A Career in Scientific Research and the Pathway to PhD Decoded.

As I entered 11th standard ISC, a barrage of information on competitive exams was thrown at me and a lot of people asked me the standard question “Are you going to choose Engineering or Medicine?” given that I had chosen Science. But my mind was fixed on pursuing scientific research and I hope to give you readers a glimpse into my journey including key decision points and procedures I followed hoping that it might help you in making the same choice. I will break the journey into different time points to enable easy readability.

High School (9th and 10th)

As this was the first time one gains exposure to wider concepts and opportunities, I would only say take this time to experience things as there is yet no pressure to decide. A lot of schools have international collaborations these days, so make complete use of them.

The turning ponus-science-summer-camp-2013-18-638int for me while choosing my current field of study, Nanotechnology, was when I attended the NUS Science Camp while in 10th standard. This exposed me first-hand to an international research environment, where I was made aware of the current research advances and what scope there would be for future work.

If international opportunities are out of reach to you for whatever reason, either look for scholarships or local opportunities in Indian universities. A lot of universities conduct outreach programmes for school students and involvement in such programmes is great because they help you to begin understanding whether research is for you and also make a great addition to your CV to demonstrate your commitment to science.

Senior Secondary School (11th and 12th)

A lot of us are under the pressure of performing well in board exams and competitive exams but this phase is extremely crucial, especially if you are applying to universities abroad for undergraduate studies. Now is the time to convert your enthusiasm for science into something more practical – so this would involve either undertaking some laboratory/research shadowing or contributing to your independent research project.

51a0076230d082509a3de05aabb3af88The difficulty of doing this depends on your field. For example, it might be easier to write a code to solve a programming problem rather than convince a professor to let you do some experiments in the lab. However, just try emailing professors in your area of interest stating your interest in the field and how spending time in their lab would be crucial to your future career. You may not get responses a lot of the time, but don’t be disheartened! Also in India, I saw that having contacts help, especially at this stage.

Personally, I completed an observership before the start of 11th grade at the Department of Neurovirology at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore during which I gained insight into diagnostic methods for diseases such as HIV, H1N1, Japanese Encephalitis, Herpes Simplex type 1, Measles, Dengue, Chikungunya and Rabies. In the summer holidays before 12th grade, I undertook another internship at Tumkur University working on a Materials Science project synthesising nanophosphors and characterizing them, which led to a scientific publication.

I cannot stress how important these experiences were in helping me to secure further internships and Masters/PhD positions, all while helping me better understand what field I would like to pursue in the future – I now understood that I enjoyed materials synthesis and wanted it to have an impact on human health. Also, this helped start my publication record which is something of paramount importance if you want to become an academic. Obviously, universities don’t expect you to have published before undergrad, but there are a number of journals which accept submissions from school students.

Undergraduate Year 1 and 2

I moved to the University of Leeds, UK to pursue a BSc Nanotechnology course, which I thought fit perfectly into my academic trajectory. During the term times of 1st and 2nd year, I focused a lot on developing interpersonal and leadership skills through involvement with societies such as AIESEC, Women’s Cricket Club and also became an active part of the student representation system. In my opinion, involvement in such activities will help you no matter what, whether you are applying for jobs, internships or scholarships in the future. And yes, keep your grades up as high as possible if you want to pursue a PhD as competition is very severe for international students in almost any country – I currently have an 82% average, which is considered a high First Class in the UK.

In the summer of my 1st year, I returned to India for an internship at Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR) at the Light Scattering Laboratory as most internships in the UK was meant for 2nd years. I gained experience in Surfaced Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy (SERS), a characterisation technique that was widely used in Nanotechnology. Although the project I worked on did not completely work, it provided me with important training in wet chemistry synthesis.

2nd year was more crucial as I had three options in front of me – a study abroad year at the University of California, a year-long internship at GlaxoSmithKline or a summer phd-notesinternship in my university supported by the Royal Microscopical Society. I chose the second option as I felt that it would enable me to gain extended laboratory experience and experience research in an industrial setting. And I was not wrong! I worked in the Materials Science department supporting global projects on colloidal formulations using characterisation techniques such as rheology, optical and electron microscopy, and thermal analysis. This year did not just help in developing technical skills, but finer interpersonal skills such as negotiation, presenting to senior management and accounting for cultural differences. Also, it helped me understand that I would like to incorporate soft matter in my further research.

Irrespective of which country you are pursuing your undergraduate in, I highly recommend obtaining an internship in the summer of your 2nd year. There are many schemes advertised by universities and over-arching organizations, but the only way you can find out is by contacting your home university or searching on the internet for internships you might be eligible for – unfortunately, there is no shortcut process.

Undergraduate Year 3/4

Depending on what sort of degree you are doing, this may be your penultimate or last year. If it is your penultimate year, I would say try to cram in one last internship depending on what you want to next. I did mine at the University of Alberta under the UARE programme, researching on microfluidics as this was one area I had found very interesting while studying a Nanophysics module but had not explored in depth yet. I fabricated microfluidic devices using CAD modeling and 3D printing, thereby adding to my skill set. This internship proved to be yet another pivotal one as it provided me the skills to complete my final year project and resulted in another publication (in preparation).

2If it is your last year, then you would need to start thinking about whether you want to study further or apply for jobs. Since I chose the former, I can only give advice about this aspect. I have applied to both Master’s and PhD programmes at the moment and detail my observations below.

Applying for Master’s Programmes in Europe: This process is quite straightforward and does keep in mind that funding is limited to international students, although there are Erasmus Mundus programmes that provide scholarships. You generally need the following documents:

  • Official Transcripts from undergraduate universities: Remember that these take the time to obtain, so allow sufficient time!

  • Statement of Purpose: This is one that I wrote for KU Leuven. Focus on how your prior study and research experience link to the programme offered and how this programme will help in your career goals.

  • Curriculum Vitae: Tailor it to the programme by highlighting specific internships, here is an example I used.

  • Passport information

  • 2 References: Ask professors who know you well, they could be research supervisors or lecturers. Sometimes work managers are also fine, if you have been out of education for a while.

Applying for Master’s Programmes in Canada: While the documents mentioned above remain the same, in Canada most universities that provide funding for international students require you to apply for a Master’s by Thesis/Research. In this case, you would have to contact individual supervisors and ask if they have funding for you before submitting an application to the university. Here is an example of an email you could use for enquiries; the format I have used has resulted in a 100% response rate so far!

Applying for a PhD in UK:  The UK is one of the few countries in Europe to allow for direct progression from Bachelor’s to PhD but you should remember that funding is extremely limited! Check out University Scholarships and the Commonwealth Scholarship. While some scholarships only focus on academic excellence, others want you to have demonstrated leadership, volunteered etc., so your extracurricular activities will play a big role in differentiating you from the next candidate. Again, one generally needs to contact potential supervisors and submit documents similar to those mentioned before. An additional component would be the research proposal – this is something that you would agree mutually with your supervisor and is based on your current interests coupled with your previous experience.

What can I do with a PhD?

So far I have related to you the path I have taken to get to a PhD, but you might ask me scientificresearch_29824805_croppedwhat can you exactly do with one? Of course, you spend 3-7 years working on your personal research topic and gaining expertise in preparation for an academic career. But let me tell you that there are also many opportunities outside academia. In GSK, a lot of senior management and technical personnel had PhDs and I have also seen consultants in firms such as PwC with science PhDs. So if at any point, you decide that the long drawn academia path is not for you, there are other opportunities out there! Doing PhD will teach you time management, project management, and interpersonal skills while increasing your resilience, all of which are valuable in industry.

Final note

I have tried to condense all that I have learnt and experienced over the past 6 years into this article. But if you would ever like to obtain more information do contact me on akh276@gmail.com or connect with me on LinkedIn, I will be happy to help!

About the Author

Akhila_ImageAkhila Jayaram is currently in her final year studying BSc Nanotechnology at the University of Leeds. Keen to pursue a career in scientific research, she has secured admission to competitive Masters and PhD programmes in universities such as Cambridge, KTH Sweden, KU Leuven and Imperial College London. She has also worked with various NGOs globally engaging in enabling access to education, empowering youth, encouraging sustainability, inspiring children to pursue science, and advocating gender equality for the past five years.

Posted in Internship, Internship & Applications, Interview, Jobs & Interviews, PhD, Post-Grad, Researching | Leave a comment

#UniInsight: Abhijith Asok, MS in Health Data Science, Harvard University (2017-19)

Off Campus Class picks the brain of Mr. Abhijith Asok, who has recently been admitted to the MS program in Health Data Science at Harvard University’s 1271128_10153213373100564_1520679104_oprestigious T.H.Chan School of Public Health. An ardent data science enthusiast, Abhijith is currently the lead of Safecity’s data science initiatives, where the team explores the power of data as a tool to counter gender-based violence. He holds a Bachelor of Engineering degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering and a Master of Science degree in Mathematics from BITS Pilani Goa Campus.

In this piece, Abhijith shares his experience and insights with respect to cracking into Harvard. 

Sourya (S): Was Harvard a result of a long-term plan for you or had you decided merely months before having sent your application?

Abhijith (A): Studying at Harvard is always a dream, at least somewhere in the subconscious for most people. However, what I’ve noticed from my own experience and others’ is that not many people actually make an attempt simply because of the imbalance between the amount of work involved and the meagre probability of getting in. My timeline lay something like this, at the time of my application:

* Going for a Masters abroad was a long-term plan

* Going for an MS specifically was probably a 2.5-year old plan.

* Going for an MS in Data Science/Analytics/Business Analytics was probably a 1-year old plan.

I went through all the major courses offered in this field by the major universities and started off my applications in the September of 2016, for starting a program in Summer/Fall 2017. A month into the process, I realized that there was a very little representation of the Ivy League schools when it comes to masters degree offerings in data science and related programs. Columbia’s Data Science program and perhaps, Cornell’s Statistics program with a Data Science concentration were the only names I had heard of. So, I did a search myself and found out that Harvard is launching its university-wide cross-disciplinary Data Science Initiative grandly in 2017 and stumbled upon the MS degree in Health Data Science at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health,  which was one of 3 degree offerings from Harvard, and one of the 2 that would begin in 2017 – the other being the Masters in Biomedical Informatics at the Harvard Medical School.

I thought a lot about whether to make an application, wherein on one side, I had the confidence that I have a good story to tell, for which this program might be apt, and on the other, I had the apprehension regarding the added cost of applications, all the additional effort and a very slight chance of actually making it through – particularly since this is the inaugural batch of the program. I had heard that inaugural batch admission standards are usually a notch higher than the following batches since they look to position the program high up the ladder using the first batch’s admission criteria. But then most people do these applications only once in life and I would rather live with “I tried and didn’t get in”, rather than with “I may have had a shot if I had actually given one”, which is why I decided to go ahead with it.

(S): Paint us a word picture about the general Harvard application process.

(A): It’s hard to generalize like that, since I assume it varies within Harvard itself, by course and school. The process for this program was done through the application maxresdefaultmanagement system calledSOPHAS’, which is a system that is common for many public health schools and programs. The application asked for pretty much all that you would expect in a regular application: Personal details, undergraduate and graduate(if any) scores, GPA, test scores(GRE General and TOEFL are mandatory for Indian applicants), resume(a one-page resume is always the best – crisp, precise clear. You would be surprised at how much you can actually fit into one page. Unless you have 4 or more years of experience, I believe that one page would be more than enough, unless you’re asked for a detailed CV in particular), minimum 3 and maximum 5 letters of recommendation, personal statement, details of work experience(if any), research background(if any) and many more.

In addition, this particular program asked for a WES evaluation of undergraduate transcripts from universities outside US/Canada. This particular component will cost you at least $200 or so and even after that, I thought this would be a deal-breaker since I believe WES wasn’t fair in converting my GPA on 10, for a dual degree from BITS Pilani Goa Campus, on a scale of 4. I wrote to WES explaining point-wise, as to why I thought it wasn’t a fair conversion, but they refused to change their stance. As a last try, I emailed the admissions coordinator at Harvard, explaining the same, and they said that the best they can do is attach this explanation of mine to my application. To give you an idea, my GPA on 10 was 7.65 and WES converted that to 2.84 on 4. That was the point where I thought that was it for the Harvard dream, as according to our general understanding, such a GPA would not even be anywhere near Harvard’s consideration. But, being the Mecca of education that it is, Harvard evidently looked beyond a number.

(S): What do you feel were the best aspects of your CV which helped you stand out?

(A): Firstly, let me point out something that may not necessarily help you stand out – test scores. They are sort of like a negative threshold, in the sense that, scoring below an unwritten threshold can make it very difficult for you to secure an admit, but scoring very much above that threshold need not necessarily help your chances of admitting as much as you would think.

I feel that one of the projects I was part of, during my work at ZS Associates as a Business Analyst was prime in helping me stand out. My regular work at ZS wasn’t really helpful for the process, but this project was something I went ahead, asked and took up on my own. So, I guess knocking on doors that you aren’t otherwise expected to knock on is something that will definitely help you stand out since you never know how something can help you later.

The project was a prediction project in the healthcare space, on quite a big dataset and as I understand, very much aligned with the kind of expertise the program looks to nurture and develop. One of my recommenders was the lead of this project, so his substantiation of my explanation of the project definitely helped. Apart from that, I believe I could demonstrate a steady passion for data science, through the many initiatives and projects I was part of in the space. I definitely think my experience with Safecity, where I lead the data team in data-based initiatives as a counter to gender-based violence, helped in portraying myself away from the crowd, through initiatives that linked health conditions with violence. I had worked on my own research idea in data transformations, which is now a paper on IEEEXplore and I believe that the independence in research while giving way to many flaws, stood out as a highlight when it came to the Admissions Committee. Apart from all this, a vision on how I would use the knowledge I gain was very significant, and I believe that my demonstration of the same, down to specific plans, packaged the profile well.

I believe it always helps to look at one’s profile as a story, away from the traditional bullet point and yes/no structure. That’s what they want to see too, a flow from one to another rather than a list of what you have. I believe the biggest indirect highlight of my profile is that I have touched base upon the corporate, social and research aspects of data science.

(S): What kind of activities helps boost the profile of your CV? Is there any clear cut straightjacket formula?

(A): There is definitely no straightjacket formula to this. The best thing would be to ask oneself whether what one is doing at the moment is adding value to who they are and how they can be portrayed. If yes, how, and if not, how not? What is it that is lacking if any, and how can that be achieved? Such questioning can go a great deal towards helping to figure out how they can stand out from the crowd.

Relevance to what you are applying for is very important. You can be a rockstar singer with a lot of accolades to your name, but if you are applying for say, Computer Science, it won’t do much more than convincing them that you have a drive for success/ambition and that your extracurriculars are strong. In short, success in one field won’t be translated in all its might to success in another, by the admissions committee. This is not to say that relevant experience is mandatory. It is not. But it definitely helps a lot and in the scenario that you don’t have it, make sure you have something else that will balance it well enough. A lot lies in how you portray yourself in your application, in your story.

A worthy involvement in a non-profit is generally considered as a good way to boost your profile. If the field of work is relevant to what you are applying for, even better. But, working for a non-profit just so that you have a non-profit to show in your profile is not a healthy approach and is likely to backfire later as the admissions committee does have a good eye to distinguish genuine efforts from others. So, if a particular cause and/or organization hasn’t spoken to you mentally yet, do your own research and find something you are passionate about and then think how you can be of use to it in the best way.

I’ve heard that some experience with the government is helpful to set yourself apart, although I don’t have any information on how true this is. But if you have created some kind of social impact in the past, that certainly helps.

(S): How did you go about writing your Personal Statement? How important is a good Personal Statement to the Application?

(A): I think the personal statement is perhaps the single most important part of your application, or one of the two most important parts of your application – the other being the letters of recommendation. Many universities mention a specific word limit for the SoPs and essays. While it is usually said going beyond the word limit by around 10 words or so, is acceptable, I would say that it is always advisable to stick to the limit as you imagenever know how an admissions committee member might view an overflow. One can never predict how exactly they view something, so it is best to not give them any reason to view any part of the application negatively, as much as possible. The word limit for the personal statement of this program was 600 words, where I was asked to talk about my academic and/or professional preparation for a career in healthcare, focused interest in the degree/department and career plans upon completion of study and a note on my strengths and weaknesses in my background and my ability to carry out professional responsibilities.

I’ll stress on a previous point about weaving everything into a story. A generic style of personal statements usually follows an “I have <achievement>, I’ve done <achievement>, I’ve also been part of <achievement>….” style, which while putting in all the points you want to convey, fails to make an impression and help you stand out, even if your points have enough substance to make you stand out. Rather, a story-based format of how each experience of yours led you into the next and helped you do better is something that becomes sort of motivational, even when it wasn’t intended to be so. Extrapolating this into the future, into your career plans after the program, makes an even greater impression, since it tells the admissions committee exactly why you have applied to this specific program, and exactly what you plan to do with it afterward. It need not always talk about creating social impact in some way or the other. As long as you have a vision for yourself that indirectly might create an impact, that works just as well.

Another point to definitely talk about is the personal touch in your personal statement. It’s very difficult to actually say what this is and how it comes about, but all I can say now is that it is very important in creating that sense of positivity in the mind of the admissions committee member. For this reason, I always advise writing your SoP yourself and not having a friend, or educational consultancy write it for you. It’s the case of a personal statement V/S just a “statement” and the former always trumps the latter, since you know the most about yourself and how you view the things you’ve done, much more than anyone else. Once you write a draft, ask your friends/seniors/people you trust to read it and give you suggestions for the same and prepare multiple drafts, each building on the previous one to finalize a good SoP in the end. This way, you take input from people around you, without losing that personal touch in your SoP.

  [To Learn About The Difference Between Cover Letter & SoP Click HERE]

I’ll advise the exact opposite of the same when it comes to letters of recommendation. It’s always the best thing when your recommenders write the letter themselves since that gets you a letter with a personal touch (and that matters), but it is a general trend in India where the recommenders ask the applicant to prepare a draft of the letter or the final letter itself, which they would then just upload. In the event that you, as an applicant, have no other choice but to do this, I’d advise not write the letter yourself. Instead, talk to a friend you trust, give them the points and get the letter written, to have it in an external perspective.

(S): What tips would you like to share with people who may be applying to Harvard next year?

(A): The primary tip would be not to underestimate yourself. University admissions of interest, outside India, are hardly objective. What might actually work in your favor, even for the biggest names out there, might be some point in the corner, which you yourself thought was irrelevant. You do this only once in life, so give it your best shot and let the rest come through as it would.

harvardThe next point would be to do everything yourself. To this date, I haven’t really found an educational consultancy that’s worth what you spend. In fact, I’ve seen many that are predatory in nature. The university recommendations that many consultancies provide are hardly a match for your profile. They provide the safest ever options as moderate and ambitious for you, as they can then vouch that they got yet another applicant into a masters program. This can seriously leave out a lot of unused potential in your profile that can get you much better admits if used properly. I’ve also heard stories of how some consultancies have tie-ups with some universities, by which they recommend those universities to most applicants that come to them, irrespective of their profile.

The bigger statement is not that there is no good consultancy, but that there is not really any need for help from a consultancy. The application process is no rocket science and you can definitely figure it out yourself and is best done so, in my opinion. To give you a perspective, I don’t think any consultancy would have suggested this Harvard program to me. I got to know about it only because I did my own research and strongly believe that a big factor that led to a positive decision was that I did everything on my own. You could always use the facebook and Whatsapp groups with other fellow applicants for discussions and gain more information. I got a lot of help that way. In the case that you feel you really badly need a consultancy’s help, do so. I won’t go to the extent to generalize and say “All consultancies are bad”, but if you are going to one, make sure that you do enough research on it, talk to people who have used the consultancies before, get their profiles and their recommended universities and see if they make sense etc. Most universities have average class profiles of their previous batches in the appropriate program page, so that should help you get an idea of what kind of people got in before.

Lastly, I’ll stress the importance of SoP and LoRs again. Do not forget to quote a couple of your weaknesses or places you need to improve on. All universities, including Harvard, understand that no one is perfect. It is as important to know your weaknesses as it is to know your strengths. The SoP should have a couple of your weaknesses as well. That being said, don’t leave your weaknesses as is. Weave them into a positive in the end, maybe as another window, it opened for you or giving you the motivation to look forward further – as it happened in your specific case. Also, choose your recommenders wisely. Make sure you choose people who can speak about you more than “someone in my class” and “someone in my team”. The credentials of your recommender matters, but in my opinion, the amount of personal interactions they can write about and talk about you specifically, different from what they can talk about everyone else, matters more. Most universities demand at least one recommender from university, for such courses, so if you are reading this and currently in college, make sure you have done some good work and maintain good relations with at least one professor.

You may reach out to me on abhijithasok@gmail.com in case you have further queries. Please be as specific as possible with the questions. All the best!

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Why is volunteering a win-win situation for students?

“You volunteer for an organization?”

“Why would you take up something that does not pay you?”

“Why are you offering your time, skills and knowledge for free?”

It is not uncommon for people to wonder and throw these questions at me when I talk about my volunteering roles and share my experience of volunteering for different o-STUDENTS-VOLUNTEERING-facebookorganizations. But contributing to the society and helping communities is often a win-win situation for both the volunteer and the organization that benefits from his/her time, skills and expertise. Volunteering, in fact, is a smart career tool and can act as a great catalyst in shaping your career trajectory. And here’s how helping others can help you develop personally and professionally:

Develop new skills through more hands-on experience: Volunteering helps you learn new skills and get better prepared for your professional life. Be it developing your social skills as you interact with various stakeholders or improving your problem-solving abilities as you translate what you learn in the classroom through a more hands-on and
practical experience or learning new things and skills that might help you discover a new side to your personality- volunteering can be a great stepping stone to gain new experiences as you prepare yourself to enter the workplace. In fact, most of the organizations that are volunteer led provide volunteers the training and development required to perform the task. Thus, a great opportunity to diversify your skill set.

Network with people from across industries: Volunteering provides you a great platform to network with people from different professional and cultural backgrounds. You not only meet interesting people but volunteering helps you meet like-minded people who share similar interests thus, helping you create a community or a support group outside of your college or existing work environment. And the importance of networking in growing one’s career and gaining better insights into an industry is a well-known fact. In addition, you also develop the tact and sensitivity required to interact with a diverse community of stakeholders, a very valuable skill that one can use at the workplace.volunteer-opportunity2-e1321387208383

Test out a career: Are you looking for a career change? But not sure or confident of the same? Then volunteering can help you make an informed decision. Say for e.g. you are keen on taking up a career in the nonprofit sector. But you are apprehensive and not confident about the change. You could probably explore volunteering for an organization in the sector. And this experience will help you gain a better understanding of the sector, the different job opportunities and roles, the cause you are passionate about and identify any skill gaps as you test the waters before you embark on your new career path.

Great way to boost your resume: Including your volunteer experience on your resume is a great way to differentiate your resume from the millions of applications a hiring manager receives for a position in this competitive world. While most of the applicants eligible for a potential job opportunity may possess the education, skills, and the professional experience, having a volunteering experience sets one’s resume apart and you will find yourself having a better edge over other applicants. Further, should you be looking for a job or be in between jobs, a volunteering experience always helps fill in the gaps in your resume. And for those who are looking to pursue a higher education, volunteering experience in the potential field of study will not only improve your profile but also your chances of securing a scholarship as a lot of organizations and universities offering financial aid give importance to volunteer work and community service.volunteer2

Be part of some great impact work: Volunteering and seeing how your work creates a life-changing impact in the lives of the people or communities you are working with is extremely rewarding. You indeed play a significant role in fueling the change you are passionate about. And what more you inspire others to embark on this journey.

Having worked and volunteered in the development sector for over five years, I have personally seen the ways in which I have developed both professionally and personally. And I can say for sure that it has been an enriching experience as I gained new skills, built relationships and a support system for life.

About the Author:

Sharda

Sharda is a development sector professional who has worked in areas as diverse as urban planning, governance, gender empowerment and social enterprise. She is passionate about using the digital space for empowering the society and improving citizen participation at varied levels. She strongly believes in the power of education and the ways in which it can act as a catalyst in empowering communities. It is this belief that has been instrumental in her choice of working within the education domain.

Posted in Human Networking, Networking, Uncategorized, Volunteering | Leave a comment

The Difference Work Experience Made to My Post Grad Education

I distinctly remember how my undergrad days were. Day after day of whiling away time with friends (though I did pay attention in class for the most part), last minute cramming for exams and clearing exams with good marks (well, most of the time at least).

Cut to my postgrad days. I had two years of work experience – a year and a half in the corporate world and half a year with a non-profit organization, teaching school kids. So this time around, I had made a conscious decision to study something I genuinely enjoyed and respect my professors! Money and two crucial years were opportunity costs I was willing to bear in order to get back to studying. So needless to say, I was more responsible about my education this time around. But how did those two years of work experience help me in my education?

First of all, my communication skills had improved. Working with peer groups, superiors postgraduate-centre-internal-800x450and people from different parts of the world had taught me crucial soft skills like communicating effectively and assertively when required. I had no qualms walking up to professors and asking them questions. In fact, most of the times, I merely felt like they were experienced peers whom I could challenge and debate with despite the fact that I respected them for their work and experience. I wouldn’t shirk away from doing something offbeat as long as I was excited about it, without worrying about what my professors would make of it.

Secondly, I began to genuinely appreciate being in a classroom and gaining knowledge after having had to learn things on the go in the corporate world on my own, stumbling and fumbling sometimes. I did not take classes for granted like I probably did back in my under graduation and I made the most out of having professionals come in for talks, sessions or seminars. It is important to give everyone the benefit of thought before dismissing someone because you think they have nothing to teach/offer you.

Third – multitasking. Somewhere along the way, I had learned to multitask and so I squeezed in a part-time job and research work into my postgrad days. I realized I loved being intellectually stimulated and that was the reason I enjoyed studying more than hanging out with friends during my masters (I know I know. I do sound like a nerd) Looking back, I realized how much time I had wasted during my undergrad days when I could have learnt some new skills or even made money by doing some work.

I have to mention how much more confident you become as a person once you have a work stint. With the humbling realization that you have a lot to learn and that each person you come across knows something you don’t, you also become more comfortable in your own skin. That kind of confidence helps throughout your life, not just in your future studies.

You also realize that learning need not be limited to just the classroom or what your syllabi entail. I began to take MOOCs (massive open online courses) on anything that sounded interesting to me, be it neuroeconomics or gender identity, as long as it interested me. You never know when such knowledge could come of use.

And finally, teamwork and networking. I know people use the word “teamwork” way too much these days. But collaborating with people who have different opinions and networking-thoughts in a workspace teaches you teamwork (and patience as well). It helps you put aside differences and somehow work together with people who are not really in the same wavelength as you (which happens a lot when it comes to group assignments and project work). Networking, for better or for worse, is crucial as well. You come to know of opportunities you might have missed otherwise. You’ll hear MBA grads taking networking parties/conferences as seriously as any mid-term test. That’s how crucial it is. Thanks to the networking skills I had honed during my time at the office, I was able to get some good contacts and shape my academic work better as well.   

Most of what I’ve mentioned might seem quite cliché. But those with work experience definitely have a different approach when it comes to further studies. Even in my classroom, the ones with work experience generally seemed more professional when it came to meeting deadlines, their body language and their interaction with others when compared to the rest of the class. (Of course, I don’t mean to imply that those without any work experience are not professional. This is merely a general statement, based on my experience). All this only goes to show that you should make the most out of whichever environment you are in and pick up as many skills as you can because those are the ones that will help you throughout, be it in your personal life or your professional one. Even if you intend to change career paths and do something drastically different later on, such skills will help make the process a tad bit easier, as it did for me. 

About the Author: 

IMG-20160914Nanditha is a Masters student majoring in Mass Communication. After her bachelors in Commerce, she worked with Google for a while before teaching primary school students in Chennai for a while. During the course of her Masters, she developed an interest in research as well as development communication. She loves critiquing movies, discussing good pieces of journalistic writing and watching culinary shows apart from reading books when she does find time for them.

 

Posted in Human Networking, Job Experience, Jobs & Interviews, Networking, Post-Grad, Social Networking | Leave a comment

Internships Decoded: Why it’s not only about the Law!

That internships are really important in making you employment-worthy is an indisputable proposition. This is primarily because law firms or even litigators recognize that the law as is taught in law schools falls short, and significantly at that, from what is required of lawyers as they pursue a career in the law. The sentiment is an ongoing one and even students have bought into the idea, for instance, that doing a diploma or an online course will fill that lacuna. All of this notwithstanding, there exists no substitute to actual work experience at a law firm or under a practicing advocate. That said, this piece endeavors to put down an account of how internships as an exercise require more than just being really good at the law and what interns should be doing in addition to sharpening their substantive knowledge of the law.

Internships-Wordle-v3

Pre-Internship

It is always a good idea to know exactly what the practice areas of the internship are. This task is significantly aided by the wealth of ‘Internship Experiences’ available online. Doing this ensures that you won’t, on a primary level, be surprised by the work that is thrown at you, but more importantly it ensures that you won’t be spending too much time figuring the basics of work that is assigned to you. Talking to people who have interned there earlier is also a good idea. For instance, at an internship I was advised to keep taking work from a particular associate, because she took an active interest in the work given by interns and would personally ensure HR called the intern back for another stint at the firm of she was really impressed by the work. The idea being, it’s always best to do your background both substantively on the law as well as the organization and the people involved.

During the Internship

Talk to people. Please do. It is often wrongly presumed that lawyers are an uptight lot that are only looking to employ nerds who don’t have a life. They are humans you know, and more often than not, they LOVE talking and getting to know people. This ensures that people know you and your chances of getting work will only increase consequently, but more importantly you develop a better working relationship with the people involved. When assigned work, take time out and see if you completely understand the work assigned to you. If you don’t, ask questions, seek clarifications. Trust me, asking questions does not make you look dumb, giving an erroneous work product on the basis of your incomplete and presumptuous understanding of the problem is a deal breaker. Lastly, whatever be the work assigned to you, be enthusiastic about it. Even due diligence is an opportunity to contribute, be it in making life easier for the person you’re working for or in some cases actually finding stuff that can aid in the exercise. Perceptions are critical, and being enthusiastic only improves people’s perception of you and your work.

Post-Internshiplaw-firm-intern-f3285c2e0465944549a6b1fa85f71d

Follow-up. Don’t piss them off, while you’re at it. Before you leave your internship, say your goodbyes with whoever you’ve worked for and ask for feedback on the work you’ve done. Connecting on Linkedin is also a good idea. The idea, to put it simply, is to understand whether you have a future with the organization and to better evaluate your options.

I will concede that the above is easier said than done, but these things matter and weigh significantly in an organizations decision to call you back or give you a job. Also, there is no substitute to delivering brilliant work product. All of the above is to supplement that and simply being a charmer is not going to land you a job.

About The Author:-

Zac

Zacarias Kanjirath Joseph is a final year student of ILS, Pune. A Mooter, Munner, Debater and Blogger among other things, Zacarias recently was offered and accepted a PPO from Khaitan & Company.

Posted in Internship, Internship & Applications | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Understanding A Case Citation

NOT KNOWING THIS MIGHT EMBARRASS YOU SOMEDAY. SO BUCKLE UP NOW !

Every law student refer to various judgements every now and then. Some are Indian Judgements and some are of other legal system. But how to read a legal citation? Knowing how to read and write case citations is an imperative skill for everyone studying law. This article may help you with understanding of the basic elements. The complexity may be varied but this level of understanding is adequate for most of us.

How to read a simple case citation ?

Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala  AIR 1973 SC 1461

 Lawlex Understanding legal citation 01

The 1st party is generally called Plaintiff and the 2nd Party is Defendant

S. R. Bommai v. Union of India [1994] 2 SCR 644: AIR 1994 SC 1918: (1994)3 SCC1

LawLex Understanding Legal Citation 02

Sometimes for a particular case there may be more than one citations. These are called Equivalent Citations or Parallel Citations. Generally AIR, SCC, SCR, JT and SCALE are used to refer cases but there are more.

Download List of Law Journals/Reporters / Publications (INDIAN) : Source Manupatra :Download Here

Download List of various Abbreviations /Reporters etc. (International) : Source Firstpoint / Thomson Reuters : Download Here

Donoghue v Stevenson [1932] UKHL 100, Rylands v Fletcher [1868] UKHL 1 Here UKHL means United Kingdom House of Lords

Sometimes a Citation is like this O.A. Nos. 1096 and 1097 of 2008 and Application No. 4695 of 2008 in C.S. No. 949 of 2008

Here our previous knowledge won’t help. Lets learn some more Abbreviations. Here O.A. and C.S. or A. No. are Case Types or Types of Cases. By referring the list we will come to know that O.A. means Original Application, C.S. means Civil Suit and A.No. means Application No.

 

Below is a detailed list of types of cases which might come handy. Source http://causelists.nic.in/

“CASE TYPES”

APPELLATE SIDE

Main Case Types

WRIT APPEAL : W.A.

WRIT APPEAL (MADURAI) : W.A. (MD)

FIRST APPEAL : A.S.

SECOND APPEAL : S.A.

ORIGINAL SIDE APPEAL : O.S.A.

SPECIAL TRIBUNAL APPEAL : S.T.A.

CIVIL MISCELLANEOUS APPEAL : C.M.A.

CIVIL MIS.SECOND APPEAL : C.M.S.A.

LETTERS PATENT APPEAL : L.P.A.

SPECIAL TRIBUNAL PETITION : S.T.P.

CONTEMPT APPEAL : CONT.A.

CROSS OBJECTION : CROSS.OBJ.

TRADE MARKS APPEAL : T.M.A.

TRADE MARKS SECOND APPEAL : T.M.S.A.

TAX CASES : T.C.

TAX CASE APPEAL : T.C.A.

TAX CASE REVISION : T.C.R.

REFERRED CASE PETITION : R.C.P.

CIVIL REVISION PETITION : C.R.P.

CIVIL REVISION PETITION (PD) : C.R.P. (PD)

MATRIMONIAL CAUSES : MC

REVIEW APPLICATION : REV.APPL.

Miscellaneous Case Types

MISCELLANEOUS PETITION : M.P.

CAVEAT : CAVEAT

Note: For all cases filed in Madurai Bench, the letters ‘MD’ shall be added in Brackets along  side the respective abbreviations.

CRIMINAL SIDE

Main Case Types

HABEAS CORPUS PETITION : H.C.P.

CRL. REVISION CASE : CRL. R.C.

CRIMINAL APPEAL : CRL.A.

REFERRED TRIAL : R.T.

CRIMINAL ORIGINAL PETITION : CRL. O.P.

REFERENCE CASE : R.C.

Miscellaneous Case Types

MISCELLANEOUS PETITION : M.P.

Note: For all cases filed in Madurai Bench, the letters ‘MD’ shall be added in Brackets along side the respective abbreviations.

 

WRIT SIDE

Main Case Types

WRIT PETITION : W.P.

WRIT PETITION (MADURAI) : W.P. (MD)

WRIT PETITION (TRIBUNAL) : W.P. (T)

REVIEW APPLICATION : REV. APPL.

Miscellaneous Case Types

MISCELLANEOUS PETITION : M.P.

Note: For all cases filed in Madurai Bench, the letters ‘MD’ shall be added in Brackets along side the respective abbreviations.

 

ORIGINAL SIDE

Main Case Types

CIVIL SUIT : C.S.

INSOLVENCY PETITION : I.P.

INSOLVENCY NOTICE I.N.

ORIGINAL PETITION : O.P.

COMPANY PETITION : C.P.

CONTEMPT PETITION : CONT. PETN

ELECTION PETITION : ELEC. PETN

TESTAMENTARY ORIGINAL SUIT : T.O.S.

ORIGINAL MATRIMONIAL SUIT : O.M.S

ORIGINAL APPLICATIONS : O.A.

 

Miscellaneous Case Types

ORIGINAL APPLICATION : O.A.

APPLICATION : APPLICATION

COMPANY APPLICATION : COM. APPLICATION

SUB-APPLICATION : SUB-APPLICATION

EXECUTION PETITION : E.P.

CAVEAT : CAVEAT

Reading Material to understand foreign citations better : Visit Here

About The Author:-

998035_559008167495142_341951282_n

Sajid Sheikh, currently a second year LLM student at NLU-J, is the Founder and CEO of the Legal Portal LAWLEX. When not busy running his organization and coping with studies, Sajid is an active blogger.

Posted in Researching | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How To Crack A Law Firm Interview: Beginners Guide.

What is the objective of a job interview?

The objective of the interviewee is to ‘do well’ and get through – for a job, a post, or perhaps a membership. Now what constitutes ‘doing well’? A lot of time, one gets the feeling that they have done well, only to find out later that they were not selected. At other times, people feel dejected after the interview, only to get a good result afterwards. And then you always find people with lesser qualification getting selected over those having superior academic records or qualification at an interview. Why does this happen? Interview always seem to be a big enigma.

Well, most intelligent people find interviews quite simple to handle. There are a few basic things one need to understand about interviews. There are certain basic rules of meeting other people which applies to interviews as well. Beyond that, there is always a purpose for which you are being interviewed, and you must be a good fit for that purpose.

Let’s Imagine that You want the Job of a Life Guard

Let us presume that you are excellent at swimming, and you are applying for a job that requires a lot of swimming – like that of a life guard. We have already presumed you have the necessary swimming skills for doing that job. Now if you have to appear for an interview to get this job, with many other similarly qualified swimmers, how would you differentiate yourself from the rest? This is the question that almost everyone faces – lawyers, engineers, typists and actors alike.

Apart from basic competence, what else do they look at in an interview? Well, while we can rationally generalize to an extent, it makes sense to narrow down to interviews that law students face for recruitment to law firms.

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People know that they have to distinguish themselves, but they don’t know How.

That’s why people try to moot, debate, join societies, write articles and so on. They write about all these things in their CV. In their interview, they try to look and sound smart and intelligent. And very often they go wrong. Sometimes they do it right inadvertently. But from what I see, very few try to analyse the process and understand how it all works.

The fitting in and the distinguishing

There are two things that you should do in an interview – show that you fit in, and distinguish yourself. Both at the same time. You have to fit into the role the employer perceives the employee to take, and you must still be different from the rest of the applicants in a positive way.

Is it just academics?

Not really, but usually it is the most important factor as well as far as getting a job in a law firm is concerned. Even in the interview, they try to understand your knowledge of law and problem solving aptitude. In one of my interviews, I was given a problem and asked to solve it in 10 mins. I couldn’t solve it entirely, but I was able to show that I am thinking in the right direction and that I have a good knowledge base and the requisite problem solving skills. The interviewer helped me by giving an important cue and I cracked it. I was selected.

In law firm job interviews for freshers, much of the interview is occupied by questions on law and your academic performance. Expect it. Even if you have not done great academically, you should have a plan of action to prove that you are otherwise good. Lots of people who do not do great academically get through to the best firms that way.

 INTERVIEW-IN-PROGRESS

What is preparation?

Preparation is simply anticipating questions and preparing the best possible answer. Of course you don’t mug up these answers – but you need to be able to say these things readily with confidence. You can not anticipate all the questions, so take help from your friends, parents, seniors – ask them to go through your CV and ask questions about your academics, extra curriculars, anything in you CV. That way you will find out the most likely talking points in your CV and yourself. Identify the interesting and positive talking points, and drive the interview towards these points. Tempt the interviewer to ask you the question you want to be asked. If you say, I am good at negotiating, the interviewer will ask you 90% of the time to give an example of a realm life negotiation you engaged in. Be prepared with a really good story.

Talking points

While making the CV, make sure to put in a lot of talking points. These are like full toss balls, given knowing that the interviewer will ask predictable questions based on these points. If you don’t want to discuss something in the interview, then be kind to yourself and don’t put it in the CV.

Ensure that the talking points are relevant to the job you are seeking. If you are applying to a firm which mostly does M&A, don’t write or talk about family law and IP law articles and papers you may have written. They just don’t care. They would like to talk about something that you have done which is related to corp law. Stuff the CV with those. And vice versa for an IP law firm.

Also, raise the relevant talking points as you speak during the interview, and wait for the interviewer to catch on to those. You can decide on your best talking points before hand and spring them one by one as opportunity comes.

Be sociable and friendly

Tons of otherwise good people dont get jobs because they fail at this. Remember, you are going to work with clients in a law firm. Can you befriend a client? Can you take a client out on a dinner and convince her that you are a very good friend? If not, no matter how good you are at drafting or research, it will be difficult for a firm to retain you. They look for this quality during the interview. They think in the following lines:

Is this girl going to blend with the other associates or will she turn out to be another bitch?

Is this guy a liar? Or is he really as smart as he says he is?

This guys hands are shaking – is he always this nervous under pressure?

If you come across as a nice person, with a warm nice smile, polite but confident, the law firm already wants you – even if you are not in top half of your class. If you are a topper who comes across as a bookworm, too nervous or too arrogant, you know why you are not getting through to interviews while your peers do it effortlessly. This is why it is important to dress well for the interview, too.

Confidence

Be quietly confident – say what you want to say completely, cogently, in a full voice. There’s no better friend like confidence in an interview. If you appear confident, the interviewer already thinks you are alpha quality, who don’t get nervous even before an interview. They’d think you are one of those people who stroll in, make one feel good, walk out with what they want. Veni vidi vici type people. They think that because unlike so many people you have appeared before them – calm and confident. One of the most effective way of distinguishing yourself.

Observe the interviewer

As you speak, as you hear, make eye contacts as if you are giving them your full attention. Making eye contact also shows your confidence. Of course, don’t stare at them in a way that they think you are a pervert. Similarly, smile at appropriate moments but not in a crazy way so that they’d think you are mad. But most importantly, observing them gives you an idea as to how they are receiving your answers. Do they look happy? Do they look bored? Do they seem to be not understanding what you are saying? Are they not agreeing? If you are observing them properly, you’d know it from their expression and will be able to adjust your answer accordingly. Same for telephone interviews, only then you need to hear the tone of the voice carefully.

Know the need

What are you being hired for? Show that you have the ability to do it. Offer to demonstrate. Volunteer information that will help them in making a judgment. To know the need, you may want to do some research. Talk to seniors who are already in the firm. Those who have left the firm. Those who have relatives working there – in a law school, its not going to be difficult. Google the firm and read on internet.

Managing recommendations

This is extremely important. Law firms ask your seniors who are already there for their opinion about you. Are they going to say good things or bad things? It could be a decisive factor. If you are applying to a firm, is there someone who can give a bad review about you out of enmity? Call him long before the interview/shortlisting – and ask for advice about what to do. Listen with genuine concern, thank him a lot no matter how bad advice he gives and keep the phone down. Its a disarming approach. He’ll now have to be a real asshole to say bad things after you have approached him for help. People hate to admit to themselves that they are assholes. If you don’t approach them, however, they are morally free to give any bad opinion that they may have of you.

Do you have anything to share about the above points? Anything important that you think I missed? Please share them in the comments below!

About the Author:-

ramanuj

Ramanuj Mukherjee, the Co-Founder of iPleaders, is a extensive blogger. The Founder of multiple blogs including 1sttasteoflaw and SuperLawyer. He is also associated with IDEA.

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