By Kurt Grunsky and Isabelle Lam
Erin Shields identifies as a major of Carleton’s English Department, a contributor to The Globe and Mail, a recipient of the 2016 Killam Undergraduate Fellowship, and one of two Distinguished Scholars for the entering class of 2020 at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She is currently pursuing a law degree there on a full scholarship.
Shields made her first foray into American university life when she attended Smith College for the duration of one semester in 2016 after receiving the Killam Undergraduate Fellowship. She describes her decision to apply for the scholarship as a “leap,” comparable to the thrilling sensation of skydiving. Reflecting back on when she first found out about the Killam, Shields remembers dreaming about the opportunity, but thinking that she wouldn’t have a chance. As she has since learned, the “leap” has paid off: “Freefall is glorious.”
The idea of studying in the U.S. appealed to Shields as a potentially different experience from Canadian post-secondary education. “There is kind of an aura to college in the U.S. that I don’t think we get the same way in Canada.”
Shields is now studying law at UCLA. She reports that law school is tough, but that it has also been a very rewarding experience so far. She compares her relationship to law school to the mixed feelings of Angelenos towards their city. “They either love it or they hate it,” she says.
She adds, “To me the city feels weirdly representative of my time in law school so far: an incredible mix of ideas and people, and everything is fun and exciting and big with this amazing history – but you definitely have to go through a lot of unpleasantness (traffic or memorizing 500 torts cases) to get anywhere fun.”
Shields says that even though there was no defining moment that compelled her to pursue a law degree, she knew she wanted to do it. She says, “I’ve always been fascinated by the ways that large groups of people manage to work together, and by the ways that we value and believe certain things as a group, and why we value and believe in those things. Law is one way to think about all of that.”
Shields asserts that her education as an English student at Carleton has proved to be helpful: “It’s absolutely true that the technical skills you learn in English – writing, reading critically, research – are very widely applicable. But even more than that, what I always enjoyed about English is its breadth.”
Shields adds further that the range of experience covered by her English courses has helped her relate to students coming from different backgrounds: “I often feel like I know just enough about what they’re passionate about that people are willing to open up and tell me more about whatever that is. I love that.” When asked to elaborate, she explained as follows: “It’s always amazing to me what connections start popping up between courses and ideas that you initially thought had nothing to do with each other – plus, I think a lot of whatever academic success I’ve achieved has come from connections I’ve made by letting people see my genuine interest and engagement with the material.”
Shields leaves some parting advice for English students: “Just try to be led by what you’re interested in, even if it doesn’t seem to fall into a nice cohesive pattern or path.”