Tag Archives: alumni speak

IN CONVERSATION WITH SHARADA S.

 

Sharada S. is a student of Masters Programme in Public Policy from the batch of 2014-16  at the National Law School of India University.

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Sharada is presently a research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Technology, Innovation and Competition.

Tell us more about your life before NLSIU. Why did you choose to pursue Public Policy?

I have a background in Electrical and Electronics engineering. As an undergraduate student, I developed a passion for parliamentary debating and enjoyed reading outside of engineering more than engineering-related academic papers. Furthermore, I was most fascinated by nanotechnology and embedded systems and research in these fields were highly technical career tracks that had relatively fewer and narrower options within the country. I always wanted to work where I could have a more direct connect with public issues. Debating was instrumental in shaping my perspective and sharpened my interest in philosophy and politics. I did not, however, want to dwell in the realm of theory, and public policy bridged the gap between the realms of abstract theorising and real world action. Before I pursued the Master’s course here, I did Takshashila Institution’s Graduate Certificate in Public Policy, which helped me solidify my intent in pursuing a career in this discipline.

How did your experience at NLSIU help you find the career of your choice after Masters in Public Policy?

Different parts of the programme allowed me to hone my career choices. I love how NLS has been the level of support for experimentation with new areas of interest, and the flexibility and accommodation for my wide range of extra-curricular pursuits (including at least a dozen parliamentary debates, two Internet governance fellowships and a summer school).

Fieldwork was the first step in a transformative journey. The stories of the people made a lasting impact. I met a deeply influential woman whose name is Rekha. She’s a 21-year-old, with a blind mother and a 2-year-old son, who divorced her alcoholic and abusive husband and decided to take her life into her own hands.

She wanted to talk to me about scholarships so she could go to college. Despite social censure from her village, she was determined to be a teacher, and I was able to help her to access government scholarship sites. It was the first time that the power of the Internet struck me, I realised how it can improve educational outcomes for those less privileged. Since then I have wanted to work to proliferate its access to communities. I met so many Muslim communities where girls were not allowed to study beyond fifth grade, but nearly all of these people used phones of some kind. I couldn’t think of ways to change the structures that subjugate them, but I did think that making information accessible could help drastically. I don’t know if I can negotiate with patriarchs and leaders who wouldn’t give me a time of the day because I had a loud voice and an uncovered head. But these kids, they all loved seeing things on my phone or my laptop and were so genuinely inquisitive and quick on the uptake with technology. It made me believe that policies towards internet access and programmes are more effective than top-down laws that made education compulsory. I went to “schools” which had 1 teacher for 300 students and kids who were “educated till tenth” but couldn’t string four words to a sentence in English. I now worry whether we have the capacity or the manpower to change education systems without a drastic infusion of technology.

My research methods class in the third trimester afforded me the opportunity to present preliminary ideas on Internet policy, and receive incredible feedback from Professor Jayaram and my classmates, which shaped the course of my dissertation significantly. It teaches you how to go from a problem statement to a hypothesis to an overview of various methods to test that hypothesis and how and where to use them – and I use this at my workplace, in determining the scope of my study at times, or in deciding whether to pursue a new research paper idea at other times.

I also applied to the European summer school on Internet Governance in this trimester. I applied because I didn’t have many resources in India to learn about Internet governance. I went to Meissen in Germany for the summer school in July. It was a week long summer school, with 15 hour work days. Every expert that did a session covered a new area. I learned about cyber-security, GTLDs, ICANN, IANA transition and Internet rights. Nearly every area of Internet policy was taught by those at the forefront of policy making and negotiation in the global arena.

I came back equipped with knowledge and spent time researching what I wanted to do on my next break and working on my proposal

In September last year, I applied for the Amazon Fellowship for the Internet Governance Forum. The fellowship covers a trip to the IGF and has a requirement of research output based on the IGF. I was one among the four that were accepted and was immensely grateful for the opportunity.

At the IGF, I attended panels on zero rating, the subject of my Master’s dissertation. I asked questions of experts and briefed myself with ongoing research. I conducted interviews with stakeholders, attended networking events and gained a lot of knowledge on a contemporary subject area in Internet policy.

Of course, the internship and dissertation mattered immensely, but I answer that below separately.

Present nature of work at the current organisation?

I’m a research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Technology, Innovation and Competition. I work on a project called 1 World Connected, which looks at innovative ways of connecting the unconnected (1worldconnected.org). We catalogue case studies of all last-mile connectivity initiatives that are underway across the world. I conduct interviews with stakeholders to develop case studies, engage with governments and ministries, present my work at conferences, write routine reports for our supporters, and liaise with a public affairs and media team to improve outreach of our project’s work.

What would you look for if you were in the position to hire new MPP graduate(s) from NLSIU to this organisation?

I would look for candidates with strong writing and communication skills, good quantitative analytical abilities, and a demonstrated interest in Internet policy issues. Knowledge of networks and telecom engineering would be very useful. The work I do relies on self-starters and highly motivated individuals that can be creative, so I guess that’s something I’d look for.

What role do internship and dissertation have in securing the career of your choice?

I’d applied for the GPPi, Berlin internship while doing my fellowship, and was screened by a three-step process. Work at GPPi is as rewarding as you make it to be. We have a library and multiple IdeaLabs that are internal discussions to brainstorm ideas. A day at work ideally involves a research task, and freedom to structure your day a little around your own personal research interests. The first month was primarily cyber security capacity building, the latter half was primarily encryption policies. It fed into their ongoing research projects as well as a dialogue program that they were organising over the course of 2016.

At the internship, I got to do a wide range of things. From writing brief research memos to making presentations to preparing questions for panel discussions, to just brainstorming ideas for pitches, to sitting through meetings to take minutes and meeting newer ones. That’s what I liked about it because every day was a challenge in something new.

I wrote my dissertation in the realm of Internet policy as well, which was useful while having a conversation with my professor on my current research project. I think the emphasis on the dissertation is more if you intend to get into a more research-oriented field, and less if you’re applying for traditional corporate positions.

Any concluding thoughts?

Take initiative. I think the thing that goes unsaid in a lot of these conversations is the fact that personal drive and initiative play an immense role in deriving value out of the MPP. You will not find a more conducive environment or a more supportive staff for your research endeavours.

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Sharada can be reached at,

Email: sharadas@nls.ac.in

IN CONVERSATION WITH DEEPA K. S.

 

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Deepa K. S. is a student of Masters Programme in Public Policy from the batch of 2014-16 at the National Law School of India University.

Deepa is a writer, researcher, playwright and a poet. She is also an active blogger. She has published in the Anthology of Short Stories and Poems by the British Council, Voices Israel and has contributed to Kritya, Muse India, Word Riot, Reading Hour, Indian Literature, Vayavya, Dialogue, Auto Didact, Cyclamens and Swords and Voicesnet Poetry. Her first book of poetry, ‘Turning Thirty and Other Poems’ was published by Authorspress, New Delhi, in October 2016.

Tell us about your life before NLSIU. Why did you choose to pursue Public Policy?

I did my Bachelor’s in Biology, Master’s in English Literature and was working as the Editor of an art and culture magazine that I had founded along with an extremely enterprising team. The magazine was called ‘Dialogue’ and it was supported by writers, photographers and artists from India and France. I was based out of the Indian office in Puducherry. While I was writing and editing articles, India’s development was always an issue of central interest which elicited artistic and political responses. The need to make sense of the problems facing the country was compelling. That was when I came across the call for applications for this new course on Public Policy that was offered by National Law School. I applied without a second thought- this was exactly the kind of multidisciplinary course that I was looking for.

How did your experience at NLSIU help you find the career of your choice after a Masters in Public Policy?

I always wanted to get back to school and finish my studies while I was working with my magazine. My heart was in academics when I was writing and editing. I joined the Public Policy course with the intention of moving towards research and teaching. NLS helped me move towards my goal in three distinct ways: The course curriculum and teaching involved research subjects with the dissertation as a core component. We had research methods, mathematical modelling for policy analysis besides courses in economics, political science, law and of course, public policy. I had ample time to study and further develop my writing skills as well as the application of research methods. The teachers were inspiring and the debates and discussions in class were the best part of it. I have a lot to thank my batch mates for! Secondly, there was a component of field research where I spent a month looking at how a policy worked on the ground. This experience brought me closer to reality, teaching me the practical side of a policy as it was alive and experienced by people. There is a lot of difference between policy as a text and policy as a lived experience. Finally, NLS was one place where I could be a dreamer and not be faulted for it – the teachers and especially my batch mates brought in a lot of commitment and idealism to work. I had the most inspiring team at school…

I have been accepted as a research scholar at the University of Cambridge. NLS was the most important step that has helped me reach so far.

What is the nature of work at the current organisation you are working for?

I am currently working with South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication (SAAPE). It is an organisation that allows for a platform of politics by the civil society, policy advocates and academics from eight South Asian countries. The core focus of the organisation is to bring out the experience of development in South Asia through the voice of its people. SAAPE does it uniquely by bringing out a people’s report of development in South Asia once in three years. I am presently a part of the editorial team that is bringing out the SAAPE report 2016.

What would you look for if you were in the position to hire new MPP graduate(s) from NLSIU to this organisation?

A person who aspires to work with SAAPE should have a deep commitment to issues of development, genuine interest in narratives of the South Asian people and respect for democratic means of expressing them. There is plenty of opportunities to learn and grow with a dedicated team of campaigners, activists and academics.

What role do internship and dissertation have in securing the career of your choice?

I wanted to go for research in public policy with a specialisation in development. For this, I had to get training in oral and written communication, introduction to thinkers and intellectuals in the field of my choice and exposure to the academic setting of deep solitude punctuated by debates and discussions with a supervisor. I received this twice over during the course of work!  My internship was with Prof G. Raghuram of IIM Ahmedabad was both intense and exciting. The internship resulted in a working paper where we traced the policy process of GST that is still relevant in India today. The second experience was during my dissertation that I worked under Prof Sony Pellissery where I examined land policy and its politics in India which is also coming out as a publication by this year end.

Any concluding thoughts?

If I could talk to the current and prospective students of MPP, I would like to tell them that academics is an exciting field to pursue after their coursework. Unfortunately, the best among us are not taking up research for a varied number of reasons. In a country like India, there are a lot of issues to be understood contextually in the policy realm; it is a nascent field and there is a lot to explore. We have a great opportunity here to bring the issues from India from an Indian point of understanding and through the prism of public policy. The best of minds have an exciting discipline waiting for them. Academic work is long and a lot of hard work is required to read, write and understand but what is life without a challenge? In what other fields can you keep thinking and contributing ideas that make a difference to this world that you live in? So I would tell the future students of MPP- let’s bring academics back to business! 

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Deepa can be reached at,

Email: deepaks@nls.ac.in

Blog: thehouseofbooks.blogspot.in