Working as a GRF

by Anna Birkenheier, Class of 2013 and recent graduate

annaAnna is a member of the Class of 2013, from Chicago, Illinois and attended to Northwestern University for undergrad.  Here at William & Mary Law School, she is the Managing Editor of the Business Law Review, a member of the OCS Student Advisory Board, and of the Public Service Fund General Board.

The Graduate Research Fellows program at William & Mary offers a great change of pace from homework, and is a great way to learn more about our professors’ research specialties.  In the classroom, students usually only hear brief descriptions of the more in-depth work their professors do outside of the classroom, gleaned from comments they make about research they’re working on. But as Graduate Research Fellows, students have a unique opportunity to see this work first-hand. After working with one of the school’s administrative offices during their first year, for their second and third years Graduate Research Fellows are assigned to a professor, and work as a research assistant for that professor throughout the academic year.

During the first year, working in one of the school’s administrative departments helps students learn more about the school’s operations. I worked with the Office of Career Services during my first year here, and my time in OCS was a great way to learn how the job search works. Not only did I come away with a lot of useful knowledge on the subject, but I had the chance to get to know everyone in the office really well, and these relationships definitely add a lot to the overall law school experience.

As Graduate Research Fellows for specific professors, students’ assignments can range from locating cases that address particular questions, to more generally researching a particular topic relevant to a professor’s current work. Regardless of the details of the work, though, this work offers a great change of pace—in the midst of normal coursework, it’s nice to have a chance to really get familiar with a current, highly specific legal issue, especially since classes may not always give us the chance to really delve into every topic related to a particular field of law. But our professors specialize in that type of research, and the chance to watch them at work, and to gain familiarity with their specialties through the Graduate Research Fellow program, made the program a great addition to my legal education.