Clara Bradley

Clara Bradley, fifth-year UCI logic & philosophy of science graduate student, is one of three recipients of this year’s Justine Lambert Prize. The honor recognizes students for outstanding work addressing foundations of the formal, natural, or social sciences. She’s also the recipient of the Outstanding Scholar award in social sciences. The faculty-nominated award recognizes an outstanding graduate student for high intellectual scholarship and achievement. Below, the London, UK native shares more about her award-winning work – including her Lambert Prize paper, “Do First-Class Constraints Generate Gauge Transformations? A Geometric Resolution” – and her future plans which include joining the Department of Philosophy at University College London in January 2025 as a lecturer.

Q: Give us some background on your educational trajectory. What made you decide to pursue your current field of study, and specifically at UCI? What interests you most about your work?

A: I earned my undergrad and master’s at the University of Bristol, UK, where I did a joint degree in physics and philosophy.

My favorite subjects at high school were physics and math, but I was always intrigued by philosophical questions about the methods and interpretation of physics. I discovered after a deep dive into philosophy that there was a subject that intersected both fields, and I knew pretty much immediately that philosophy of physics was something I wanted to pursue further. In the summer after my first year of undergraduate, I went to a summer school on mathematical philosophy for female students in Munich. Jim Weatherall (who is now my supervisor at UCI) was one of the speakers at this summer school, and after speaking to him about my interest in philosophy of physics, he not only encouraged me to apply to UCI when I completed my undergraduate degree but also supported me throughout the following years in pursuing my love for philosophy of physics. It was a no-brainer that I would come to work with him as soon as I could.

Q: Tell us about your research. What problem will your findings help solve?

A: The big philosophical questions that I consider in my research include: What indications are there that a scientific theory isn’t accurately capturing the way the world is? And what makes one a theory a better representation of the world than another? My research is centered on the claim that we do not want there to be “redundant” parts present in the mathematical formalism of our best theories. I try to make precise what it means for a theory to contain redundant parts by drawing on concrete examples in physics, philosophical arguments, and tools from logic.

In the paper awarded the Justine Lambert Prize, I look at a kind of symmetry that one finds in physics called “gauge symmetry”, which is often associated with redundancy, and I argue in favor of a particular way of formally characterizing this kind of symmetry.

Q: What organizations, foundations, etc. have funded your research while you’ve been at UCI? What awards have you received honoring your work?

A: The National Science Foundation, The Templeton Foundation, the Provost Ph.D. Fellowship from UCI, the recruitment fellowship from UCI, and the Social Science Merit Fellowship from UCI.

I received the Outstanding Teaching Prize for Intro to Logic (LPS 104/LSCI 142) and this current award, the Justine Lambert Prize, for my paper, “Do First-Class Constraints Generate Gauge Transformations? A Geometric Resolution.” Outside of UCI, my paper "The Non-Equivalence of Einstein and Lorentz" was chosen as an Editor's Choice article in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.

Q: Who have been your faculty mentors while here, and what impact have they had on your graduate career?

A: Jim Weatherall has been my main faculty mentor, and he has had a huge impact on my graduate career. Most of my research has come out of and improved through discussions with him, and we have co-authored and co-presented several papers together. Jim has also been a constant source of encouragement and a strong advocate for me. I am continually learning from him about how to be a better philosopher of physics and mentor to others.

Several other members of the Logic and Philosophy of Science faculty have also helped me succeed in my graduate career, and I am immensely grateful for all their support.

Q: Any unique life experiences that have guided your educational journey? Give us some background.

I was born into an academic family (my dad is a philosopher, and two of my grandparents were academics) so I was exposed to academia as a career choice from a very young age and this has helped me to prepare for my own journey into an academic career. My dad has been especially invaluable to me: he was able to recommend things to read when I started getting interested in philosophy, he’s someone who I can bounce ideas off, and he has helped me a lot with learning how to write papers and give talks. Although I like to say that he is not the reason that I ended up where I am, I know that my path would not have been as smooth without him.

Q: When do you plan to complete your Ph.D.? What are your plans thereafter? How has UCI prepared you well for this role?

I plan to complete my Ph.D. in the coming fall. I will then start a new role as lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at University College London in January 2025. During my time at UCI, there have been several teaching and research opportunities to advance my skills, and as a result I feel as prepared as I can going into this role.


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