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Advice from 3 newest Rhodes Scholars: Self-Reflection is key • 2 aim for ICC, 1 for health law

Rhodes committee is looking for clarity of thought, passionate engagement with a subject and diverse interests, Rhodes legal scholars feel

Mary Kavita Dominic, Vanshaj Jain, Gauri Pillai explain Rhodes success
Mary Kavita Dominic, Vanshaj Jain, Gauri Pillai explain Rhodes success

For Rhodes 2017 scholars aiming for the Oxford University BCL, international criminal law and human rights law specialisations were top preferences, while honesty, self-reflection and passion were game clinchers.

NLSIU Bangalore’s Vanshaj Jain and Nuals Kochi’s Mary Kavita Dominic echoed each other’s advice to potential Rhodesians to “be honest”.

NUJS Kolkata’s Gauri Pillai stressed on the need to “spend a lot of time just reflecting on what really excites you” before applying for the Rhodes.

The X-factor

Dominic is the first from her law school to bag the prestigious scholarship.

She commented: “It was a little challenging because there was no one I could contact in case of certain doubts [in my application]. But I had a lot of support from the faculty, my friends and seniors. Some of them even offered to put me in touch with Rhodes scholars who they are acquainted with.”

Dominic said that it would help Rhodes candidates to be “extremely passionate about the subject they want to pursue and be honest in their applications. Jain stressed that candidates should “think long and hard about themselves and their area of interest, and that they be honest about both in their application and their interviews”.

Jain also said he felt that his diverse interests – such as in mooting, debating, theatre, long distance running and rugby – may have supported his scholarship application well.

Pillai noted: “It may sound clichéd, but I think what truly worked for me was the fact that I felt very passionately about what I had written, and that enthusiasm reflected in my Statement of Purpose, as well as during my interviews."

"Before you begin the application process, spend a lot of time just reflecting on what really excites you. It may be very far from the usual choices, but diversity of thought is something that the Rhodes Scholarship truly appreciates.”

The process

18 candidates appeared in the final round of interview out of a shortlist of 100 who were selected on the basis of a curriculum vitae, personal statement and recommendation letters, explained Dominic. Out of the five Indians selected this year, three are law students including Gauri Pillai from NUJS Kolkata, as we reported yesterday.

Pillai said: “I was asked questions testing my motivation for opting to study health and gender, and my understanding of the existing legal problems in the field. I think my choice of a niche area of research-law’s role in remedying gender disparity in health care- helped me tremendously as it showed a certain degree of clarity of thought."

"I have done several internships exploring this intersection. I have further worked as a research assistant to professors working in the field. In fact, during both my interviews, I relied multiple times on experiences I have had during internships, and observations I made on the basis of those. In essence, I was able to draw a fairly clear thread linking my work in the past to what I want to do in the future, and I believe that that added significant value to my application."

Course, career and gains

Jain and Dominic’s special interest lay in international criminal law while reading for the BCL, while Dominic explained further that the law of armed conflict and human rights are the modules she was looking at.

Pillai was interested in human rights law with a special focus on the intersection between health and gender.

Jain said he was aiming for the office of the prosecutor at the ICC, while Dominic who also wanted to start at the ICC said she eventually wished to be back in India to join the legal and treaties division of the ministry of external affairs.

Pillai said she wished to return to India after the BCL to practice and research health law and make it “more equitable”.

Jain added that he had gained from the “rigorous” Rhodes application process in terms of finding greater clarity for other college applications as well, as it “requires a lot of hard work and self reflection”.

Dominic noted that winning the scholarship made her feel “extremely happy” and like she was “in some dream”, while for Pillai the six-month application process period was that of self-reflection where her past choices became clearer and her interests.

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