Jonathan R. Goodman doesn’t believe in doing things by halves. Over the past few years he has combined a PhD in Cambridge with a London-based life as a journalist, signed a book deal based on his research with Yale University Press, and had a baby with his partner. That’s not to mention the small matter of the pandemic, which imposed a more forcible distance between him and Cambridge, and meant a complete rethink of his approach to research.
“A large part of my research involved recording voices, all of which suddenly had to move online. I had to teach myself overnight about survey software, online recording tools…I’m glad to have acquired that skillset, but it was very difficult not being able to interact with colleagues.”
Jonathan’s PhD, which he completed this year, takes an interdisciplinary approach to human social evolution.
“I’m interested in the evolution of cooperation,” he says. “I’m looking at how people build connections and how, whether in a business deal or simply buying a cup of coffee, interactions between people are more frequently benign than you might expect from an evolutionary perspective. I’m also looking at how the development of language played a role in that.”
Jonathan first began a PhD a decade ago, following a BA in Philosophy/Neuroscience and Behavioural Biology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. However his studies at the University of London coincided with the terminal diagnosis of a close family member, so he returned home to the United States on the completion of his MPhil in Ethics and the Philosophy of Biology.
“I felt I’d done pretty well to get that, under the circumstances!” he says now.
But after a decade of building up a multifaceted career as a writer and researcher, contributing to publications including the Guardian, Financial Times, Scientific American and New Scientist, alongside research roles at the Institute of Global Health Innovation and New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the call of academia returned, via a PhD at the Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies.
Although Jonathan lived in London with his partner and (as of 18 months ago) baby son throughout his studies at Cambridge, he developed a strong affinity with the College.
“I originally applied to Darwin because I study evolution – how could I not apply to Darwin College! I also really liked the College’s egalitarian ethos, and the fact that it’s geared towards research rather than the undergraduate experience. I was in my early 30s – it felt like a better fit.”
Now working to complete his book, Invisible Rivals: How we Evolved to Compete in a Cooperative World, Jonathan is hoping to also keep a foot in the academic world.
“I’ve had a different relationship with Darwin than I would have if I’d been based in Cambridge, but I definitely want to keep that connection going. Just knowing that it’s here – that if I’m in Cambridge I can come in sit in the parlour and read over a coffee – is a wonderful thing.”