In conversation with Mary Kavita Dominic on her RHODES Journey

Ms Mary Kavita Dominic is a 2017 recipient of the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. She is a Law graduate from the National University of Advanced Legal Studies and went on to pursue Bachelor of Civil Laws (BCL) and MSc in Modern South Asian Studies from the University of Oxford. She was also awarded Runner-up Domus Research Prize, Frederick Mulder Grant and part of the Eden Palestine Fellowship. This interview is conducted by Ms Suzann Dinu who is a final year law student at the National University of Advanced Legal Studies.

  1. Hi, as a 2017 recipient of Rhodes Scholarship you are now back after a whirlwind experience. In hindsight how has it changed you and was it everything you hoped for?

It was much more than I hoped for. Not even in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would have the opportunity to engage with such an academically curious and socially-driven community. I think, at some level, I am still discovering the ways in which these experiences have shaped me. But if I were to pick one for now, I would say that meeting people who have shattered all kinds of glass ceilings to secure this scholarship, has made me aware of my own privilege.

  1. The Rhodes Scholarship offers fully funded postgraduate studies at the University of Oxford in any stream of your choice, and you just finished your Bachelor of Civil Laws as well as an MSc in Modern South Asian Studies, what were the consideration when you elected these courses and how has the diverse set of feathers on your hat helped mould you?

The BCL was a natural choice for me since I had done my graduation in law. It was an intellectually rigorous course that granted me the opportunity to critically reflect on subjects close to my heart, including Human Rights and International Law. Since the Rhodes Scholarship funds you for two years at Oxford, I had the option to pursue an additional course in my second year. While I was contemplating about which course to pick, I happened to have a conversation with one of my friends from the Pakistan Rhodes Constituency. She was studying in the South Asian Department at Oxford. Her description of some of the courses there really piqued my curiosity. This was also a time when I started to appreciate the value of interdisciplinary research in challenging some of the concepts that lawyers take for granted. So, I decided to go ahead and apply. While on the course, it was truly refreshing for me to look at socio-legal issues through a non-Eurocentric lens.

  1. Even though one of the most prestigious scholarships in the world, Rhodes has a history of being marred in controversy for the exclusion of women as even said to be stated in the original Rhodes Will. Having walked the walk and finally broken through the glass ceiling, do you have any comments?

Honestly, I owe it to the older generation of women scholars, especially women of colour, for having broken this glass ceiling and paved the way for someone like me to go to Oxford. I personally think that members of the Rhodes community today have the responsibility to engage with its problematic history and legacy. While it is great that women scholarship and contributions are being increasingly recognised, there is so much more ground to cover. I hope that the Rhodes Trust as well as the Scholar Community continues to work towards becoming worthy allies for not just women, but other marginalised communities.

  1. You were selected to join on the Rhodes Scholar trip to occupied Palestine and to study conflict societies. How does these experiences that the fellowship offers its students help foster meaningful action and better understanding of the world?

Having lived in India, I had a very summary understanding of the realities of occupied Palestine. Once I was selected for the fellowship, I was encouraged to read and reflect on some great literature about Palestine. My visit to the occupied areas was enlightening and unsettling at the same time. But I do not wish to reduce it to a mere “educational experience”. It was so much more than that. I have extremely fond memories of some of the people I met, and I hope to visit again soon.

One thing I took away from the trip was that even the seemingly small act of bearing witness or narrating your personal experiences can have the power to shape discourses. Here in India, I often find that there are many misconceptions about the Palestinian issue. I like to think that even the simple exercise of engaging with my family or friends about these misconceptions, can go a long way in challenging conventional discourses.

  1. Rhodes selection process involves two sets of interviews once your application is shortlisted, a technical and a general one. Can you tell our readers what to expect at these interviews and how your experience was?

In the technical interview, the applicants are interviewed by their own subject experts. For instance, if you are a lawyer, you will be interviewed by a panel with a legal background. They usually probe you on your areas of interest. I think it helps to approach this as a discussion with the panelists, where you are just bouncing your ideas and opinions off each other.

The final interview is of a more general nature. You are interviewed by panelists who are experts in different fields. My strategy for preparation was not significantly different from the technical round. I was mostly asked questions that were relevant to my areas of interest. I think the important point to remember is that no one expects you to be an encyclopaedia. It is okay to take a couple of minutes and think about how you want to answer. If they ask you about something that you are not particularly aware of, just be honest and say that you do not know.

  1. Your involvement in social work and your interest in extracurricular interests like mooting and debating helped set your application apart, how important is it for aspirants to venture outside the strict academic sphere and also how big a role does grades play here in your personal opinion?

It might be a little cliched to say this but I do think that both Oxford and Rhodes look for candidates with a good mix of academic and non-academic pursuits. Although, it is completely up to you as to how you script your story. For me, mooting or working on community projects might have helped. For others, it could be sports or music or art or literature.

Coming to grades, yes, it is important for you to have a reasonably consistent academic record. This does not necessarily mean that you have to be the topper in your batch. You could be in the top 5 or top 10, provided you are able to demonstrate a genuine willingness to learn and engage with the subjects of your interest.

  1. Can you tell us a little about your areas of interests and you next future goals and aspirations?

Honestly, my interests and aspirations keep evolving with every new experience. While staying true to my legal background, I want to explore interdisciplinary methods of research that can have a true impact on the ground. At present, I am fortunate to be working with a policy think tank that encourages such research.

  1. How important is doing proper legal research and how should law students equip themselves with legal research skills?

. I believe that you are defined by the quality of your research. I have often noticed that many law students prioritise quantity over quality, when it comes to research publications. You can have fifty publications to your name, but at the end of the day, they are of little value if you have compromised on the content. Identify a few good publications and work towards submitting a paper or an article there. You might get rejected the first few times,but the feedback you get each time only adds to your skill set.

I personally think that working with the editorial team of a law journal can also be a constructive experience. I hear that now there are many online courses on good research practices. If you have the time and the resources to enrol in any of them, that could be a good option as well.

  1. Lastly, is there any advice you would like to share with the law students aspiring to apply for Rhodes?

There is nothing like an ideal profile for Rhodes. So if you meet their basic criteria, do not overthink. Just go ahead and apply.

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