Padmini Baruah (they/them) is a graduate student and researcher at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and a graduate of the National Law School of India University, Bangalore. Their research centres around gender, migration and statelessness. In their spare time, they are found experimenting in the kitchen and on the ukelele, and hanging out with cats.
You were previously a consultant at McKinsey. How did you decide to get into consulting after law school and what drove that decision?
Padmini: Like most 20-something students about to wrap up their undergraduate studies, I had no first clue what I wanted to do next. I was not very keen on pursuing a career in corporate law, and wanted to try something more people-facing. One of my seniors and mentors in law school was working at McKinsey at the time, and gently pushed me to apply - "It will change the way you look at the world" were her exact words. I honestly did not think my chances were too high, but there we go.
You have also worked in the research field and continue to do so. What motivated you to pursue this field after consulting?
Padmini: If I have to be honest, I was, and remain ill-suited to a consulting career. While I met some truly brilliant minds at McKinsey, and have made lifelong friends, the overall goals the organization promotes (read: making capitalism more capitalistic) are not in line with how I want the world to look. I put my papers in as soon as I could, applied to graduate school, and tried to think of what to do in the meanwhile. Luckily for me, I heard about an opening for a field research position at MIT's Poverty Action Lab. I would be immersed among the research population in Bhopal, and would have to conduct qualitative fieldwork around the gendering of policing practices. In many ways, this was a dream job for me. I'd been doing legal aid work for years thanks to the wonderful Legal Services Clinic at my law school, and I knew that I was best suited to a career that entailed speaking with affected people, and learning whatever I could about the world. In many ways, research is a good place to be in if you're not scared of being proven wrong many times over, having your worldview completely shaken up, and if you like to write, re-write and re-re-write.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Padmini: I love hearing about people's stories, their journeys, experiences, and innovation. Being able to document and present narratives is deeply fulfilling for me, both in terms of how much I am able to learn and how many new relationships I am able to build in the process. I also really like to write, and each research project lets me learn to better my writing process, which is great.
You are currently pursuing a Masters of Arts in Law and Diplomacy at the Fletcher School of Diplomacy. Could you share with us your experiences, decision on choosing the program, and your greatest takeaways from it?
Padmini: I love the MALD programme at the Fletcher school for two reasons - flexibility and community. The program is exceptionally intersectional, and allows you to put together coursework exactly how you would like. It gives a lot of room for students to navigate what kind of trajectory they would seek to explore - I have colleagues pursuing avenues as diverse as environmental policy making and Islamic banking. I wanted to continue taking methods classes that would enhance my skills around research, while also being able to study gender theory extensively, and Fletcher was the perfect place for harmonizing the two. The other big plus point for me was the sense of community the school builds up. I have been used to studying and working in highly competitive environments that have not been great for building camaraderie or good mental health. The kind of collegial atmosphere Fletcher encourages was a refreshing change. It is infamously called the Fletcher mafia, and you have a lifelong membership.
You ranked AIR 1 in the Common Law Admissions Test in 2011. This interview cannot be complete without a question in and around this. Any general study tips for the students we have following our platform? And any thoughts on the legal education system in India that you would like to share?
Padmini: Eyyyy this was so long ago! The exam format has undergone massive sea changes since my time. To students I would say - it's easy to get really myopic when you're writing the exam, and it feels like it's the most important thing in the world to have a good score, or a good rank. However, being a good lawyer/researcher/academic is not always a factor of the school we get into. Without sounding preachy, I would say - life is extraordinarily long and uncertain, and shifts all the time. Keeping an open mind, and taking care of one's mental health are of the highest priority. It...works out, in the end, if those two things are in place.
What advice would you give to others aspiring to have a journey similar to yours?
Padmini: I would say - embrace failure. It is inevitable, and means nothing but the need to keep trying. The road to academia is paved with rejection letters, and doesn't mean we are incompetent. This is something I try and tell myself as well. If we're not afraid to fail, it lets us innovate, take risks and try new things. I also spent way too much of my life deprioritising my mental health, and that let to a moment of reckoning a year ago. I don't think anyone should let it reach that point. I would advise people to keep writing, keep trying and not let their sense of self be defined by productivity or achievement.