Yale Law School

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A J.S.D. Candidate: New Zealand

Nicole Roughan (J.S.D. candidate, LL.M. 2007)
New Zealand

Why did you come to Yale Law School?
I came to Yale Law School because I want to be an academic, and I was convinced that YLS would offer the most stimulating environment for foreign law students to develop their own ideas and have the chance to explore those ideas with faculty and each other. I also wanted to take the opportunity to go to a school which was small and intimate enough that I could really get to know my peers and teachers – and where I would be forced to interact and discuss my work rather than just being anonymous.

What is one experience you have had here that you did not expect?
I was surprised to find that the faculty members are so accessible and happy to engage with the graduate students, even those who are not taking their courses. 

How much have you changed since you arrived at Yale Law School?
I have become a lot more comfortable talking about my work with others, and learning from their feedback. Yale Law School is no place to be shy about your ideas, and I've found the environment here to be incredibly supportive of students who want to try out new ideas or present new critiques.

What is the one thing you would want every potential applicant to know?
I would want applicants to know that in the J.S.D. program it is crucial to find people to discuss you ideas with. Your supervisory committee is an obvious place to go for advice, inspiration, and feedback, but if you can work to build relationships with your fellow students, the other graduate students, and also the JDs, you'll find you'll have a whole community willing and very able to help you think through your work.

What has been your biggest challenge?
My experience at Yale, particularly as an LL.M. student, was the most difficult academic experience I've had, and it was therefore the most rewarding. The experience of working closely with incredible faculty members, and receiving both their encouragement and their criticisms, is however only part of the story. I learned just as much from talking with other students, and I have made friendships here that I know will continue wherever we all end up. Not only will I leave Yale with great new friends, but I'll leave with great new friends who I can also call upon to read my drafts, comment on my publications, and invite me to conferences, knowing that I hope to do the same for them.

Has a particular faculty member had an impact on you?
My supervisor, Jules Coleman, has probably had the biggest impact on my work, not only because he continually sets me straight on complex matters in jurisprudence, but because he has a particularly generous approach to engaging with other scholars. Jules interprets the work of others in a way that makes their arguments even better than they argued for themselves, even when he goes on to disagree strongly. Through his teaching and his mentoring he encourages young scholars to do the same – to be generous in our interaction with others’ thoughts, and to make sure that the contributions we make to scholarly debates are carefully and meticulously thought out. To have someone like that giving feedback on my doctoral work is the chance of a lifetime.

As an international student, how would you describe your experiences here?
I have been surprised at how challenging my experience in the United States has been. As a native English speaker, I did not expect to have difficulty making myself understood, but right throughout my time at Yale I have had to make an extra effort to communicate.  People here speak to each other much more directly, both academically and socially, and the style of academic writing and argument is vastly different.

What are you currently focusing your work on?
I am currently working on my dissertation, a topic in legal philosophy that looks at relationships between authorities, and the grounds for one authority excluding, tolerating, or deferring to another authority.