An interview with Vanshaj Jain, 2017 Rhodes Scholar

A graduate from the National Law School of India University, the country’s premier law institute, Vanshaj Jain was awarded the prestigious Rhodes scholarship for the year 2017. An avid mooter and debater during his college years, Vanshaj has always been into extra-curricular activities. He won the ICC International Criminal Law Moot Court Competition, National Rounds (2016) and was the Finalist in the same competition for the International Rounds. One of his research papers was published in the famous Columbia Journal of Transnational Law. Apart from this, he was also the Octo-finalist at Worlds University Debating Championship (2017) held at The Hague. A mararthon runner and rugby player, Vanshaj is currently a member of the Oxford Cross Country Team. In an interview with Sunaina Sharma,  1st year student of B.A.LL.B, Symbiosis Law School, Pune, he has expressed his views on being the Rhodes Scholar and has also advised the future lawyers aspiring for the same.

1. How does it feel like to win the Rhodes scholarship? Did you ever dream about it?

Well, it’s an entirely subjective experience in my opinion. For me, it was certainly exhilarating to hear my name announced at the conclusion of the interviews. And there’s this mini-celebrity status that you (undeservingly) attain amongst the bubble of Indian law students for a while. But eventually, that excitement and happiness dims to the background, and you realize that with this scholarship comes an immense responsibility. The funding, the opportunity, the privilege you are given comes with a burden – that you use them to make a difference. To carve a path of your own. It’s daunting, but the Rhodes Trust does everything it can to prepare you and encourage you.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t dream about getting the scholarship. Every law student does, at some point, I imagine. But it was always such a long shot, I never let myself get too worked up by that ambition.

2. How should one go about his/her application for the prestigious scholarship?

Well, you have a written application with referrals, followed by two rounds of interviews. But the process for getting the Rhodes starts much before that – I’d say from your first year in law school. It’s about getting good grades, pursuing co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, exhibiting leadership and a desire to help those around you.

For the application itself – everyone’s Statement of Purpose will be different. It’s essential, however, to engage in deep reflection before you write yours. To seriously consider what you wish to do with your life, and how you plan to do it. Why you believe Oxford will help you in that path. And once you have that cleared up, it’s important to express it honestly through your SOP.

3. What was your interview for the scholarship like? What all questions were asked from you and what were your replies?

The first interview was focused primarily on legal questions. I was asked questions from jurisprudence, from legal issues that were prominent in the news at the time, as well as about the law that I was interested in studying (international law).

The second interview, however, was more general. I was asked questions about how one ought to define leadership, examples from my life where I’d displayed perseverance and compassion, the role of rugby and theatre in my life etc. There were also a couple of slightly-absurd questions thrown in to make you think, which served as the basis of a small debate with the interviewing panel. These were: Should the government offer financial incentives to women addicted to crack cocaine to prevent the phenomenon of ‘crack babies’? And, what are the three most important ideas that came out of the 20th century?

It would be counterproductive to reproduce my answers here. There isn’t a correct answer to these questions. What the panel is looking for is an ability to think clearly and independently, on your feet, and to defend the positions you take.

4. Being a student from the country’s premier law institute, what added advantage did it give to you over the others?

Well, given my college’s history of Rhodes Scholars, I definitely had access to a lot of different people who could help me and talk to me about the application and the interviews. But I think it’s important to emphasize that this is an unfair advantage, which is increasingly being balanced out through an effort by the Rhodes India community, who now create Google Groups with senior scholars, which any applicant can access to have their queries and doubts cleared.

5. What do you plan to do at Oxford? What are your future plans after completing your Masters?

That’s something I still need to figure out. I’m applying for an MPhil in Law for the coming year. Following that, I need to decide whether I want to come back and litigate at home, or qualify as a barrister in the UK whilst pursuing a DPhil.

6. What inspired you to pursue higher studies? What role did your parents and teachers play in your success?

I wanted to do my masters because I wasn’t satisfied with my exposure to certain branches of law – specifically, international law. I wanted to study it in greater depth. It was also important to do a masters in this area in order to have access to career opportunities in this field.

I couldn’t possibly do justice to the pivotal role my parents and teachers played in my success through any answer I provide here.

7. What advice would you like to give to the students aiming to study at Oxford?

It’s an incredibly beautiful place to study with every facility and resource any student could desire. The teaching is often inspiring and the learning curve is sharp. So if you’re thinking about Oxford, you’ve made a good choice. It’s important to not let the place get to you, though. Don’t let the academic pressure get you all worked up. Take frequent breaks. Travel. Enjoy the scenery. Make sure you have enough Vitamin D. And, most importantly, be happy. Otherwise, what’s the point?

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