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 Nehaa Chaudhari who graduated with an LLM from Harvard Law School (Class of 2017).
In this FPA, the NALSAR (Class of 2013) graduate shares tips on how to go about writing the personal statement for the LLM, research assistantships at Harvard Law School, and a whole lot more.
You joined the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) after graduating in law. Was it during your time at CIS that you began considering an LLM, or was this the plan even during your undergrad days?
I always wanted to go for an LL.M., even as an undergrad at NALSAR. I learnt a lot during my time at CIS, which was instrumental in concretising my interest in technology law and policy.
Just over three years at CIS, and you enrolled for the LLM at Harvard. Did you look at any other schools, and if so why did you end up choosing HLS?
I must have applied to ten schools — four in the UK, and the rest in the US. I was surprised, and delighted of course, when I got in everywhere I had applied. Then, it came down to choosing the best possible school based on the program that I wanted to study — which was technology law and policy, the faculty, and funding.
All of these things came together at HLS — it was offering me the most aid out of all schools, the technology law faculty is stellar, and it houses the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. I was familiar with the work of some of the faculty and staff at HLS and the Berkman Klein Center, and HLS offered me the opportunity to work closely with them.
So one of the major stumbling blocks in the admission process is the Personal Statement – given that HLS has a fairly challenging requirement, any thoughts on on how to go about writing the PS?
When we interacted with the admissions staff of the Graduate Program while at HLS, we learnt that the admissions committee looked to the personal statement to get a sense of the applicant as a person, and what they brought to the table, as well as to see how well (or poorly) they could write. Good writing does not mean complicated writing, or the use of flowery language — quite the contrary in fact. Personal statements should be clearly written, and easy to read.
Good writing does not mean complicated writing, or the use of flowery language — quite the contrary in fact. Personal statements should be clearly written, and easy to read.
One of the most helpful pieces of advice that I received about writing the personal statement generally, and which also holds true for HLS, was to (a) be authentic, and (b) be strategic about it.
By authentic I mean talk about your actual experiences, and not what you think the office of admissions wants to hear. By strategic I mean be thoughtful about which of your stories you want to share.
There is no need to talk about everything one has ever done in life. In fact, that might be counter-intuitive. Focus on those learnings and experiences that speak directly to your reason for doing the LL.M. at a particular law school. It’s crucial that personal statements be tailored to each school and each program. So, be sure to include school specific and program specific reasons for applying to a particular law school — this could be things like faculty, courses, other opportunities, funding, or anything else.
At HLS, you worked closely with the Berkman Klein Clinic (BKC) – how was this experience and how did you wind up as an RA? Any advice for Indian law grads who are looking at TA/RA’s during the relatively short LLM?
Over the year, I worked with the BKC in two capacities — first, as a part of the Cyberlaw Clinic, which works as a pro-bono law firm, and second, as an RA to Prof. Urs Gasser, who is the Executive Director at the center. I had to apply for both positions — I think I submitted a personal statement and a resume for both. Prof. Urs also interviewed all candidates.
There are lots of opportunities to be an RA at HLS. Most professors are almost always looking for research assistance. There is a job opportunities portal of sorts, so one thing to do is to just keep track of that. It’s also helpful to go speak to a faculty member directly, and ask if they are looking for RAs.
There are lots of opportunities to be an RA at HLS. Most professors are almost always looking for research assistance. There is a job opportunities portal of sorts, so one thing to do is to just keep track of that.
I had a fantastic experience at the BKC. All of the faculty and the staff at BKC were extremely knowledgeable, and at the same time extremely down to earth, and helpful. I received a lot of feedback on my work which is relevant and useful even today. Everyone that I worked with was very committed about their work, loved what they did, and were very nice to each other — all of which contributed to an excellent work atmosphere.
You were also a recipient of a scholarship from the KC Mahindra Trust – how was the application process? Any other sources of funding that applicants ought to look at?
The application process was pretty standard. Application materials included an application form, proof of acceptance into a university, and your resume. This was followed by an interview.
Besides K.C. Mahindra, candidates can look at the Tata Trust, as well as the Inlaks scholarship. There’s also the Fulbright programme, but the application process for that begins almost a whole year in advance – you apply for the Fulbright before you apply to university, basically.
Looking back, was there anything about the LLM process that you wished you had known before joining the program?
Well, it’s a nine-month program, and nine months go by fairly quickly. There’s a lot that one can do, and it can all get a bit overwhelming. Most of us struggled with “impostor syndrome”, a feeling that we didn’t really belong in the program — that HLS had somehow messed up.
It would have helped to know that practically everyone struggles with this, and that it’s completely okay! The uncertainty is all a part of the experience, so just try to not control everything, be open to completely new experiences, and go along for the ride.
The uncertainty is all a part of the experience, so just try to not control everything, be open to completely new experiences, and go along for the ride.