Gauri Pillai and Mary Kavita Dominic talk about how it feels to have won the scholarship, and the opportunities that await them.
Rhodes scholarship is one of the most prestigious scholarships in the world. It offers fully-funded postgraduate study in the University of Oxford. Every year, five students are selected from India. Of the five outstanding students selected recently for the next academic year, three are law students. The Hindu Education Plus caught up with two of them — Gauri Pillai of National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS), Kolkata, and Mary Kavita Dominic of National University of Advanced Legal Studies (NUALS), Kochi. Both of them are hoping to study the acclaimed Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL) at Oxford. Excerpts from the interview:
What inspired you to take up law?
Gauri: Law does not have one right or wrong answer. Instead, there are most often just shades of gray, depending on which side of the argument you are on. Having been a science student at school, this flexibility fascinated me. When I enrolled for coaching for the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT), I learnt elementary aspects of certain laws. I became increasingly curious about how various laws worked together to form a singular system.
Mary: I was always certain that science or related subjects did not appeal to me. In Class XII, I happened to take a career guidance test which indicated that law could be potentially a good career for me. So, I decided to enrol for a one-month crash course offered by CLAT.
What was the most challenging part of the application process? In what way did the university and the faculty help you ?
Gauri: When I began thinking about applying for the scholarship, my thoughts on what I wanted to do and where I saw myself many years down the line were a jumble. However, at the end of the third round, I had obtained significant clarity. My faculty also helped me immensely in streamlining my thoughts. Certain electives offered by them —medicine and public health law, law and impoverishment, and gender and law — were crucial in defining my interests.
Mary: The personal statement was quite challenging. However, the two interviews that I attended in Delhi were equally nerve-wracking. Our final interview was chaired by Mr. Kumara Mangalam Birla, along with nine other eminent panellists. Trying not to be intimidated by such an august panel and answering their questions with confidence and clarity was a challenge. I had plenty of support from the faculty who had given me references for the scholarship application. They were always honest about the areas that I could improve on and this proved helpful.
The personal statement is an important part of the application for such scholarships. What is the key to writing a great one?
Gauri: I’m not sure if there is a set formula to writing a good personal statement. I went through several statements before writing mine and each one had a different approach. However, what worked for me was the fact that I approached the personal statement like a story I had to tell — about my choices and my conclusions — based on those choices. I found that I could draw a common link through the various experiences I have had, which though not obvious when it happened, struck me as I was writing the statement. I was able to convey to the reader — through my experiences — my story, and my justification for opting to study at Oxford.
Mary: I watched videos of previous Rhodes scholars online. One thing that all of them agreed on was that there is no straight jacket formula for writing a good personal statement. They do, however, advise you to be honest and explore your own creative self. My own personal statement began with an account of how I was a daydreamer and why day-dreamers are best suited for fields like law. I went on to describe my areas of academic interest as well as the extracurricular activities that I engaged in.
For law students applying for Rhodes, how important is it to have a good record in mooting?
Gauri: Mooting is something I have actively engaged in since my first year. I do not think the Rhodes is looking for one kind of lawyer; so the absence of a mooting profile will not adversely impact your application if you have other interests. However, I think mooting helped me immensely in improving my self-confidence, and my ability to present my thoughts in a concise yet convincing manner. It also taught me how to read the panel. their reactions to my answers, and then tailor my responses based on their reactions.
Mary: Moot court experience is definitely enriching and equips you to handle questions with confidence and clarity. It substantially augments your research skills as well. But not having any significant achievement, will not be considered a major deficiency in your application.
Tell us something about your field of interest in law, your goal and how you plan to achieve it.
Gauri: I am interested in human rights law, particularly in examining how law can be used to address gender disparity in health care. My childhood played a major role in moulding my interests. I grew up in a fairly conservative society, and often observed how various gender roles, ingrained in social functioning, affect the opportunities available to women. I also come from a doctor family. So, I am fascinated by the role of law in health care. Through courses at law school, and work done at internships, I realised that gender norms influence the nature of health care available to men and women, resulting in disparity based on gender. Through my work, I attempt to develop India’s health law framework to craft a more equitable health law regime, providing equal access to all persons, irrespective of their gender.
Mary: I am interested in international criminal law and the law of armed conflict. The impact on human rights also intrigues me. I was introduced to these areas through moot court competitions. Apart from internal moot courts within the university, I have participated in four moot court competitions across the country.