A Career in Academia & Research

Amongst the many professions available at the option of law students, one such option is a career in academia. Students who find themselves interested in exploring the in-depth details of a concerned subject and further work upon it, often find this a suitable career path. However, what are the perks of this profession and how does it feel to work in academia first-hand? Let’s find out.

Guiding your way:

Dr. Amal Sethi

A Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania where he researches on comparative constitutionalism with an emphasis on courts, constitutions and democracy.

He has been involved in several capacities with different governmental and inter-governmental agencies ranging from USAID and the US Department of Commerce to UNESCO, UNDP, UN Women, UNHCHR, and The SDG Fund. He has advised sovereign governments on constitution-making and at international tribunals such as the International Court of Justice.

He obtained his Doctorate and Masters from the University of Pennsylvania.

Before Penn, he completed his Bachelor of Laws from Government Law College, Mumbai where he graduated as a recipient of the Nivedita Nathany Award for Academic Excellence and Leadership.

Exploring about the depths of a concerned field can be an interesting task as it not only gives you an insight into the formation and origin of that field but also the knowledge to contribute further in that area and thereby lead to it’s development according to the changing world.

So how can one pursue a path in academia or research and what are it’s perks and prospects? Read further.

A view from the inside

1. What does this career include

Simply put a career in research involves researching a particular thing, in contrast, to say practicing in courts or doing transactional work. A research career could mean many things. – being an academic within a university setting or in researcher at think thanks, international organizations, the government, to name a few – the list is endless.
Often people think doing research means teaching at a University. However, the scope of a research career is way beyond that. If a research career is something that a person is interested in, the prime thing to remember is, a research career allows one to explore many roles – just like any other job.

2. Career prospects- India & Abroad

There was a time when India did not have the same opportunities, but I believe, India is really growing in the research and education sector and we are at a point where the opportunities to flourish are plenty in India.
In many instances, India might just be a better avenue for a student to return to rather than being stuck in a rat race abroad where positions are few and competition is intense. The ultimate call though really boils down to exactly what one wants to do.

3. Financial prospects

The financial avenues are not the same as that in a corporate career in a major firm or business organization, but I believe the job satisfaction is incredibly high and even research careers can be financially lucrative and accord a comfortable life.

Deciding factors

1. Whether this path is for you or not.

Often the desire to pursue research comes from within. Most people who want to pursue research careers have an innate academic curiosity. Beyond that, I think the main thing would be whether or not a student is interested in reading and writing academically (atleast to some extent).
If these two are things one does not feel comfortable doing, research careers should not be something that they would enjoy in the long run.

2. Building the required skill-set

I believe, the best way to build the required skills during law school is to read as much as possible and write whenever feasible. Also, my suggestion would be to read as broadly as possible and gain knowledge across areas – not only within the law but also allied disciplines like history, economics, political science, sociology etc.
In today's world, the Internet is a great place to explore things. Students can start with something small – for, e.g., blogs and then based on more focused research move their way up to literature reviews and later to academic books and scientific articles.
If it is helpful, some blogs I follow are I: CONnect, Verfassungsblog, Law and Political Economy, Monkey Cage, Volokh Conspiracy, Balkanization, EJIL Talk, Opinion Juris, IACL-AIDC. Obviously, the list of blogs out there is long, but these are some of the main ones which I would recommend and where academics predominantly write.
Another thing I would like to mention is – I often advise students to not be too ambitious in what they read, that could possibly put them off from research. Hence, START SMALL.

Pursuing a higher degree

1. When would be the right time

The answer really is context-specific. I went straight after graduation because I was sure about what I wanted to do and got into universities of my choice. Despite my own choices, as a general rule, I am one of those who would advise students to work for a few years before heading for graduate studies for two reasons-

I. After a few years of work experience students are more certain about what they want to do professionally

II. A little work experience always helps to gain perspective as well as adding the bulk on the resume both w.r.t admissions as well as any post-masters roles.

If students do decide to gain a few years of work experience, I would always suggest them to find roles which won’t just add to their CV but also where they can learn something meaningful and which could help them with their ultimate careers.

2. Shortlisting the right law school(s)

While rankings are not the end-all, a globally ranked university is often a safe measure of a university being a good bet to help their research careers. Beyond that another thing that could be helpful is looking at the kind of professors and course offerings a university has to offer.
Often research careers require doctoral degrees as well (though its not always a must). The question of doctoral degrees is a rather complicated one, and the admissions are more tiresome than a master's program. I have addressed that topic over a few questions here. Alternatively, I am always quite happy to take questions from students interested in pursuing doctoral education/research careers, and they are more than welcome to reach out to me via email or connect via Linkedin or Twitter.

3. Building your profile

The best way to make sure you get admissions into good colleges is to have good grades. Admission committees value grades over anything else (more often than not, this is true).
Beyond that, the usual fare of internships, writing, leadership positions, moots, etc. One thing I would like to mention is that prioritize quality over quantity. University admission committees in today's internet age have a lot of information to work on and know what is what. They are almost always more impressed with a few substantive things than a lot of small, obscure things on your resume. To put it in a way a student might understand – doing well in Jessup or Vis >>>>> winning or taking part in small unknown domestic moots.

In conclusion,

No matter what you want to do – be it a research career or otherwise, do your due diligence, search the Internet, reach out to as many people as possible, understand what a role entails before making a final decision.

#research #academia #penn #lawcareer #lawstudents #lawschool #llm #lawblog

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