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NUJS Class of 2013 Alumnus and Assistant Professor at NUJS admitted to Harvard Law School.

We are proud to announce that Agnidipto Tarafder from the NUJS Class of 2013, and Assistant Professor at NUJS, has been admitted to the LL.M Programme at The Harvard Law School.

Considered to be one of the best law universities in the world, The Harvard Law School offers immense opportunities to make a difference in the world. It does this by challenging the brightest students and placing them in an intellectually rigorous environment. Their LL.M programme too is world-renowned and internationally-respected.

Agnidipto Sir generously agreed to answer our questions regarding his LL.M course and application process. His interview is enriching and we hope that it offers perspective to law students at NUJS and otherwise.

1. Could you please tell us about your experience at NUJS? Could you also tell us how your LLM at NUJS was different than your graduation here?

I think it’s customary to say I had a great time at college, and I certainly did - at least the latter part of it. I had serious trouble fitting in initially for a variety of reasons. Law school with its range of activities and general culture of valuing achievement over all else can be quite intimidating. I spent the better part of my first few years in college attending Biju da’s lectures instead!

While I took time to settle down, I was lucky enough to have made some friends – by far the most important aspect of college for me – and most of those have been relationships I cherish to date. I was a day scholar, but had enough friends in the hostel to have had a good time. We had heated debates and mindless banter, night-long chorus singing sessions that left one hoarse, jumped the fence a few times for our nightly sojourns to Chingrighata – all the normal NUJS stuff! On the academic side, I started enjoying class in second year after my tryst with Constitutional law – an abiding fascination - which had as much to do with the subject as the teacher. Meeting Dr Shameek Sen, aka Pinky da, was a turning point for me and made me realize that the classroom can be exciting when you connect it to the world around you. It also reinvigorated my passion for teaching, and although I decided to join academia much later, our ensuing camaraderie was certainly a catalyst for what was to come. It was Pinky da who convinced me to apply for the NUJS LLM. He felt that I could be a decent teacher, and that the one-year LLM offered a good chance to rethink life. I agreed, partly because I trusted him and partly since I didn’t have a better idea myself at the time!

Life during LLM was much the same as before. Some professors were brilliant – Prof UR Rai and Sandeepa Sir’s classes come to mind - and I took slightly greater interest in studies! Most of all, I found my calling. I realized I could communicate ideas simply, identified most with the disinterested lot in class and was passionate about the issues of the day – qualities that are often the difference between good and average teaching. So, the LLM was a period of reflection and realization for me, one that I am immensely grateful for in hindsight.

2. What motivated you to pursue an LLM from Harvard? Was doing an LLM from Harvard always a part of the plan or did you decide about it later?

While the NUJS LLM was crucial for me in deciding to join academia, it didn’t feel sufficient, and made me realize that I needed to learn much more. This was partly the case since I started working in an area that wasn’t taught in college – the law of privacy. At NUJS, of the two LLM specializations available, I chose International Law – without being particularly interested in the subject. I needed to learn more in my subject - and extend my knowledge about other aspects of law and technology - in order to do justice to my role within the classroom and simultaneously grow as an academic. This led me to start considering a second LLM – focused on Law and Technology – which has materialized at long last.

As someone looking to work in India and at a public University, I had a few things to consider before making up my mind. Seniority in employment is critical, and several of my well-wishers advised against another LLM. They suggested I get a PhD instead, which I would eventually have to do, and which would boost career prospects. It was good advice, but I decided otherwise since I felt a taught programme would add more substance to my understanding of the field than a research degree.

I was always inclined towards the US LLM, mainly because the scholars whose work I’ve followed over the years have overwhelmingly been from US law schools. To be able to attend courses taught by them was exciting, but one had to be realistic about one’s chances, not least since the application process can be a costly affair. On applying to Harvard, the truth is I had almost decided against it. I had applied to various universities across continents by then, and was quite convinced that Harvard was a bridge too far for someone like me with modest grades. I took a chance with Columbia, and when that worked out, I was simply glad that all the application money to the US wasn’t lost! Upon the urging of a very dear friend, I decided to apply to HLS a week or so before the deadline, not hoping for a miracle but simply to ensure I didn’t regret it later.

Now that it’s worked out, I’m glad I listened!

3. What advice would you give present students/academics to pursue an LLM from a reputed institution like Harvard?

I describe myself as an ‘academic (work-in-progress)’. I’d rather share my experience and realizations than offer advice to anyone. When I began the application process, the only desire I had was to be accepted at a University with a solid public law programme, which offering enough courses in technology law. Beyond this, I was clueless. So, I decided to gather what information I could from my friends, seniors and juniors who had done their LLMs abroad. Thanks to the extensive alumni network that NUJS offers, and the eons I spent at Biju da’s chatting up people, I got so much input, I barely needed to refer to the University websites for additional information!

In life, I’ve always been delivered from crises due to the unending generosity that others have shown me, which I’m not entirely sure I’ve really deserved. My entire application process was monitored by friends and colleagues who spent time and effort in editing multiple drafts of essays, making suggestions and putting me in contact with others who were equally helpful. The application process can be long, frustrating, tiresome and expensive, and they provided the much-needed emotional support when I was submerged in self-doubt.

As I say this, I realize not everyone is privileged enough to have this kind of phenomenal support. For them, writing emails to folks at Universities where they intend to apply can be a useful way to gather relevant information. Cold emailing is often under-appreciated but can really work wonders. People are far more forthcoming with their help than we give them credit for, as I learnt over this period.

I was quite concerned about my average grades in LLB, and decided to strategize accordingly. I chose not to apply to Oxbridge, for instance, since I was reliably informed that they have a strong focus on grades. I also strengthened my CV in other ways – I published regularly, got involved in research projects and did some consulting in my area. All this was not part of some scheme to ‘make it’, but mostly because I enjoyed the process. It all eventually added to the profile I built in my application.

Finally, the selection process is unpredictable at best and arbitrary at worst. It can be disappointing – heartbreaking even – when things don’t work out favorably. It doesn’t do well to tie your self-esteem to acceptances at top Universities – one is worth more than what 1500 words can describe. It does well to keep reminding oneself of that, in my experience. There is never an end to achievement, so your motivation for pursuing the LLM should come from positive desire to learn, and certainly not be based (purely) on ‘becoming a more saleable brand’.

I can’t say if these realizations I’ve had along the way would be relevant to others, but they certainly helped me cope with the process.

4. Could you please tell us a little more about the subjects that you are going to be pursuing? When will you be joining Harvard?

I intend to apply for a variety of courses with a focus on technology law. The HLS Course Catalog for 2021-22 has just been released and offers a mind-boggling range of options. While the formal intake for courses begins later, I’m quite excited about a number of subjects on offer – even beyond the narrower area of my specialization. There is also the option of cross-registration which allows one to take some classes in other excellent Universities in the vicinity - Tufts, MIT etc. – as well as other Harvard departments, which is another exciting prospect for someone with interdisciplinary interests.

The pre-course orientation is in mid-August, so I am looking to leave around early-August. Of course, there are several hoops to jump through yet – in a pandemic-stricken world, obtaining a Visa in time being the primary concern. There’s also the process of getting study leave sanctioned, though Vice-chancellor Sir has been extremely supportive. I’m hopeful that these issues will get resolved and I’ll get to begin attending classes before long!

5. What do you see yourself doing in 5 years?

Wow, that’s possibly the toughest question you’ve asked!

I don’t know, really. I have never been one to plan too far ahead in the future. I prefer to work passionately towards the attainment of short-term goals instead. By conventional Indian standards, at almost 32, I am quite old for a master’s degree – though it doesn’t bother me much. For the immediate, I want to make the most of my LLM experience, and ensure that I try new things, learn about myself and my subject and find an exact area of interest for my future research – hopefully end up with a PhD idea that excites both me and a prominent professor in the field willing to take me on!

Next year, I will return to NUJS (if all goes well) and back to teaching in class – which continues to be my favorite bit about my job. And since my sibling will be joining practice later this year, my plans also revolve around providing him the support I can to establish himself in a profession that keeps getting more demanding by the year. Let’s hope by the time I’m back, the situation in India normalizes and we can get back to being where we belong – the beautiful little campus of the Beliaghata Law College!



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