The Department of Philosophy is pleased to present an alumni profile featuring Patrick Ray, PhD. He graciously agreed to answer our questions about his time at UB, while providing perpective on his personal life, academic path, and professional career as an ontologist for the Allen Institute for Brain Science.
Dissertation: De Se Cognitive Attitudes and Their Ascriptions
Advisor: David Braun, PhD
As of Summer 2020, the Payscale website indicates that the average U.S. salary for an ontologist is $81,813 within the salary range is $51k to $160k (range includes industry bonus).
SKILLS AND AVERAGE SALARY FOR ONTOLOGISTS
I grew up in Spokane, Washington. Like many people around that area, my family worked mostly in the farming or timber industries. My father was an auto mechanic. I spent a lot of time in my youth doing the same – working with my grandfather and grandmother on their farm and helping my father with various automotive projects in his garage.
When I graduated from high school, I loved math and science and especially neuroscience. I discovered philosophy through some required general education courses in college. I was attracted to philosophy almost immediately and ended up changing my major and transferring to study neuroscience and philosophy.
After undergrad, I ended up working in a neurophysiology lab for a bit. The work was interesting and challenging, but there was a lot of down-time while I was waiting for experimental results (those particular projects involved a lot of waiting!). During that time, I was reading and becoming more interested in philosophy than anything else. I went on to get a Master’s in philosophy and was lucky enough to work on some engineering projects during that time. The projects were focused on autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) and they helped me understand how to bring philosophical insight to scientific applications.
After my MA, I enrolled at UB. I was excited to be around some amazing scholars (David Braun, Neil Williams, and Barry Smith). I was fortunate to work on some formal ontology projects after Bill Duncan introduced me to Alexander Diehl (Department of Biomedical Informatics) during my Ph.D. and I was lucky to be able to work with Dr. Diehl. I’m sure my neuroscience background helped a bit in those efforts, but I was learning so much during that time that it didn’t seem to be the case.
After that, I worked at CSU Sonoma and UC Davis as a lecturer. I mostly taught courses in logic, ethics, and cognitive science. I enjoyed that work, but not as much as the work I was doing in formal ontology. So, I decided to try ontology as a full-time job and it’s been great so far.
My current position is ontologist for the Allen Institute for Brain Science. The Allen Institute is an independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit research organization founded by philanthropist and visionary, the late Paul G. Allen. The Allen Institute is dedicated to answering some of the biggest questions in bioscience and accelerating research worldwide.
The Institute is a recognized leader in large-scale research with a commitment to an open science model. Its research institutes include the Allen Institute for Brain Science, launched in 2003, the Allen Institute for Cell Science, launched in 2014, and the Allen Institute for Immunology, launched in 2018.
In 2016, the Allen Institute expanded its reach with the launch of The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, which identifies pioneers with new ideas to expand the boundaries of knowledge and make the world better. For more information, visit Allen Institute for Brain Science.
I had a good experience at UB. When I arrived, I was excited to take courses from David Braun, Neil Williams, and Barry Smith. The first two were on my dissertation committee (with Lewis Powell).
Professor Braun was my dissertation chair and I took every class I could from him. His courses were challenging and fun. He taught me how to work through tough problems systematically and never accepted anything but my best effort. He always has a way of homing in on a problem and identifying precisely what is at issue and how to solve it that I admire. It was an honor to have him serve as my chair.
I knew Professor Williams from a fantastic presentation he gave at a conference before I ended up at UB and was impressed by his clarity and thoroughness. I was happy that he was equally thorough and impressive in the classroom. Perhaps my favorite class was his “metaphysics bootcamp” seminar where we covered some of the most influential papers in analytic metaphysics over the course of the semester.
One of the primary reasons I wanted to study at UB was Barry Smith and his prolific work. Professor Smith was always willing to include us students in as many ontology events as he was able, and I really tried to take advantage of that. I think I ended up spending more time in various ontology seminars and colloquia than taking courses at UB.
I also enjoyed the courses I took from Jiyuan Yu, and John Kearns. Professor Yu helped me really appreciate and rekindle my love of Plato and Aristotle. Professor Kearns encouraged me to think about logic as a philosopher, rather than just a student of logic. Caroline Korsmeyer gave a fantastic aesthetics seminar and taught me how to approach teaching ethics when I TAed for her introductory ethics course.
UB also allowed me to take classes through their cognitive science curriculum, which was an incredible experience. I got to take some linguistics courses (semantics I and II) and I enrolled in anything taught by Bill Rapaport. I enjoyed the flexibility of the departments in the cognitive science program as I was able to pursue what I was interested in, rather than just follow a prescribed curriculum. Being well-versed in cognitive science has also been surprisingly helpful after graduating.
Additionally, I was able to work on some formal ontology projects at UB (with Alexander Diehl) while I was earning my degree. Since I’m an ontologist by trade now, this experience was invaluable. Working with teams of ontologists, clinicians, and researchers prepared me for what I am doing at the Allen Institute.
I also made many great friends at my time at UB. It was a revelation to be around so many people who were interested in the same things I was interested in and were as committed as they were.
I don’t know that I have any constant source of inspiration other than my spouse (Emily) and our dog (Samson), but there are some things I enjoy doing regularly.
In my free time, I like to garden, visit museums, cook, and eat with friends. I have a bit of a love affair with films and music. I still collect old records and just generally like experiencing novel art – food, film, music, architecture, museums, and the like. I guess I’m inspired when I see someone do something new or when I experience something I haven’t experienced before.
I played many sports in my youth and still enjoy being physically active. I still love classic cars from the time I spent working with my father when I was younger and would like to have the time and space to do that work again.
I’m happy to be at the Allen Institute and am looking forward to continuing to work on their many interesting projects. There are many exciting projects in formal ontology, not just at the Institute but all over the world. I just want to do the best work that I can for as long as I can, be that in ontology or anything else.
I think being open-minded and kind are probably the two most important traits one could have, but I’m not sure that constitutes advice.
One of my former biochemistry professors gave probably the most useful piece of advice I’d ever received as a student: “You don’t have to be brilliant; you just have to be smart enough to take advantage of an opportunity when it presents itself.” Of course, that was probably a bit lost on me at 20 years old, but now that I’m older I’ve found that it’s incredibly insightful. I think we all suffer from a bit of insecurity or self-doubt, but it’s reassuring to know that we don’t need some sort of innate brilliance or genius to succeed, but rather just a willingness to take a chance and work hard, which are things we can all do.