to a Ph.D. is very different for different people. But, I know just how much work I have dedicated to achieving this goal.
What is your idea of success?
Getting to a place where you are genuinely proud of yourself, you know your intentions have been good, and you have very few regrets
What would you like people to say about you when you’re gone?
That I worked hard and fought for what I believed in; that I always tried to amplify the voices of the most vulnerable; that I tried to create the most just version of society that I could imagine; that I supported the success of others and helped them achieve it; and that, even when I fell short, I tried my damnedest to make the world even just a little bit better than I found it.
Heather has two cats, Rosemary and Marion. She enjoys craft beer, bourbon, and music, especially live music when we are not experiencing a pandemic. She collects books and vinyl records.