My experience as a teaching assistant for the Advanced Legal Studies Research Seminar (a two-quarter thesis seminar required for all Legal Studies majors at Northwestern University) has been a formative part of my graduate career. The seminar provides a unique forum where students majoring in different fields come together to think and discuss the ways in which law is embedded in social life; students develop their own research paper using a variety of methodological approaches to law. As a teaching assistant for the course I had the opportunity to guide students from the early stages of finding an idea to the later stages of articulating a well-defined research question and positioning it within the broader literature on the topic.
The opportunity to be part of the process through which an abstract idea develops into a well-formed research claim has been extremely rewarding, not only from the standpoint of an instructor but also from that of a researcher. My discussions with students made me more conscious of my own choice of sources and methodology. They reminded me of the constant challenge that we all face as researchers posed by the attempt to emphasize a project’s unique contribution while simultaneously learning to position it within existing scholarship.
Finally, a core part of the seminar consists of group work, where students provide feedback on each other’s research projects. These work groups provide students not only with the opportunity to critically engage with one another’s work through an analysis of each other’s arguments for evidence of strength, credibility and context, but also present an occasion to learn of the ample ways in which law shapes and is shaped by our social world.
One of the most exciting aspects of my role as an assistant instructor in the seminar was
witnessing the variety of topics related to law and the assortment of methods used to study it. Research topics ranged from examination of rape laws to nuclear licensing litigation to rap music and its effects on legal consciousness. Notwithstanding this diversity of themes, many of the research projects similarly grappled with the complex ways in which the law simultaneously provides a language for making claims while at the same time shaping the very rules, categories and policies through which we make sense of these claims. This created a common thread across otherwise diverse research topics, allowing for a fruitful and enriching scholarly debate. It was a privilege to have the opportunity to be a teaching assistant for the Advanced Legal Studies Seminar and to take part in the exciting journey of researching the world of law.