First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of law graduates who have pursued, or are pursuing, a post-graduate course (LL.M. or otherwise) from different universities across the world.

Shanya Ruhela
Shanya Ruhela

Shanya Ruhela graduated with an Indian law degree from the Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law (’16), following which she enrolled for the LL.M. at Cambridge University. As an LL.M. student, Shanya was also a JN Tata scholar as well as a KC Mahindra scholar.

Post the LL.M., she returned to India, and a had short stint at Shardul Amachand Mangaldas before joining OP Jindal University as a Research Associate. Last year, Shanya enrolled for a PhD at Tilburg University.

(Edited excerpts)

At what stage of your undergraduate course did you start thinking about a master’s? Did you ever plan on working for a few years before enrolling for the course?

Ever since I read about Newton’s laws of motions in sixth grade, I had been enchanted by the idea of studying at Cambridge.

The five year integrated curriculum followed by most law schools in the country is comprehensive and well designed; it provides budding lawyers a taste of what avenues legal education might open.

However, there is a distinct difference between what is taught at the level of undergrad and that of a Master’s course. At the undergraduate level, one only gets a broad idea about various sub-disciples. Education at the level of post-graduation imbibes in a student, the in-depth knowledge that allows the pursuit of a discipline with utmost academic rigour.

I decided to apply for Masters in my second year of law school after conversing with legal luminaries, alumni and people who I looked upto. It made me realise that the importance of a Master’s from a great university is not just a feather in your cap or a line in your CV but also an experience that helps one shape perspective in life. Hence, I decided to attend Cambridge immediately after graduation. Attaining scholarships to read LL.M. made the decision to opt for LL.M. easier.

“A Master’s from a great university is not just a feather in your cap or a line in your CV but also an experience that helps one shape perspective in life.”

How did you go about selecting universities? And why did you narrow down on Cambridge?

Excellence was my only criterion for selecting the university. Harvard, Yale and Oxbridge are amongst the top law schools in the world. These universities are unparalleled in terms of their faculty, resources, research-focus, student-satisfaction and employment guarantee.

While growing up Issac Newton was my role model, and so the opportunity to study at Cambridge was too good to pass.

You were also a JN Tata Scholar as well as a KC Mahindra scholar – any advice on how to go about the writing requirements for both these scholarships?

I applied to as many places for scholarships as I was eligible for. Do keep in mind that post – study work experience is an eligibility criteria for most of the scholarships. This might not be necessarily stated in the eligibility criterion of the scholarship trust, so you might have to look at previous awardees of the scholarship. It is a sad reality that there is a dearth of merit-based scholarships for Indian students.

A systemic research on the profiles that the trust intends to sponsor by throughly examining the trust deed, objectives of the scholarship, statements from the board members and previous awardees is a must before writing scholarship essays.

Go beyond the advertisement of the scholarship because many a times these are brief and fail to convey the objectives of the awarding body. There should be an alignment or a logical correlation between the trust’s vision and one’s personal goals, which must be reflected in the application documents.

“Go beyond the advertisement of the scholarship because many a times these are brief and fail to convey the objectives of the awarding body. There should be an alignment or a logical correlation between the trust’s vision and one’s personal goals, which must be reflected in the application documents.”

Many of my peers, colleagues and juniors have refrained from applying for scholarships because they felt that they might not deserve a grant. Nonetheless, one must apply. On that note, I want to also address another issue that plagues the scholarships awarded in our country is that many well – reputed scholarships are biased (awarded to a pre-decided individual). This is a sad reality but please don’t be disheartened if you don’t get a scholarship, stay resilient.

Time management is also a key factor that needs to be considered. Scholarship research must be done prior to or along with research for LL.M. options. Since creating separate application dockets is a time consuming process, I suggest one must start this process as early as possible.

Looking back, what were some of the highlights of the Cambridge LLM?

Cambridge is a town that is bustling with academics, scholars, artists and thinkers. I immediately fell in love with the city, and although I have travelled and lived all over the world, I never felt more at home than in Cambridge.

Talking to people who either have or wish to change the world is an overwhelmingly motivating feeling. Living and studying amongst the top most law graduates from all over the world is a fascinating experience. Along with my studies, I got involved in other activities like attending workshops, participating in debates and attending numerous networking events and seminars.

Cambridge instilled in me the courage to pursue my dreams, no matter the risk. After graduation, inspired by the law and economics module I had studied, I decided to pursue doctoral studies in mainland Europe, transitioning from the private sector to research.

“Cambridge instilled in me the courage to pursue my dreams, no matter the risk. After graduation, inspired by the law and economics module I had studied, I decided to pursue doctoral studies in mainland Europe, transitioning from the private sector to research.”

At Cambridge, the LL.M. offers about forty different modules ranging from jurisprudence to international commercial taxation. One can audit any number of courses for the first few months and then opt for any four, a mechanism which allows the candidates to make a reasoned decision regarding the specialisations they wish to pursue by giving them an opportunity to broaden their horizons.

Post the LLM, you came back to India, tried your hand at a law firm, but then opted for an RA post at JGLS – was this because you had already decided to do a doctorate?

I never decided to do a particular “job” or embody a “role”. I wanted to create an impact, how much ever minuscule it might be. It did take me a year to realise how that could be pursued. When I left the law firm, I had no idea what I was going to do in my life.

Teaching was, undoubtedly, one of the most fulfilling experiences. Jindal gives the freedom to research with a very manageable work load. Working as a Ph.D candidate in a research centre and amongst researchers is unique because people are fuelled by passion and their thirst for contributing to the body of knowledge.

In a way, I do believe Rumi when he said what you seek is seeking you.

How does one go about enrolling for a doctorate course? Right from choosing your thesis, to the supervisor, to getting funding – any advice you would like to share?

My journey was quite unique – a month after finding out about this programme, I landed in Netherlands to begin my research.

This, however, is an exception.

Generally, the process of applying for Ph.D. takes about a year. The application process of doctoral studies differs from a Masters or a Bachelors application. Reflecting upon your proposal and committing to the topic is an essential part of the process.

“Generally, the process of applying for Ph.D. takes about a year. The application process of doctoral studies differs from a Masters or a Bachelors application. Reflecting upon your proposal and committing to the topic is an essential part of the process.”

Understandably, it is advisable to discuss your proposal and the ideas contained therein with professionals in the field and your peers. Extensive research precedes finding a supervisor and an institute who share your interest and are willing to fund your research. Certain nations like the Netherlands treat doctoral candidates as employees and hence, one doesn’t need to apply separately for funding.

Early days yet, but how has the PhD been thus far? Could you tell me what a typical day is like?

There exists no typical day in the life of a doctoral student!

A Ph.D. is about finding your method in madness. One realises that a doctorate journey (like life itself) is a process. There are Eureka moments but these are few and far between. My time is divided among gaining a deeper understanding of my project, writing for conferences, attending workshops and relevant classes, learning research techniques and zeroing in on my research plan.

Some days are highly productive and some not at all. A lot of time is invariably spent in cutting through the noise and finding concepts or literature that may be worthwhile to engage with. Self-motivation and consistency (I am still learning this!) is the key to continuous research and study.

Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is interested in a career in research and academia?

As someone whose trials with unravelling the mysteries of life are ongoing, I do not think I can give advice. I can, however, share what I have learnt along the way. Opting for a straight line path when in law school seems logical and a must; one must remember it is neither.

Attaining a bachelors degree and interning whilst in law schools barely gives one a slice of what life as a lawyer is. I wish I had taken a break after completing either of my degrees. It is important to take time to figure out what one loves and carve a path to translate that love in a viable career option.

Do not join academia because you don’t like the practice of law; chances are you might not like legal academia (or research). Find the legacy you wish to create and if you can do that through research, pursue it with all your heart.

“Do not join academia because you don’t like the practice of law; chances are you might not like legal academia (or research). Find the legacy you wish to create and if you can do that through research, pursue it with all your heart.”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.