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A new pathway to research: Q&A with PhD student Conor Francis Macis

25 November 2021

With applications to the Wellcome Trust Scholarship scheme opening to applicants to the September 2022 intake of the University of Bristol’s groundbreaking LLM in Health, Law, and Society, we spoke to current PhD candidate Conor Francis Macis, who graduated from the LLM in 2020. In our Q&A Conor shared his reasons for choosing the LLM at Bristol despite a non-legal background, what being awarded the Wellcome Trust Scholarship meant to him, the skills he developed through the course and how the LLM influenced his current PhD path.

What attracted you to the LLM in Health, Law, and Society at Bristol?

I was attracted to the LLM in Health, Law, and Society at Bristol for several reasons. Firstly, the expertise of the academics who teach on the LLM are renowned – they have a comprehensive and broad base of knowledge that they share with students in a way I later found to be exciting and engaging.

Initially, I was somewhat reluctant to consider a law degree because my undergraduate background is in politics and international relations, but I looked at the programme of this LLM and found that it went beyond traditional notions around ‘law’ to also encompass ideas around health justice, policy, and political decision-making. All in all, the programme looked diverse, challenging, and thought-provoking.

Finally, the Centre for Health, Law, and Society (CHLS) – and Bristol University more widely – is highly reputable, and I knew that the city is a cultured and creative place to be.

Please tell us about how you learnt about the Wellcome Trust Scholarship scheme and the application process. What did it mean to you to be awarded the scholarship?

I found out about the Wellcome Trust Scholarship whilst I was a research assistant at my undergraduate institution through an academic who I was working with, which I think goes to show how prominent the CHLS really is in the field of health law.

The application process itself was relatively simple and people at Bristol were on hand to help via email and over the phone when I got a little stuck with the system itself, but it took some time because I wanted to make sure my application was as good as it could be.

To ultimately be awarded the scholarship came as a very pleasant surprise – it meant that I would be able to begin my masters right away, rather than work for a year to save and take on another student loan.

More importantly, it afforded me the opportunity to develop my plans to do a PhD and become an academic by meeting other people with similar career ambitions from other institutions at the Wellcome Trust student conference, as well as develop the intellectual foundations necessary to pursue this career path whilst at Bristol.

What has most inspired you during your time at the Law School?

Speaking as someone who has wanted to be an academic since their undergraduate course, I am most inspired by the academics at the Law School. The academics I encountered on the LLM not only have brilliant expert knowledge but always encouraged me to develop my own knowledge, ideas, and specific areas of interest. They were always happy to point me to further reading around these areas, chat through my ideas in office hours as well as in seminars, and support me in developing my plans for the future.

As a postgraduate student on the Health, Law, and Society LLM, I felt like I was a part of a collegial community that went beyond the classroom to additional optional opportunities and independent study.  

How did you find being able to tailor your degree from the variety of optional units available – and how did they align with your future ambitions?

I found the optional units to be extremely varied and think that they would suit all manner of future ambitions. As someone from a nonlegal background, this allowed me to both advance and narrow my academic interests for a future career in research.

For instance, I took Health Law and the Body, which opened my eyes to several matters that, hitherto, I never realised existed, particularly the content of a guest seminar around legal and political principles concerning intersex and trans bodies. I developed several of these ideas later in the year during my dissertation on neoliberal sexual citizenship and public health law.

I also took Public and Global Health Law, which advanced my understanding of key concepts that are now crucial elements of my PhD and developed a brilliant working relationship with the unit coordinator who is now one my PhD supervisors.

What skills did you develop as a result of taking part in the course?

I developed many skills as a result of taking this course. Not unimportantly, I gained confidence in communication and working collaboratively because of the small seminar groups that allowed all of us there to participate and challenge each other’s ideas. This setting and the stimulating nature of the LLM also enabled me to develop my intellectual thoughts, which would later become foundations to a PhD.

Finally, I learnt to work more independently than I had ever before – not just in the dissertation element but during the week between classes too – which I have also found to be crucial in my PhD.

How has being on the course influenced your research and your thoughts about your future career, where do you see yourself in 5 years?

As I’ve mentioned already, I was somewhat wary in pursuing a law degree because of my nonlegal background, but this course has given me a new understanding of what ‘law’ is and a love of what that understanding means to the pursuit of global health justice.

I’ve come to see that law is not neutral, it takes a particular philosophical framing that I hope to do research to undo and reformulate to further global health justice. All in all, the course truly opened a new pathway of research that I never knew existed, such that I now see myself in five years as an academic in a law school rather than one in politics and international relations.

What advice would you give a student currently considering studying the LLM?

That’s quite a difficult question. I think I’d advise someone currently considering studying the LLM to consider all their options in the round, and I think they’ll find this LLM comes out on top. Lots of courses have diverse and challenging course content (of course I think Bristol is the best!), lots of courses have the setting to mature your skills (again, of course I think Bristol is the best!), and lots of places have great academics (and again, of course I think Bristol has the best!). However, I found that only Health, Law, and Society at Bristol fully integrates you into a thriving research community that really supports you and truly enables you to flourish in your intellectual ambitions.

This is typified by the collegial and welcoming nature of the CHLS of which students on the LLM are a part; over the course of the academic year, it puts on a multitude of supplementary academic events such as additional seminars and an annual symposium, where you can network and ask questions of world-renowned academics from Bristol and further afield (for instance, Lawrence O. Gostin attended an annual symposium and answered questions during my time on the course – he is a huge name in the field of health law!).

Additionally, it had some more informal events such as pizza evenings, pub quizzes, and a Christmas get together. The Centre makes for an unintimidating and friendly academic community of researchers and students, in which you’ll prosper academically and otherwise. This – I never found elsewhere.

Further information

The LLM in Health, Law, and Society: Marking a clear evolution in the field of Law and Health, this distinctive master's level degree goes beyond traditional courses on healthcare law. Looking at the relationships between law, governance, and health across society and governmental sectors, it open up diverse career opportunities in and out of law.

Applicants to the September 2022 intake of the University of Bristol’s groundbreaking LLM in Health, Law, and Society are invited to apply to a scholarship scheme that is generously funded by the Wellcome Trust.

The Centre for Health, Law, and Society (CHLS) promotes cross-disciplinary and cross-sector perspectives on the impacts of law and governance on physical, mental and social wellbeing. Based within the University of Bristol Law School, the CHLS comprises leading scholars whose work focuses on wide-ranging practical areas from within and far beyond health care systems, including clinical medicine, reproductive care, mental health, social care, and public and global health.

  • Postgraduate Open Day 8 December 2021

If you have questions about our Postgraduate Programmes, including our LLM in Health, Law and Society, join our next virtual event on 8 December 2021.

Registration is free and you will have the opportunity to speak with law academics, students and our Law Employability Adviser. Follow the links below to book your place:

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