The Things We (Don’t) Care About: A Reflection Following the MEPLI Interns’ Thesis Workshop

by: in Law

Reflecting on the M-EPLI Interns' Thesis Workshop: Can institutions benefit from reassessing their priorities in terms of what they incentivize and analyzing why these types of events offering an opportunity for students to write and get substantive feedback so rare?

Writing is not a process that comes easily for many of us (especially for me if you want to know the truth). That is even more true when it comes to academic writing. While our European Law School offers a course on that very subject for our bachelor students, learning how to write – and to write well – is a skill that takes time, practice, receiving good feedback, and repetition. As we often hear from both our students and staff, our program simply does not (or perhaps cannot) offer enough opportunities for students to write, get substantive feedback, edit, and repeat the process over and over again. This is in part due to the often unspoken reality that many of the staff members are already overloaded with an assortment of commitments and cannot truly invest as much time as we would like to foster the academic writing skills of our students.

The humble aim of the MEPLI Interns' Thesis Workshop (hosted on 11 March 2022) was to try and remedy this problem – however incrementally – by giving some of our very hard-working interns (Elisabeth Gschösser, Milana Ulitina, Dorottya Bajna, Tim Draband, Sabrina Tosi, and Natalie Benou) the opportunity to pitch their thesis and to receive feedback on how they can draft a better thesis from some of our decorated staff (Vigjilenca Abazi, Matteo Bonelli, Daniel On, Sarah Gove, Valentina Golunova, and yours truly). The thesis topics ranged widely from whistleblower protection to platform governance, but all of the participating students pitched their topics in a compelling narrative that tickled the curiosity of the audience members, which consisted of both students and staff.

What I took away from the workshop was the realization that each and every one of the students that participated in the event possessed within them the intelligence and the potential to be wonderful researchers and great (academic) writers. What stuck with me was just how eager they were for constructive feedback, soaking up any tips and suggestions on how they could improve their thesis (even when the suggestion may not have been easy to swallow). I felt an unentitled sense of pride when witnessing these wonderful students on the cusp of greatness, some good guidance away from unlocking the next step of their academic evolution. Yet, this was in a way, a bittersweet feeling, knowing that if only we (the staff) could spend more time teaching all our students how to think like a researcher and how to write like one, the students have within them, the unquestionable capacity to be the next great academic. They may fall short of that goal, however, because there is only so much time that the staff can invest in their development, thus leaving their potential possibly untapped and dormant (at least for the time being).

As inspired as I was by the students' presentations, I was equally awestruck by the staff members, who not only cared enough to make the time for our students but offered wise and prudent feedback on how they could improve their thesis. Their advice ranged from narrowing down the scope of the thesis to crafting more answerable research questions, being more mindful about methodology given the availability of resources to carefully selecting the right criteria for normative analysis. While it is impossible to summarize all the adage that they unloaded onto the students in this short blurb, one thing was undoubtedly clear: the staff members that joined the event were all wonderful teachers that brought with them their experienced insights and depth of knowledge on how to write, how to research, and how to be good academics. If given the time, the right incentives, and the encouragement by the faculty to actually spend more time on teaching students how to research and write, they could all be invaluable catalysts, capable of influencing – or perhaps even shaping – the future trajectory of our young ambitious students. While they were all so kind to join the event and helped tremendously by offering us their time and insights, it would be difficult to expect them to do so on a routine basis, given just how much they already have on their plate.

I walk away from this workshop feeling incredibly optimistic about the caliber of some of our students and staff: Their intelligence, commitment to the craft, analytical ability, all of which – I think – are second to none. Yet, I felt more than an insignificant dose of sadness and disappointment knowing that this type of event, where great students eager to improve their writing skills and staff members who are willing and able to guide them, are surprisingly rare. If there is one lesson to extrapolate here, it is that we – as an institution – may benefit from reassessing our priorities in terms of what we incentivize and ask ourselves, why are these types of events so rare?