Interview- Vrinda Bhandari (NLSIU, Rhodes Scholar 2012): How To Win The Rhodes Scholarship

Interview- Vrinda Bhandari: NLSIU Student, Rhodes Scholar 2012; How To Win The Rhodes Scholarship

Vrinda Bhandari, a 5th year law student at NLSIU Bangalore has won the Rhodes Scholarship this year (2012). She tells us about the journey. Read on.

Published on 9 November 2011

1. Did you ever dream/think of winning the Rhodes Scholarship? And did you work towards it consciously?

I started thinking about the Rhodes during my fourth year and I still cannot believe I have gotten it. While I did work a lot, it was not particularly with the Rhodes Scholarship in mind.

I believe your research interests and internships help in determining your focus areas of interest. For instance, my interest lies in access to justice, namely the issue of case delays and case management and the consistency in judicial decision making. This developed over a period of five years at NLS with help from certain teachers like Professor Mrinal Satish.

However, I have always participated in activities which I enjoy and do not believe that there is only one path towards achieving success.

For instance, I was not an avid mooter but I was actively involved in research projects and sports. They key to success is to forge your own path and carve a unique identity for yourself in the process.

2. What makes a Rhodes Scholar? What makes a perfect application?

I think Cecil Rhodes’ Will plays a very important part in understanding what is expected of a Rhodes scholar.

The Rhodes scholarship is different from any other scholarship insofar as its focus is not limited merely to academic excellence and extends to qualities of leadership, unwavering commitment towards bringing about change, interest in and participation in sports and the ability to ‘fight the fight’.

I think applicants need to think about what sets them apart from other potential applicants and why the Rhodes Trust would want to award them the Scholarship.

The whole process is divided into two broad components: the SOP and the interviews. The SOP is very important and forms the basis of one’s interviews. During both my rounds, the questions pertained to my research interests and my sporting activities as demonstrated in the SOP.

I think the key to a perfect application is to actually believe in what one is writing. The panel is very experienced and are easily able to distinguish between an applicant who is committed to his/her area of interest from someone who has tried to force a research agenda. This also makes the preparation process more meaningful and fun.

I learnt a lot about myself during the last three-four months and that is the beauty of the Rhodes process. It forced me to think about myself and my future plans and I believe this was reflected in my SOP and interview. For me, sports played an important role in supplementing the work I had done and many questions touched upon these issues.

Apart from that I would like to stress on the importance of extra-curricular activities. The Rhodes is looking for someone who has been able to demonstrate interest in activities beyond class room academics any sports/mooting/debating/music/community service might help in this regard.

3. How was the interview, the questions and your replies?

The interviews were very gruelling but very engaging. I had two rounds, one preliminary round in Mumbai chaired by Professor Vir Chauhan, the Secretary of the Rhodes Trust and the final round chaired by Mr. Ratan Tata.

The final panel also consisted of Professor Vir Chauhan, Dr. Lavanya Rajamani, Mr. Nandan Kamath (who were the two lawyers on the panel), Dr. Vijay Raghavan, Professor Madhura Swaminathan, Mr. Malhav Shroff and others.

During both my rounds, the questions pertained to the work I had done and my areas of interest which in my case was the judiciary and case management systems. I was asked about the sociological jurisprudence of the court today, the prevalence of judicial activism, my future plans and my proposed course of study at Oxford.

Apart from this, I was also asked about sports and my basketball and athletics interests. I had done a few mock interviews with my friends at NLS and this really helped me maintain my composure during the actual interview.

4. What do you plan to do at Oxford? And future career plans?

I plan to study Principles of Civil Procedure under Prof. Zuckerman and other courses such as Law in Society and Criminal Justice and Human Rights. I hope to come back to India and research on issues of access, manifested through case delays and the quality of justice rendered, which can in part be empirically measured through the consistency in decision making.

I plan on doing a BCL (Bachelor of Civil Law) and if possible, an MPhil later on.

5. What was your first reaction after winning the Rhodes Scholarship? Whom did you tell this first?

I had always wondered how one would reach when they are told they have been awarded a scholarship of such nature but my reaction was completely unexpected. I was numb and it took the longest time to register.

I kept on thinking I was in a dream and Mr. Ratan Tata had not actually called my name. I called my parents first and they were overjoyed.

Read the Legally India piece here and the Bar and Bench interview here.

Lawctopus also interviewed last year’s Rhodes Scholars Shreya Atrey (from NALSAR) and Gautam Bhatia (from NLSIU). (Click on the blue linked words to read their interviews).

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