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Derek Skillings


Ph.D., The Graduate Center, CUNY (philosophy)
Ph.D., The University of Hawaii at Manoa (biology)
M.A., The Univeristy of Hawaii at Manoa (philosophy)
B.A., Minnesota State University, Mankato

I am a Lecturer in philosophy in the philosophy department at UPenn. Before that I was a postdoctoral researcher, and member of the ERC-funded IDEM project at the University of Bordeaux, working on the philosophy and biology of holobionts, symbiosis, microbiomes, and biological individuality. I received my Ph.D. in philosophy from The Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY) in 2017. I received my Ph.D. in zoology and my M.A. in philosophy from The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa in 2012. 
I specialize in philosophy of biology, philosophy of science, and environmental ethics/philosophy. I work primarily on biological individuality and explanation and causal reasoning in biology. I am particularly interested in the problem of how to approach the complex and hierarchical nature of living systems when investigating biological phenomena and constructing explanations. I have ongoing projects on biological individuality, holobionts, robustness, causal explanation, speciation and lineage concepts, and biological organization. I also have side projects in the history of biology, on marine population connectivity, and on a Buddhist approach to the ontology of living systems.​ My biology research has focused on conservation biology, evolutionary ecology, and phylogeography. I have done the majority of this research at The Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology working with the coral reefs and organisms within the incomparable Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument

Research Interests

  • Philosophy of Biology
  • Philosophy of Science
  • Environmental Philosophy/Ethics
  • Philosophy of Medicine
  • Evolutionary Biology

Selected Publications

  • “Holobionts and the Ecology of Organisms – Multi-Species Communities or Integrated Individuals?” 2016 Biology & Philosophy. 31(6):875-892. doi:10.1007/s10539-016-9553-z
  • “Mechanistic Explanation of Biological Processes” 2015 Philosophy of Science 82: 1139-1151.
  • “Methodological Strategies in Microbiome Research and their Explanatory Implications.” 2018 O’Malley, M and Skillings, D. Perspectives on Science.

For a full list, see my website:
For an introduction to some of the topics I work on, check out these articles I wrote for Aeon Magazine. 

  • One on biological individuality here
  • One on holobionts and medicine here

Cohen Hall 465

MW 2:15 - 3:15