Trinity College Foundation School’s Daniel Townsend didn’t initially major in philosophy, worried his parents might think it a ‘silly choice’. It has since become both career and passion, allowing him to make meaningful connections with his History of Ideas students.
Daniel Townsend estimates that, in an academic career that has spanned more than a decade, he’s taught thousands of students. But his Foundation School students have made a profound impression in the four years he’s been at Trinity College.
‘I think Trinity students are, overwhelmingly, highly intelligent, motivated, conscientious, and brave,’ he says. ‘Plus, they are multilingual! I'd encourage Trinity students to aim high: I won’t be surprised when we see future alumni as presidents, prime ministers, CEOs, leaders and entrepreneurs – and hopefully, a few writers and philosophers, too!’
As a History of Ideas (HOI) teacher, of course Daniel is keen to produce critical thinkers. He was drawn to Trinity by its values and focus on excellence, but admits he was unsure how international students might respond to a compulsory course on philosophy and history. As it turned out, they loved it.
Philosophy isn’t just an interest, it’s a passion for Daniel. He has a PhD in Political Science and Government, a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Letters – essentially a second bachelor’s degree in which he majored in philosophy.
‘I really should have majored in philosophy as an undergrad, but I was scared that my parents would think philosophy was a silly major to take,’ he recalls of the subject that was to figure so prominently in his future working life. ‘I was also worried about the fact that philosophy involved lots of public speaking and, at that stage of life, public speaking terrified me!’
If you want to overcome fear of public speaking, become a teacher. It’s a career that has brought Daniel great satisfaction and he’s received awards recognising the quality of his work. But when you ask a philosopher about the key to career success, you have to be ready for a philosopher’s take on the subject.
‘Success takes on lots of different forms,’ he reflects. ‘I think it's always worth keeping in mind that while we might lack success in one domain of our life, we might be successful in others. I feel it's important to recognise and be grateful for the things we have, and not only focus on the things we want.
‘Generally speaking, I think the key to success in teaching is to remember the focus is on the student.
‘Lecturers who appear passionate about their subjects are often far more engaging, so it's important to take an interest in what you teach, and to care about the people you're teaching. Personally, I also use humour to deflect some of the seriousness of what I teach – philosophy and history can be pretty dark subjects at times! – and so students know I'm approachable’.
In fact, Daniel is still approachable even after students have progressed to the next stage of their education, and this lasting connection is one of the things he appreciates about the Foundation School; he stays in contact with many via email and social media, providing references and support.
‘It's great to see former students progressing through university and through life. I'm also proud of the fact former students will have very open and honest conversations with me about university and more philosophical topics.
‘I wish all our alumni success and prosperity, of course. For any of our alumni experiencing hardship (and I know some alumni do find university a challenge), I guess I'd give them a very philosophical message, similar to the one I use in HOI. Think about your goals, think about the steps you need to take to reach those goals, and get to work! Taking responsibility for your own success is a massive commitment, but that's what a life of meaning requires.’
Outside College, Daniel has diverse interests – apart from teaching, philosophy, history, politics and literature, he cares about friends and family, music, nutrition, health and fitness, poetry, and environmental conservation.
‘I try to be passionate about being a good cook, but I keep failing at that,’ he laughs