The Amicus Interviews are meant for broader discussions on legal education, and the legal profession. As I have mentioned earlier, one field that I am interested is in legal academia, and what it means in the Indian context. I was therefore particularly excited to speak with Kanad Bagchi, an Indian law graduate (KIIT Law School ’13) who is currently a Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute in Germany.
In the first part of our two-part conversation, Kanad discusses the reasons behind taking up a master’s program at the Europa-Institut, what being a research scholar means and a whole lot more.
[Note from Kanad: Since the conversation with Anuj was rather impromptu, there are couple of things, which in hindsight and upon reflection, I believe could have been more coherently put. Hence, the transcripts are updated so as to make certain points clearer, that might have eluded the audio conversation. Finally, I speak mostly from my own set of experiences and fully understand that there are different ways one could approach the same process. So one has to make that process one’s own.]
When did you decide that you wanted to do a master’s?
I think that would be in my second year, which is quite early. [The decision] was primarily because of the influences that I had at that point in time. In 2008, we had some really engaging faculty members. The faculty were exceptional, I enjoyed my classes, read widely and began writing shorter pieces, all of which finally lead me into thinking that ‘studying’ and writing is something I enjoyed immensely.
A particular influence was Professor Faizan Mustafa who was the KLS Director then. He was one of those people who used to really push students towards the rigour of study. He told us to try and love the law for what it is and other things would fall in place. The (Late) Prof. Kumar Kartikeya was another such influence who really managed to ignite a certain inclination towards learning, for the sake of learning itself.
Many of my internships were also similar. I particularly wanted to intern with Dr. Rajeev Dhawan especially because he was one of those rare blends of practice and academia in the country. At that time (2010-2011), policy-oriented research was also a big thing, so therefore, I believe an opportunity to intern with the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi was also somewhat a turning point.
How did you decide where to go, what to study?
Since we were only the second batch of KLS, there was hardly any institutional set-up to help students ponder over higher studies, nor did we have too many seniors who had explored studying abroad (there were some exceptions of course). I started speaking outside of the university, people I met either at internships or moot courts. And I could see that there were many who had similar trajectories, and most importantly, seemed to know their next steps, were doing pretty well, were going places. Then there was quite a lot of information on internet forums, Information on how to apply, what a Statement of Purpose is, how to write one etc.
I knew I loved a particular subject – constitutional law – so I started looking at universities that offered such courses, had good faculty and a focus on research. The problem was that I needed funding. So, the next step was to bring that list down to universities where the probability of funding would be higher.
There was always this complex that I would not get in anywhere. A lot of my peers and friends would perhaps explore other options instead of going through the entire application process and face rejection.. At that point, I thought the best thing I can probably do is to apply to as many different places and see if something works out.
There was always this complex that I would not get in anywhere. A lot of my peers and friends would perhaps explore other options instead of going through the entire application process and face rejection. At that point, I thought the best thing I can probably do is to apply to as many different places and see if something works out. Accordingly, my applications had to be tweaked keeping in mind that what works for one university or programme does not work for others.
That must have been quite stressful.
I was really privileged in the sense that I was not doing it alone but had two other colleagues of mine who were similarly placed. We helped each other out, we had a little group and we would gather together the information we would have collected from the several people we had spoken to, or written to, or the things we had read on the internet. We helped each other reflect on our motivations, our strengths and weaknesses, our long term goals etc, which turned out to be extremely useful while writing our SOPs/SOMs.
The applications were a very taxing process not just in terms of effort but also money, each application would cost 50-60 US dollars. And most of them did not work out! In most cases, admissions came through, but there was no offer on funding.
I had also applied to the DAAD scholarship, because the program attached to the DAAD scholarship was very interesting. It was a program on European Union Law and International Law, at a time when Europe was reeling under the twin pressures of the Eurozone Debt crisis and a looming refugee crisis. The courses on offer particularly dealt with those issues and fascinated me greatly. The DAAD scholarship has been around for quite a while and had acquired a different prestige of its own. Add to that, it was a full scholarship. Everything from your flight tickets, to your accommodation, stipend, insurance and university fees would be taken care of. And it was a free application, so even more of a reason to apply!
And out of all of these, for whatever reason, DAAD was the only one that gave me the funding and the choice of course.
And the access that DAAD scholarships provide.
Correct. At that point of time I did not realise the platform that the DAAD offers. All I knew was that they were giving me a stipend, and they were paying my tuition fees. But it was only when I went there, I discovered that it is a lot more than just that.
[The DAAD scholarship] was different in two ways I think – one was I got to experience how an European university works, not only in terms of teaching subjects of international law but European universities teaching European law. And what really added extra value was that when I went in (2013-14) Europe was reeling under a massive crisis. There were too many questions that people needed answers to.
The other was that the DAAD opened up a lot of other doors. We used to have regular DAAD conferences, where we met people from all across the world and across disciplines. DAAD also gives you an additional stipend for 2-2.5 months to finish your master’s thesis towards the end. So right after, I got a position at the Europa-Institut itself. This was a turning point in terms of the fact that I knew I wanted to be in academia.
Academia on one hand and working at a research institute on the other. The Europa Institut is part of something known as the John Monnet Chair set up by the European Commission.
Europe being in crisis, there was a lot of work coming in from the Commission. Everybody was looking for answers, and if you are looking for answers where do you go to? You go to the experts, intellectuals, you go to academia.
Everybody was looking for answers, and if you are looking for answers where do you go to? You go to the experts, intellectuals, you go to academia.
The professor I was working under used to get a lot of projects, and he was kind enough to involve all his researchers. One such projects had to do with the European sovereign debt crisis. And I fell in love with it because on the one hand you had European constitutional law, and on the other hand you had hard-core finance.
Pardon the ignorance, but as an RA at Europa-Institut what did you do all day?
That is a question I get all the time. Most people tend to ask me, “I don’t know what you do.” (smiles)
Typically, you divide your time between projects that are from the outside, say a project from the European Commission, and the existing projects of the institute itself. With respect to the former, our task as RAs was usually in the nature of researching for advisory opinions and drafting position papers, while the latter mostly consisted in book projects, or conference projects with the ultimate aim of publishing something.
Would you say this was difficult?
It was demanding in two ways actually. One, you obviously had deadlines for these projects.
Second, to produce a work which is reasonably good is not always easy. Writing thirty pages is not difficult, but thirty pages which make sense is quite a difficult job. They want you to produce something that is relevant, something that is useful, and also adds something to the existing body of work.
Writing thirty pages is not difficult, but thirty pages which make sense is quite a difficult job.
It is a really long process. And you would find that the hypothesis that you started off at the beginning, varies quite a bit by the time you have ended the piece. Your own perceptions have changed along the way, you have read more, you have spoken to more people, gotten feedback, re-worked your own positions etc.
Also, there were times when the research did not squarely fall in your area of interest. So, there was an additional bit of work that you had to do just to catch up.
The sovereign debt crisis – was this what prompted you to enrol for the Masters in Law & Finance (MLF) course at Oxford University?
Correct. There were a lot of things in finance that I liked doing but I was not really able to find the tools, the methodology to do it. I found the MLF course to fit my set of preferences.
There is an impression that this course is geared towards practitioners, which is correct because you deal with a lot of different things that you would be dealing with in say law firms, asset management companies or investment banks. A big part of the course is very practice oriented but that is one part of it.
The MLF course also has this tremendous grounding in principles which, in fact, is what you start off with in the beginning of the course. And that is immensely beneficial for anybody really, whether you are a practitioner or an academic.
The MLF course also has this tremendous grounding in principles which, in fact, is what you start off with in the beginning of the course. And that is immensely beneficial for anybody really, whether you are a practitioner or an academic. You are allowed then to build up on those foundation either in the serve of the corporate or academia.