Scholarship sends two Sydney Law School graduates to Harvard

2 November 2023
Sydney Law School alumni experience Fulbright success
Two Sydney Law School graduates have been awarded the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship, which will send them both across the globe.

The prestigious Fulbright Scholarship Program is the largest educational exchange program in the world, designed to promote education, strengthen collaboration, and enhance cultural exchange between the United States and Australia.

After being awarded the Fulbright Scholarship, Alexi Polden and Christina White have both set their sights on Harvard Law School. There, they will be pursuing post-graduate study.

We caught up with them to chat about their experiences at Sydney Law School and their hopes for the future.

Alexi Polden, (B.A./LLB(Hons) '19)

Alexi graduated from Sydney Law School in 2019 with a combined Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws with First Class Honours. He has since worked as a Senior Solicitor at the NSW Crown Solicitor’s Office with experience in constitutional law, administrative law, and regulatory prosecutions. Alexi was also the 2023 recipient of the Ivan Roberts Scholarship.

Alexi will study a Master of Laws, focusing on how American law prevents government officials from resiling from their statements. He will be supported in his postgraduate studies by the Ivan Roberts scholarship from Sydney Law School.

“Australia has a lot in common with the United States, both culturally and in our legal system. It is those similarities that make the differences all the more stark and fascinating.

“I’m really excited to study at Harvard Law School. Not only because of the leading academics and breadth of courses, but also because I will have the opportunity to learn with and meet lawyers who are at the top of their field from around the world.”

Why did you apply for the Fulbright Scholarship?

I have wanted to pursue an LLM overseas for some time, to look at other ways of thinking about the law. I am especially interested in how assumptions made about the limits of government power reflect our perception of our relationship to government.

I couldn’t afford to study abroad without a scholarship, and the Fulbright has given me the opportunity to travel to the US do that.

What was the best part about studying at Sydney Law School?

I moved from Wollongong to Sydney for university. I was drawn to Sydney Law School because it was known both for being one of Australia’s leading law schools, and for the unique and thriving campus culture at the University.

While studying, I had the opportunity to pursue extra-curricular activities like editing Honi Soit, debating and mooting. The experiences I had and friendships I made through these activities helped me get to where I am today.

What was the best part about studying at Sydney Law School?

The relationships I formed, both with other students and with academics.

At the time, I didn’t fully appreciate quite how special it was to be able to learn from and get to know leaders in their fields. It is impossible to name all of the academics who had an impact on me, but, by way of illustration, I was taught equity and was lucky to have my Honours thesis supervised by Justice Leeming of the NSW Court of Appeal and to participate in the Vis Moot supervised by Professor Chester Brown.

What advice would you give to those thinking about studying law?

Throw yourself into every opportunity you can, from extra-curricular activities and field schools to just informally building relationships with academics and other students. 

Christina White (B.A.(Hons)/LLB(Hons) ’16)

Christina graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Arts (Hons)/Bachelor of Laws (Hons). She worked as a Tipstaff at the Supreme Court of New South Wales and a Senior Solicitor at the Crown Solicitor’s Office in Sydney, before moving to Darwin to work as a criminal defence lawyer at the Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission.

Christina’s study will specialise in criminal justice, examining the criminalisation of mental health issues and solutions to mass incarceration.

“My postgraduate research will focus on criminal justice and I am looking forward to learning from Harvard’s leading scholars in this area.

“I am particularly interested in researching solutions to mass incarceration and how to make the criminal justice system fairer for people with complex mental health issues by evaluating evidence-based reforms which have worked in other jurisdictions.”

Why did you apply for the Fulbright scholarship?

I was drawn to studying in the United States because American Law Schools offer fantastic opportunities for critical legal study and interdisciplinary courses. There are brilliant academics in the United States who do not shy away from the fact that the law itself is political. That is especially the case within my focus area of criminal justice, where aspects of the law perpetuate deep social injustices.

“A Fulbright Scholarship is an incredible opportunity to engage with this international scholarship, alongside a range of inspiring peers.”

What was the best part about studying at Sydney Law School?

My favourite part of Sydney Law School was studying criminal law with Professor Arlie Loughnan. I particularly enjoyed Advanced Criminal Law, which examined criminal responsibility through a socio-historical lens. Professor Loughnan was also a brilliant supervisor for my Honours thesis and I’m grateful for all her academic guidance and support.

I also enjoyed the vibrant student life on campus at Sydney University. I was involved in a range of student clubs throughout my undergraduate degree which was a wonderful way to meet friends outside the Law School. I edited the student newspaper, Honi Soit, with a fantastic team which was a highlight of my time at Sydney University.

What advice would you give to those thinking about studying law?

I would recommend getting practical experience early on, practising law is a very different experience to studying it.

Work experience is therefore invaluable in figuring out what sort of career you want to pursue. Would you prefer to spend the day talking to people or reading/writing at a desk? How do you cope with stress and conflict?

Different parts of the law operate differently, so if you’re interested in a specific area, it’s helpful to understand how it works. Additionally, when I was at Sydney Law School there was a significant focus on graduate jobs in corporate law - don’t overlook opportunities in other areas of the law (and outside it).

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