I have some news!!! Official as of this morning: this semester, instead of doing one of the elective papers on offer to 4th year law students, I will be undertaking Supervised Research on freedom of religion with the Academic Dean, Professor Paul Rishworth, described on the Law School’s faculty page as “the country’s leading legal academic expert on the New Zealand Bill of Rights,” as my supervisor.
I am very excited about this as it says in the student handbook that “only students who have already shown research capability will be given permission to do a supervised research paper.” It also says that applications will be approved on a case by case basis and you have to have a very good grade point average to apply. I had always wanted to undertake supervised research but I never thought of applying until the Dean of Students suggested it a couple of weeks ago; I never thought of applying as I never thought I would get approval to do it.
When I began my degree back in 1993 it was very difficult. I enrolled as a 19 year old single mother. I wanted to study because I had at that point screwed up my life and I was determined to set a better example for my daughter. We were on our own. I would not just sit on welfare, I would better myself and ensure that I could provide for us.
I was living in Hamilton, my family were in Auckland so I had little support. I did not have a computer at home but back then nothing relevant was online anyway; nowadays I can sit at home and log into NexisLexis, Brookers, Westlaw, Justis and so on, back then I had to hire a babysitter and go into the law library and find the relevant volumes on the shelves. It was the same with typing assignments, I would write them in one all-nighter stint as it was cheaper to pay for one overnight babysitting session than several. As hiring babysitters cost money, I was juggling a job as well. On top of all that, I was trying to escape a violent, abusive and controlling relationship – my ex would routinely sabotage my studies – tearing up my assignments, trying to make me miss lectures and exams – it wasn’t until my second child to this man that I managed to break away from whatever was holding me there and regain my life.
In order to balance my priorities as a studying, working, single mother I made a decision early on that A’s were for students who did not have my circumstances and as B’s and C’s get degrees that was that. It was very hard for me to decide this as I am a very driven personality who really likes to achieve but study was not the only area in my life that was important to me to achieve in, being a good parent was more important – especially given the violence my older two children had already been exposed to in their infancy.
Later when I met and married Matt things got easier. I could leave him with the kids, we had a computer, things were increasingly coming online, I cut back to part-time study and I finally allowed myself the luxury of chasing A’s. But that early period cost me the grade point average necessary to even contemplate applying for areas of study such as the honours program, supervised research, masters program, etc.
On paper I did not and do not look like one of the above average students and certainly not post-graduate material. Last year when I applied to Auckland Law School (arguably the best law school in New Zealand) having had an 8 year break from Waikato Law School (arguably the worst law school in the country) with the aforementioned very average transcript I was not surprised when Auckland only reluctantly accepted me and I received a sternly worded letter at the beginning of 2008 indicating that I was in by the skin of my teeth; I was on probation, they would only accept me as a Waikato Certificate of Proficiency student and that I would have to prove myself before they would even accept me as an Auckland LLB student. Then just a month after I began study there was the car accident which as you know rendered me permanently injured, and back then, unable to attend lectures and with a sitting tolerance of 30 minutes, unable to sit through exams or do big stints at the computer.
So, to be holding in my hand today the approval to undertake the type of study that only the best law students are permitted to engage in at the best law school in the country under one of the best legal minds in the field is somewhat giddying when you consider where I have come from and the battle I have faced and overcome to get here.
I am scared stupid I have bitten off more than I can chew! Still I am very happy.