An interview with Swastee Ranjan – winner of the Adam Weiler Doctoral Impact Award

We recently met up with Swastee Ranjan, the winner of the Adam Weiler Doctoral Impact Award, to find out more about her research, what impact she hopes to make, and to share insights into her PhD (and non-Phd) life.

Congratulations on winning the award Swastee! Can you tell us a little about your research.
My doctorate is an interdisciplinary research that tries to make a link between law, cities, and the environment through examining our perception and our behaviour towards objects within cities. For example, things like dustbins and streetlights, how big a billboard is, and how a bus stop is designed. My interest is not centered around infrastructure, so my question is not how to improve them, but how we are affected by them, how we respond to them, and how our behaviour changes due to how something is designed. So I work on these intersections and my larger ambition of the PhD is to rethink the way we imagine the environment of cities through aesthetic effects, and the role the law plays. 

What type of impact do you hope your research will achieve?
Firstly, I definitely want my study to influence the way we look at the environment. Not as something that exists out there, but something that we live in, work with, and engage with. We are deeply implicated in our environment and our choices towards it, so one of the ways in which I’d like to create impact is to ask readers to be more poignantly aware of the environment that they live in. Secondly, I would want the legal discipline to be more aware of how they do environmental research and to find innovative ways to address some of our most important concerns, for instance climate change and global warming. Thirdly, I am interested in creating new tools for exploring ideas of self and who we are in the world, what it means to be human, and our responsibility and obligations. 

How will you use the prize money?
I have to first say that I’m very happy to have received this award and I’m grateful to the selection committee and everyone who made it possible! I have a few research-related obligations that I need to see to, including books and expenditure on conferences, workshops and social resources. I am at the stage of my thesis writing where I need to present my work and see what people think about it. I’m presenting at a conferences next year so the money will be really useful for these trips.

Tell us about your journey to the PhD and what keeps you motivated.
I am from Delhi and I have learned a lot from that city through its multiculturalism, diversity, and heterogeneity. I think cities are very inspiring places and can provoke thinking and realisation of how we live. It’s not only the positive elements, but also the struggles that you see in cities that really can compel you to consider how you want to live your life, what values you want to live by, and what communities you want to be a part of. Being so inspired by cities made me think: what is it that I could do in the realm of the thing that I love so much? 

My supervisors, Dr Lucy Finchett-Maddock and Dr Sabrina Gilani, have also played a big role in my journey. They both view the world and approach theory and law in similar ways. Having a good supervisor can change you, your work, and have such a positive influence. The support from various areas throughout the university has also been amazing, whether they are the librarians or the support staff at my school. This help can sometimes go unnoticed in a PhD, but to be doing this kind of project without that support is simply not possible. 

What advice would you offer to new PhD researchers starting?
I would say try not being completely overwhelmed by the work. A PhD requires dedication, discipline and a certain amount of sacrifice. You find yourself having to work against professional and personal commitments, so it is important to be aware of this and to also be aware that you will get through it! Another piece of advice is to find something outside of the PhD to do, whether it is poetry, art, cycling, anything –  learn something new or do something that you love outside of academia. It helps a lot to disconnect. I also found that learning a new skill or hobby reminds me that I don’t know everything and also that it is good to practice different forms of learning.

What additional non-academic things help you?
I’m very interested in current affairs, so I spend a lot of time reading about politics that has nothing to do with my research! I also like to paint a lot. I’m part of the Art and Law network at the university, which has been amazing and very inspiring to learn from artists. 

What do you like doing on a day off?
I talk to my parents. I like making a nice lunch and going somewhere to have it. I love going to the beach, even in the winter – I love the wind in my face! I feel very fortunate to live close to the beach.