First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of Indian law graduates who have pursued, or are currently pursuing, a post-graduate course (be it an LLM or otherwise) from different schools across the world.
In this FPA, I get to speak with Aishwarya Amar who is currently reading the BCL at Oxford University. A graduate of Symbiosis Law School, Pune (18), Aishwarya shares her thoughts on what makes the BCL special, the Cornelia Sorabjee scholarship and a whole lot more.
What got you thinking about graduate studies right after your undergrad? And why the BCL?
My decision to pursue a master’s degree right after my undergraduate study was purely motivated by my passion for the subjects of International environment and human rights laws. Being highly specialised, technical and niche areas of the law, it required more focused learning, beyond what is taught to us in our undergraduate degrees.
I’ve been driven by the notion that these passions were never meant to just convert into jobs or employment, but rather into ideas and inputs that will help me develop as a practitioner and contribute to our society in some way. And so, to be honest, I never viewed the master’s degree as a planned step to my future career, but more as a tool that will help hone my skills, so that I can make impactful contributions in the field.
“To be honest, I never viewed the master’s degree as a planned step to my future career, but more as a tool that will help hone my skills, so that I can make impactful contributions in the field.”
The BCL was a very obvious choice for me.
The course is truly unique and stands apart in many respects, such as its course structure in the form of seminars and tutorials instead of traditional lectures, the academic rigour, the small class strength and individualised attention, the flexible and varied subject choices, the distinguished faculty who are all authorities in their fields and most importantly, the healthy mix of other co-curricular activities (which is quite rare for a graduate degree) that help us engage our minds beyond the classroom such as moots, discussion groups, volunteering forums and of course the world renowned Oxford Union.
In short, the BCL is more of an experience that teaches you to think, reason and ideate, and this is more intellectually stimulating than anything you can learn in a classroom, and that’s what I wanted.
Did you apply to any other schools?
Yes, I did apply to the London School of Economics and the University of Cambridge, and received offers from both. My first preference however was always the University of Oxford, because of its versatility.
Any advice on how to navigate the BCL application process? More specifically, the written requirements and the letters of recommendation?
The most frank piece of advice that I can give is to make your application as original and honest as possible. Trying to fit into a perceived prototype is the most disastrous thing that one can do to their application. Displaying a strong passion for the subject and the willingness and potential to learn is really the crux of it all.
With respect to the written work, the University application process is very flexible. They do not expect you to necessarily submit work in area of your interest. But rather any piece of writing which shows your ability to reason coherently and express yourself articulately will suffice.
It is generally recommended to submit some work that you’ve done over the course of your undergraduate degree. I submitted a piece on contract law that I had written during the course of one my internships. The idea is to submit any piece of writing that captures your strengths in terms of research and writing.
Oxford requires three letters of recommendations, which is more than what is usually required. This is actually quite advantageous, because it can be used to portray so many different facets of your personality and achievements.
The key is to choose mentors who’ve really witnessed your work and your development, over a period of time. This allows them to write more personal, in depth and realistic recommendations, rather than a sketchy and half-hearted endorsement.
“The key is to choose mentors who’ve really witnessed your work and your development, over a period of time. This allows them to write more personal, in depth and realistic recommendations, rather than a sketchy and half-hearted endorsement.”
In this matter, my advice would be to approach professors who’ve taught courses that are relevant to your application or mentors who’ve assessed your work in these fields. The crucial aspect here is not just the qualifications of the person endorsing you, but also the relevance of their endorsement to your area of study.
You are a recipient of the Cornelia Sorabjee scholarship – was there a separate application for this? Also, are you entrusted with any particular duties/responsibilities with the Oxford India Centre for Sustainable Development as a Cornelia Sorabjee scholar?
There is no separate application for the scholarship. All scholarships at the Oxford India Centre are allotted after an automatic assessment of all applicants to the BCL. It would be useful however to read up about the scholarships before making an application for the BCL, and trying to portray (through your SOP and LORs) any desirable traits or qualities that the scholarship looks for.
The Oxford India Centre does not per se involve any additional duties or responsibilities. Rather it is a robust forum that helps nurture the work of all its scholars. It supports any on-going multi-disciplinary research of its scholars, host panel discussions and talks relevant to the centre’s/scholars work, initiate new areas of relevant research, translates academic idea to the ground and serves as supportive network to all its member scholars.
How did you go about selecting the four modules for the BCL? How has the BCL experience been thus far?
I was inclined to public law subjects, and more specifically environmental law and human rights. Since I was sure of what I wanted to pursue, the choice was not very difficult. The four modules I’m currently pursuing are Comparative Equality Law, Comparative Human Rights Law, Comparative and Global Environment Law and Children Families and the State.
For those who are unsure, the course descriptions and teaser lectures available online are quite helpful in making this decision and gaining clarity on what the contents of each of these courses are.
My experience on the BCL so far, has been nothing short of a brilliant learning experience, both inside and outside the classroom. The course has been academically invigorating and personally satisfying. The learning curves are steep, but very rewarding. The reading lists for seminars and essay deadlines are definitely daunting, but invaluable in terms of what you can get out of them.
“The learning curves are steep, but very rewarding. The reading lists for seminars and essay deadlines are definitely daunting, but invaluable in terms of what you can get out of them.”
Alongside my usual coursework, I have had the chance to represent the University of Oxford at the Landmark Chambers Judicial Review Moot, on Planning and Environmental Law. I have also had the opportunity to work with the Oxford India Centre and be a part of various other discussion groups and societies. The most enjoyable experience I must say has been being a part of the rich and fascinating (sometimes absurd), centuries old Oxford traditions. Everything at Oxford has a story, and it is always a great feeling to know that studying here gives you an opportunity to be part of such an esteemed legacy.
“Everything at Oxford has a story, and it is always a great feeling to know that studying here gives you an opportunity to be part of such an esteemed legacy.”
What is your reading of the legal recruitment market in the UK when it comes to international students?
Well, for starters, it is highly competitive. As one of the most sought after professions in the UK, the selection procedures are quite stringent and cutthroat. The number of vacation schemes (in case of solicitor-ship) and mini-pupillages (in case of barrister-ship) are limited, and generally require an application to be made one to two years in advance.
These applications normally involve written aptitude tests as well interviews. While the ratio of conversion of these schemes to training contracts is moderate, it is still highly competitive.
That being said, a meritorious application displaying a strong academic background, potential to learn and relevant experience, is always valued. All of this is of course subject to Brexit, which may be an absolute game changer for the UK recruitment market.
Lastly, any advice for Indian law graduates who are considering graduate studies outside the country?
One piece of advice I can offer, with my limited experience, is to stay true to yourself and your interests, at all stages of your graduate study. Studying abroad in such an intensive environment can be very overwhelming, but giving yourself a chance to adapt and absorb, is key.
“Studying abroad in such an intensive environment can be very overwhelming, but giving yourself a chance to adapt and absorb, is key.”
Try to make use of all the opportunities you get and learn from the people you meet, but most importantly enjoy the course, because a master’s programmer is definitely more than just your report card.