Academics, Researchers & International Organisations

Chaitra Beerannavar, Research Fellow, Cambridge University, on getting a Ph.D, choosing academia, and her passion for teaching

Chaitra Beerannavar graduated in law from  University Law College, Dharwad, in 2010. She went on to pursue her Masters from Symbiosis Law School, Pune, batch of 2012. She subsequently pursued her Ph.D from the same university. She is currently Dr. D. C. Pavate Fellow, Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge, U.K. Her area of research is “India and Its Experience with Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs): Lessons From BRICS”.

In this interview we speak to her about:

  • Her interest in academia
  • Being a prolific writer
  • Studying in Cambridge

What motivated you to take up law?

I knew many lawyers growing up. My father said I should take the judicial exam to make sure that I followed his suit. I didn’t want to do that but I really had no idea of what I did want to do, beyond choosing law because I was sure that  law as a career opens up the possibility of embarking upon one of the most dynamic and challenging careers available.

 

How would you describe your time at ULC Dharwad?

ULC Dharwad in many ways is self-contained. It focused on life outside the classroom along the themes of off-campus activities, leisure and the arts, and athletics. I had found respite from my studies in activities both solitary and social, on campus and off. During my time, it always focused on engaging with constituencies outside the law school. Alumni/ae and the local and state bar and judiciary were its obvious constituencies. We had an active clinic, which provided greater school outreach to the communities. This kind of non-lawyer support typically took the form of vouching for the law school’s value to the community.

 

What are the parameters that must be considered in deciding what the next step should be after graduation?

Opting for Masters will always broaden one’s horizon. A Masters of Law is internationally recognised, meaning you could study anywhere, and then move anywhere to make use of it. Obviously, there are sometimes limitations (you need to make sure you’ve studied law in the appropriate area). It’s a great opportunity to specialise – whether in taxation law, corporate law or something else entirely. The more obscure an area you’re interested in, the more beneficial you’ll probably find the LLM. If your interest in law lies outside of practising and more in teaching and In order to research and teach about law, you’ll almost certainly need an LLM.

But when it comes choosing the right one, Students have to decide what matters to them:  scholarly caliber of the faculty?  Numerical credentials of their fellow students?  Clerkships?  Corporate law jobs?  They can narrow down the list of schools to which they’ve been accepted to those they ought to visit and investigate for themselves to see if they’re a good fit for their masters.

Could you share with our readers some insight on how one can excel in academics and co-curricular activities alike?

(Chaitra has been awarded with several gold medals right from her LLB days up to her Master’s including several scholarships.)

Being successful means acknowledging the challenges, so you can deal with them the best that you can before you experience them. Perhaps the key to a successful academic experience is winning the law school mind game. Law school success can be defined in many ways—graduating, getting a job, good grades, creating lifelong relationships. Grades are just part of the equation. If you do not get straight A’s, there are plenty of other ways to make yourself an attractive job applicant. One way to move past bad grades is to acquire practical skills and practical experience. Your GPA is one line on your resume—you need more than that to stand out. If you can create a niche within an area of law—go for it. Independent research and writing classes are a great way to delve into an area that is not covered in class. If you are on law review or a journal, write about a hot-topic in an emerging area of law.

 

What was your Ph.D thesis on?

My Master and Ph.D. theses were based on the research problem of contemporary concern. My Ph.D thesis was on testing the feasibility of Reverse Mergers in Indian capital market. The study is of intricate nature which makes comparative analysis of Reverse Merger with IPO methods.

 

When did you decide that teaching was your passion?

My interest in becoming a law professor began while working as a Research Scholar at Symbiosis Law School, Pune. During my Ph.D., my rigourous doctrinal courses covering a number of fields, serving on law oriented student law journals and in depth intellectual and research relationship with my professors attracted me towards law teaching. Most of all, the relationships students form with their professors allow students to observe how to become and thrive as scholars.

 

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

As a law teacher, I enjoy thinking and talking about the law and working to make the law better and more equitable. Teaching at one’s alma mater can be difficult. Former professors become your colleagues, and you have to overcome the reluctance to challenge or contradict your mentors. You also have to confront suspicions about academic “incest” from outsiders. For me, the experience has been mostly positive.

 

What tips would you give students and young lawyers who are inclined to research and academic writing?

Throughout your career as a lawyer, you’ll be judged professionally on two main things: your interpersonal skills and your writing. Writing a paper engages so much of the lawyer’s art that no other predictor of likely success on the job comes close. A well-written, well-researched, thoughtful paper can clinch that law firm job or clerkship. It is indispensable if you aim to teach. Your pre-law-school writing experience and your first-year writing class will help prepare you for it, but only partly. It’s not easy to create an original scholarly work that contributes to our understanding of the law. So take advanced legal research. Most law schools offer some sort of advanced or specialized legal research course as an elective. But the truth is that there’s never enough time in a legal research class to cover everything. So have continuity in your publications.

 

What is the academic environment like at the University of Cambridge? 

I was a Pavate Fellow at Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge and also a Senior Member of Sydney Sussex College, UK in the year 2016.

As far as the fellowship was concerned, it delivered in most aspects. I was adequately trained to read legal and economic articles critically and, write extended pieces coherently and persuasively. Supervisions at the department were also, for the large part, of high quality and I received close guidance from dedicated supervisors and my mentor Prof. James Mayall, Emeritus Sir Patrick Sheehy Professor of International Relations, University of Cambridge, UK.

Cambridge has a rigid structure, which should, perhaps, come as no surprise, given how steeped in tradition Cambridge is. It tends to focus its course material in such a way that the student is more inclined towards academic thinking. If I could summarise my experience at Cambridge in three words, they would be ‘driven, fulfilling, and challenged’. It was during that time when I truly learnt how to discuss current legal issues and challenge opinions in my readings, essays and thesis, just like any other professional jurist.

And as far as social life is concerned, I would say that Cambridge was a humbling eye-opener for me. I had the fortune of being friends with some internationally known jurists and scientists at Cambridge. I met some of the most brilliant (in all senses of the word, not just that which extends to intellectual prowess) people in my life and built strong friendships and networks with them.

 

Did you have a mentor or guide during the formative years of your career? 

The single most important thing you can do when you are at a law school is to find and work with a mentor. Ideally, this will be a Professor who teaches you the practice, both substantively and ethically, and serves as a role model.

When I chose Symbiosis Law School, Pune, it lead me, finally, to Prof.Dr. Shashikala Gurpur, (Fulbright Scholar, Director and Dean of Symbiosis Law School, Pune) who is a legend in Indian Legal academia. This was one of the most impactful mentor relationships that I would ever have. I enjoyed each of her classes immensely, while also learning a lot. That is the greatest gift a professor can give a student, and Professor Gurpur did it repeatedly, not only for me but for so many others over so many years. Professor Gurpur has not only been and remains  a great mentor. I’ve had other great mentors throughout my career, but she was really the first and has guided my adult professional life. She is a tough act to follow but leaves a great legacy, which includes a standard for excellence and dedication that all Law students and professors can learn from.

Chaitra with Prof. James Mayall, Emeritus Sir Patrick Sheehy Professor of International Relations, University of Cambridge, UK, one of the senior most professors at POLIS, Cambridge, and her mentor and guide.

 

 

What are the challenges you have faced in building up your career as it stands today? 

It required modest adjustments in what we teach and why we teach it. one of the best ways to learn a field is to teach it and engage in basic research, and this should apply to everyone getting a doctorate in law.

Down the line, would want peruse my legal research and writing in a more prominent way.

What books, judgements that you have read would you say have played an integral role in shaping your legal philosophy?

My early days at law school were highly influenced by many legal philosophers who left their indelible mark on shaping rule of law. As a student of law it is very important to critically examine existing legal philosophies and decisions of courts and legislations from the point of philosophic principles. Most of such readings included William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, John Austin’s theory of sovereign law, Lon Fuller’s The Morality of Law, and Palkiwala’s We the People and We the Nation and few judgements which made the initial law school days more thrilling were that of National Judicial Appointments Commission judgment, basic structure etc.

 

Do you feel that law schools have been successful in producing socially relevant lawyers and researchers? 

Law schools in India have an obligation to produce socially relevant lawyers and researchers. A long way to go in this direction. The role of law schools and legal education must change with new realities of globalization. Most of the Law schools in India are limited in preparing law students to become lawyers, judges, or some other type of legal professional. But even this more limited perspective should recognize the contemporary environment and the coming changes

 

What would be your parting message to our readers?

My experience at law school was always educational. I wouldn’t want to trade those experiences or forget those lessons — they’ve shaped the writer, teacher, friend, and woman I am today.

Law school is a process of self-discovery. Develop patience to arrive at what you are passionate about.

 

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