“Life as a Teacher begins the day you realize that you are always a learner.”
This interview has been taken by our Campus Manager, Nupur Walia. Supreet Gill Sidhu is an assistant law professor at the University Institute of Legal Studies (UILS), Panjab University, Chandigarh.
She holds an LLM from London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and a BA and LLB from the Symbiosis Law School (SLS), Pune.
FaculTea’s (tea with faculty?) are interviews with law faculty members which Lawctopus’ College Managers are doing.
Hello Ms. Supreet! Tell us something about yourself?
Hi Nupur! Well, I am someone who is candid and believes in integrity, modest, hard-working and consistently sets firm goals for myself.
Every day, I work to improve myself and my skills—that’s part of becoming better at what I do.
Tell us more about your hobbies. What unwinds you?
What truly unwinds me is a combination of music and a light workout. Besides that I am a voracious reader, I have a keen interest in photography, cinema, theatre.
Also, a good movie that compels me to think is something I love watching.
What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses?
I think I have worked on both my strengths and weaknesses over the years. If I had to talk about my weakness, I’d say that I get too emotionally involved with anything and everything I do.
My habit of giving attention to detail is taken too far, sometimes. But once I have my heart set on something, then there is no stopping me, I’m very determined and have a very strong resolve.
My motto is: “If you can’t find a way, then you make one.”
Why did you choose law as the career line?
Honestly, it was because I didn’t want to be a doctor. I did not want my parents to pay huge capitation and get me into a medical college, as I well knew that I would not make it on my own. I also
didn’t want to be under my father’s shadow all my life. I wanted to be someone who is self -made and thankfully, my father really encouraged that.
Did you want to pursue law from the very beginning?
No, not really. Like I said, I was a rebel and wanted to do law just to spite all the people who expected me to study medicine.
However, once I was into it, I knew I had made the right decision.
Were your primary legal studies a roller-coaster ride?
I don’t know what your generation means by that! But if you are asking whether it was rough, then I would say ‘NO!’ In fact…When I went to college, I discovered that I had quite an aptitude for law and I was amongst the best students in class.
Things you liked to do in law school. Your favourite subject?
All law schools have their specialities and so did Symbiosis. I liked the freedom of thought and expressions that Symbi inculcated in us.
Besides that, the best part about college undoubtedly was friends, friendships, dating and the lessons one learns about life. S
trangely, I was absolutely in love with Insurance Law at school. I had never studied a subject so obsessively as I did that.
What according to you should be the focus of the law students at law school? How should they shape up their potential career graph?
The focus should be two-fold, a simple formula comprising good grades and extracurricular activities. In today’s competitive world, it’s not enough to just get into a good law school. That’s barely half the work done. You have to constantly keep learning, growing and keep building your CV.
Are there any professors or mentors who actively inspired you?
My Constitutional Law Professor, Mr. Shashikant Hajare.
He taught me how to have an independent opinion, which is very crucial and important for a legal professional.
Anything else you want us to know more about Symbiosis Law School?
Yeah, I would like to voice my strong concern here about the perception people have about Symbi. Let me assure you, it’s not a fancy school for rich and spoilt kids.
We were made to work hard- really hard. Symbiosis today is where it is, because of the tireless work of a lot of people and not because it’s a affiliated to a rich private university.
You pursued your LLM from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) in 2009. Did you always want to study further in universities abroad or was it just a sudden decision?
It wasn’t a sudden decision. The seeds were sown in my mind by my landlady in Pune, Mrs. Indu Kale. I really admired that woman’s spirit. She was a true intellectual who worked as a social worker helping deaf and blind children.
Often after dinner, I used to have long mature conversations with her. She was a LSE alumnus herself. I wanted to experience what she had experienced there and I wanted to see for myself what is it like to study in one of the best institutes in the world.
Did you apply to other universities other than the one you attended?
I was very selective about my applications. Firstly, I knew I wanted to go to UK and not US.
Therefore, I made only 4 applications to the Dickson Poon School of Law, King’s College London; University College of London; London School of Economics and Political Science; and University of Oxford. I got through to three with the exception of Oxford.
What was the application process like for such colleges?
They make you write an essay along with the application which is called Statement of Purpose. I was very honest while writing it. In addition to that, my grades spoke for themselves.
What all things helps to make your SOP and CV stand out?
Obviously, good grades and a lot of social work. I think they appreciate that you have the spirit to give back to the society.
These days postgraduate master’s degrees have become a popular alternative. Who, according to you should pursue them?
I think there’s no hard and fast rule as to who should pursue masters. Whoever is interested in adding to their knowledge or wants to study in great detail should pursue it.
Otherwise, I don’t feel that technicalities matter much. A teacher is born a teacher, I believe.
You don’t get any teaching skills from doing an LLM, you just become intellectually mature.
Did you always want to teach?
I think the idea came to me the semester in which we had insurance law. I taught most of my friends and I was absolutely thrilled by the experience.
From then on, it was very clear what I wanted to do with my life.
Any particular person who inspired you to enter the revered teaching profession?
Yes! My friends who constantly kept encouraging me and telling me how good I was at it. I also had Mrs. Cheema backing me up. I wanted to help people in the manner she helped me and if they also remember me in the way I remember and revere her, that would be my real accomplishment in life.
Some important things which law school didn’t teach you but ‘teaching’ did?
I would like to answer that by quoting Joseph Story here: “[The law] is a jealous mistress and requires a long and constant courtship. It is not to be won by trifling favors, but by lavish homage.”
If one thinks that they know it all, that is true the end of a person. One has to keep reading and keep building.
What’s the striking differences between LLM in India and LLM abroad?
That discussion has often landed me into controversy with a lot of people. Well, now my stand is that the answer is in the question itself. The two courses and modes of study, teaching, curriculum etc. are so different that they are incomparable. I cannot say one is better than the other.
You can’t compare a lion to a tiger, if you know what I mean. Both curriculums have their pros and cons.
But recently, I have developed a keen interest in pursuing a second master’s degree in India and I am not sure after the end of this course which one will turn out to be a better one.
But it is for sure that I will love the opportunity to learn something new and add some more to my small stream of knowledge and eventually make it a sea, ocean and so on.
What subject(s) do you teach?
I teach mostly international law subjects such as international human rights, international trade law, private international law and most recently, taxation law.
Do you love teaching? If yes why?
To say that I love it is an understatement. My day is not complete without having stood on a podium and delivered a brilliant lecture.
The long breaks after the exams make me feel very dull and eventually, a little depressed.
Why I love it? I still haven’t been able to find the answer to that question. But I think it comes from the fact that I want to motivate people. Teaching gives me the opportunity to interact with the young ones who are our future.
How long have you been teaching for?
I have been teaching for two and half years now- all of them spent in UILS.
What do you like best about teaching at UILS?
The best thing about being at UILS is the independence that the Director, Ms. Sangita Bhalla has given us. And for me, personally, that is something which is very important. I cannot be spoon fed or be bossed around.
Thankfully ma’am has been kind and has shown the confidence and faith in “young” faculty and I feel that the only way I can repay it back is by giving my 100% to the job.
How would you best describe your teaching style.
I would say that depends a lot on the subject that I am teaching. When I taught socio-legal offences, I made the class very interactive and friendly. I wanted to know what the views were on gender issues, especially what the boys thought about it.
If I have to teach Tax, or a technical subject, I can be quite the disciplinarian.
I want my students to read every day and learn in class, so that I do the work for them and make their classroom understanding should be so strong, that they don’t feel the need to mug things up before the exam.
Do you think legal education in the country needs a makeover of sorts?
I think we are on the right track but yes we do require a few changes. I think we need to prepare our students for the international scenario and hence stop spoon feeding them. This make the course more practical.
Do you think students should behave with the professors like friends, or is it necessary to maintain a disciplined environment to create a good classroom environment?
I think with today’s generation, breaking a middle ground is necessary. You can’t be too friendly or too strict. You have to constantly remind the students that you’re a teacher, not a friend so that they can’t take you for granted.
I will sum it up by saying that a teacher should be friendly, and not a friend.
Do you think law school can sometimes not be affordable, considering the fact that the cost of a law degree is now vastly out of proportion to the economic opportunities by the majority of graduates?
I think the new and upcoming law schools are definitely expensive than traditional universities. But, that is because, some of them are either privately funded and hence are treated as a business OR some of them actually provide a lot of better facilities during law course and better opportunities after the course.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that some law schools charge fees because of their brand name and the value they add to a student’s CV.
“Recently, Lawctopus and All India Law Students Association (AILSA) supported the petition, persuading the Bar Council of India (BCI) to create a two pronged Grievance Redressal Body for law students in India to empower them to voice their concerns to VC/Dean/Registrar and get them resolved.
The failure to address the issues would further empower students to approach the higher authority regulated by an official of BCI itself, to be set up in form of “All India Law Students Grievance Redressal Authority.”
Do you think this initiative can help in improving the quality of law schools across India?
Yes, it definitely will! Students should have direct participation and representation in taking decisions which will eventually affect them.
What can be the hurdles in implementing such a proposal?
I’ll be a blunt here. A shift of power is always the most difficult to lump for the people who are sitting at the top and taking decisions.
But at the same time, there are many progressive thinkers who have changed with the time and will act as a catalyst to give effect to this proposal.