Being a Graduate Research Fellow

by Erin Barrett, Class of 2014

erin barrettErin Barrett is a second-year student at William & Mary Law. Erin grew up in Connecticut and went to the College of the Holy Cross for her undergraduate degree. After college, Erin worked for the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and volunteered in Baltimore, MD for a year. At William & Mary, Erin is a member of Law Review and the Moot Court Team. She is also a Writing & Practice Fellow in the Legal Practice Program and a Graduate Research Fellow.

There is no denying that one of the most attractive features of William & Mary is the price. Frankly, it is hard to find a school that is a better deal: you get all the prestige of a top-ranked school without all of the corresponding debt. In deciding where I was going to go to law school price was a major factor, and it was what ultimately led me to choose W&M over more highly ranked, but also much more expensive, schools.

Part of my financial aid package was a Graduate Research Fellowship. This Fellowship, affectionately given the nickname GRF, is a work-study type program in which a non-Virginia resident student works around eight hours a week for the school in exchange for in-state tuition and a monetary stipend. The work given to a GRF varies, but for most first-year students, one’s work is split evenly between working in the library and in an administrative capacity for a school department like Admissions or Alumni Affairs. In my case, my first year I worked in the library and the Office in Career Services (OCS), and this year I am a Writing & Practice Fellow (teaching assistant) for W&M’s Legal Practice program.

As someone who has now been a GRF for a year and a half, I can easily say that the benefits of the position outweigh any inconveniences. For starters, receiving in-state tuition and the stipend go a long way in decreasing the amount of loans you have to take out. The increased financial stability I have received from the GRF allowed me much more flexibility in my summer internship searches because I was less money motivated and more concerned with finding jobs that interested me.

My GRF also gave me an extra leg up in the job search in two other ways. First, being a GRF is listed as an honor on one’s resume, which is always an attractive thing to employers. Also the work I have done as a GRF, especially in my time as a Writing & Practice Fellow, has given me great legal writing experience that I can refer to in job interviews. Second, the connections I made working in OCS allowed me to form great relationships with all the OCS Assistant Deans. Those relationships have come in handy throughout my time at W&M in that I always feel even morecomfortable seeking out the Assistant Deans to solicit career advice.

Aside from the perks in the job search, my time as a GRF has afforded me a great chance to meet fellow students, administrators, and alumni. For instance, when I worked with OCS on the Mock Interview Program I was able to meet W&M alumni from around the country and hear about their experiences out in the real world. Also, as a Fellow, I am assigned a “firm” of 13 first-year students whom I get to mentor and teach, but also get to know more so than if I were not a GRF.

My advice to prospective students who have been offered Graduate Fellowships is to really consider accepting those offers. I have found my time as a GRF a great way to make connections with administrators at W&M, meet other students whom are fellow GRFs, and save money. Plus getting to work in the library means you will be one of the few students in the school who can actually find books with relative ease. Talk about impressing future employers!