First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of Indian law graduates who have pursued a post-graduate course from different schools across the world. In this edition of the FPA, we get talking with Ayushi Agarwal who is currently reading for the BCL at Oxford University.
Ayushi also happens to be a Weidenfeld-Hoffmann scholar at Oxford, something that she talks about in the course of the interview.
At what point in time during your undergrad did you decide to pursue a post-graduate degree?
I finalised my decision to pursue a post-graduate degree midway through my fourth year, when it became clear to me that I would like to specialise in human rights law, and did not want to take up any of the corporate law jobs on offer.
How did you go about selecting law schools?
Once I decided that I wanted to pursue a post-graduate degree straight out of law school, I knew that I only wanted to study at Oxford because of several reasons: first, its’ tutorial system gives the kind of learning that seminars simply cannot match; second, it had two modules that I was particularly keen on taking up: comparative human rights law, and comparative equality law; third, the chances of securing admission were much higher in comparison to Harvard which is known to prefer students with work experience. Therefore, I applied only to Oxford University.
The Weidenfeld-Hoffmann scholarship – any advice on how to go about the application process, in particular the scholarship statement?
The Weidenfeld-Hoffmann scholarship only processes the applications of students who have already gained admission to Oxford University–which means the academic credentials are already taken care of.
The scholarship’s application therefore focuses on demonstrated leadership potential and commitment to a make a change. My application, for instance, drew heavily on my experience of starting my University’s feminist alliance and my vision of a gender-just India.
It would be a good idea to visit their website and look at the scholar profiles to get a better sense of the diverse backgrounds and motivations that scholars have.
How has the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann scholar experience been thus far?
I have to say that the being a Weidenfeld-Hoffmann scholar has been the most enriching experience of my life so far. First and foremost, the community is like no other I have been in–there are 28 scholars from 23 different countries, all in different fields and at different stages of their lives.
“First and foremost, the community is like no other I have been in–there are 28 scholars from 23 different countries, all in different fields and at different stages of their lives.”
There are scholars with several years of experience (to name a few) in the NGO sector, in the government, as a whistleblower, as a journalist, as an environmental conservationist, as a water management specialist, as a human rights attorney, as a social entrepreneur, as an economist, and as a doctor.
Since I’m the youngest in this year’s cohort, I have had the honour of learning from the vast experience my fellow scholars have. Their ideas, passion and commitment are very motivating.
The scholarship events are designed to help us grow individually, form a more informed world-view and build strong bonds with the fellow scholars. Before the term began at Oxford, the scholars attended the Robin Hambro Moral Philosophy seminar organised by the scholarship. We had round table discussions on important scholarly writings on human rights, justice, leadership, liberty etc. Through the term, we have been getting several workshops and trainings on entrepreneurship, since the scholarship wants us to think of innovative ways of making a change.
At the end of the first term, we were taken to Windsor, where we received training on interview skills, career building, pitching ideas etc. We have also several casual lunches which gives the scholars the opportunity to touch base despite our busy term, and ‘collections’ where we can share our progress and concerns with a senior member of the scholarship. And this just the end of one third of the journey! I’m very excited for everything else that is yet to come.
Early days yet, but what were some of the bigger changes that you have observed in the learning experience at Oxford as compared to NLSIU?
I think the most important change has been that the period at hand is a lot shorter than what I had at NLSIU, while the opportunities available are a lot more. Therefore, a lot of choices have to be made everyday about how to make the most of this year.
There is no doubt that the academic rigour is leaps and bounds ahead of NLSIU, the peers are all extremely hard-working and driven, and the professors are amongst the top in their respective fields. This can be intimidating at first but as long as you try your best to keep pace, it is manageable.
It also depends on your specific goals for the year– some students come here only for academic learning, while others come here hoping for a mix of different opportunities. I’ve joined the fencing club, which is a new and exciting sport for me, and I also attend many talks outside of my field (for example in philosophy, literature etc) because Oxford always has something or the other going on, and it would be foolish to miss it while one is here.
Looking back, anything that you wished you had known before enrolling for the BCL?
I can’t think of anything specifically, because I remember nagging a lot of my seniors with lots of silly questions before I enrolled in the BCL. One thing that I could have researched on more perhaps is colleges. Each college at Oxford has a very different character, history, and facilities.
This is important especially because most colleges don’t give accommodation to graduate students on site, so it’s important to look at where exactly the college you are applying to would give you accommodation.
Lastly, any advice for Indian law grads who are looking to pursue post-graduate degrees outside the country?
I would say that it’s crucial that you don’t view a post-graduate degree simply as a way of deferring the moment that you join the workforce because you’re not sure of what you want to do.
“It is crucial that you don’t view a post-graduate degree simply as a way of deferring the moment that you join the workforce because you’re not sure of what you want to do.”
The BCL, as well as LLMs, are only one year (or even shorter) and are specialised in the sense that you have to pick your own modules, which means who should have a good idea about the direction you are going in.
It’s going to be a huge investment, if not in money then at least in time, and it’s important that you take it up when you are actually ready for it.