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Jennifer Corrin and Unaisi Narawa

What can you do with a PhD in law?

Get a personal perspective from Unaisi, a current PhD candidate, and Professor Jennifer Corrin, a UQ academic.
UQ people
Published 28 Aug, 2020  ·  5-minute read

Ever wondered what it's like to do a PhD in law at UQ? Choosing the right pathway can be hard, especially when there are so many unknowns out there.

What can you do with a PhD in law? How do you choose the right PhD supervisor? Are there any PhD scholarships available?

Law PhD candidate Unaisi and her supervisor Professor Jennifer Corrin have teamed up to answer some of your questions to help you decide what’s right for you.

Watch Can you influence the law with a PhD from UQ? on YouTube.

What's your favourite thing about being a law PhD supervisor?

Jennifer: There are lots of good things. I get to share the journey with somebody who is researching an area that they're really enthusiastic about. Often I learn things from that. But it's really nice to see not only the growth of the research, but also the growth of the person doing the research.

Also, there are those little occasions where you see the student have a light bulb moment when they think "oh, I get it" and that's just so nice. I feel like cheering from the sidelines sometimes.

Why did you choose to do a PhD in law?

Una: I've always wanted to do a PhD. It has always been the ultimate goal. As an Indigenous woman, I feel like my research will be so important, and so that was one of the two motivators for me to do a PhD. I want to be able to do research that means something, and I feel with a PhD in law I can accomplish that.

How is your PhD different from your undergraduate studies?

Una: It's very different. It’s a personal journey. I feel like I'm alone, but I'm not alone. So really, in terms of getting the research done, if I'm not meeting my supervisor, I set the goals, the timelines and I need to meet those, as compared to my undergrad where my lecturers set all the deadlines.

Why are you passionate about advanced research?

Jennifer: I like to solve puzzles. One of my hobbies is cryptic crosswords. That's really what you're doing when you're doing a piece of legal research; you can look beyond what the law says, you can dig a little bit deeper to see what's wrong with the law and, of course, what's right with the law, and you can also go on from that to make recommendations.

I also like the fact that we can have positive impact. So, in certain times, you've got that impact where your ideas are actually taken on board by maybe policymakers or even governments or courts.

Unaisi and Jennifer Corrin

Unaisi and Jennifer discuss the next stage of Unaisi's law PhD

Why did you choose to do your law PhD at UQ?

Una: UQ was always at the top of my list of universities. I wanted somewhere where I had the right person guiding me throughout the process. I did research and saw UQ's placement in terms of universities in the world and in Australia. And, finally, my initials are UQ. My second name starts with a Q, so I was like, it's only right!

What's the best advice you would give to research students considering doing their PhD at UQ?

Jennifer: First I would tell them that it's a great place to do their PhD, because it’s a really nice collegial atmosphere. But I would also say choose something that you have a passion for, because the PhD journey is a long one. You do not want to be working on something that you're not enthusiastic about – your interest has to sustain you through that long journey.

"Try to find a supervisor who is enthusiastic about your topic, so when you're in those troughs that everybody has with their research, you've got somebody to talk to."

What scholarship have you been awarded and how did you find out about it?

Una: I am currently on the UQ graduate scholarship and I found out about it when I was putting together my application. So I went through the UQ website and looked at all the scholarships that I thought I would be eligible for. And I submitted my proposal and here I am.

Who do you think should do a PhD?

Jennifer: Anybody who's got a passion for research. It's got to sustain you throughout your candidature, so that passion is really important. I think that's much more important than getting rungs on the board for a career. I'd also say age is no barrier. You need to be somebody who is willing to persevere and step up to the challenge, because during the course of your candidature, there will be challenges.

How do you think your PhD in law will benefit you, professionally and personally?

Una: Professionally, it boosts myself as an academic, and as an Indigenous academic, and I would be building on work that you've already done in the Pacific. As an Indigenous researcher, it places me in good stead, and I hope that other Indigenous students would see me and build on that work again.

"Personally, this is an achievement not just for me as an Indigenous person and as a woman. The PhD would be celebrated by not just myself but my clan and my people. This is not just my achievement; this is an achievement for them as well."

Unaisi, PhD in law

What can you do with a PhD in law? Unaisi is proof that you can make a real impact.

What made you decide to be Una's supervisor?

Jennifer: I actually find this quite easy to answer, because here is somebody who is a talented lawyer in their own right. Also, of course, you have a great topic, and that topic is aligned with my research, so I felt that I could actually contribute to your journey and come along with you on your journey. I also liked the fact that you had a topic which you had a personal interest in, so obviously you have that enthusiasm to carry you through. As we're going along this journey together, I’m going to learn as much from you as you will from me.

What is your PhD topic?

Una: The PhD is on the Indigenous identity and how Indigenous people define themselves, how state laws define Indigenous people and how international law defines Indigenous people. Part of the research is looking at the descendants of the new Vanuatu and Solomon islanders who were taken to Fiji during the period of blackbirding.

What was your own PhD topic?

Jennifer: It might sound boring if I give you just the title, but it was about South Pacific jurisprudence. That involves conflict between customary laws and state laws. In particular, looking at those small island countries in South Pacific and looking at ways of reconciling those two very different systems.

How did you pitch your topic?

Una: I didn't have your contact but it was on the website, so I emailed you and we discussed the topic. It was back and forth, because I was in Nauru and you were here. It was fairly simple. I put together a proposal and then you had a look at it and you agreed to be my supervisor should I get it, and then I applied and I got confirmation.

Your research career begins here at UQ. Explore our scholarships or apply now.

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