Interview with Ms. Pranusha Kulkarni

Ms. Pranusha Kulkarni is currently a PhD scholar studying Public Policy at IIM Ahmedabad. She has previously studied LL.M. in Access to Justice at TISS Mumbai, where she won the Institute Gold Medal for the Best Student in Law, & was the Editor of the college magazine & newsletter – Unmaad & The Campus Owl, respectively. She has studied B.B.A, LL.B. from Karnataka State Law University’s Law School, Hubballi, during which time she was the Editor of the Law School Review.

Apart from being a UGC-JRF in Law, she has published extensively – a book chapter, journal articles, opinion pieces, & blog posts. She also brings to the table teaching experience of one year at TNNLU, Trichy, where she taught Family Law and Jurisprudence.

In her PhD thesis, she is working on Energy Transitions institutions and governance in India, as a part of the broader debate on Sustainability transitions & inclusive development in the Global South.

Q. Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your life at law school? What extra-curricular and co-curricular activities were you involved in?

It is a pleasure to share my perspectives & opinions with you all. I hail from Dharwad, which is a small, sleepy town in North Karnataka. For the love of the English language and discomfort towards Mathematics, I decided to study Law during my under-graduation. I belong to the first batch of Karnataka State Law University’s Law School, Hubballi.

Since this is a non-NLU in a non-metro city, there was a huge FOMO in my mind with respect to lack of access to resources & expertise that NLU students do not experience. Hence, I tried my best to participate in every contest being held in the twin cities of Hubballi-Dharwad – be they elocution, singing, essay, debate, or moot courts. I also participated in a few national level moot court competitions and ended up being a semi-finalist in two of them: 6th All India Moot Court Competition, GLC Trivadrum (2010), & 2nd MK Nambyar National level Moot Court Competition, RL Law College, Belgaum (2012).

Participating in these contests helped me develop knowledge in diverse areas of social sciences, & helped me develop my public speaking skills, which have helped me in my career till today.

Q. After Law School, you worked in the Legal field for quite a while. Now you’re running your own startup! Did you ever envision this while at law school or even during your time at a corporate law firm?

At least as of now, I wouldn’t call The Failure Show as a startup. It is a freelance project that I am handling alongside my PhD journey, and am thoroughly enjoying talking to people from various walks of life. Whether it will grow into a startup of its own, only time can tell!

No, I had never thought I would start a YouTube talk show of my own. Life has its own ways of surprising us, isn’t it?

Q. Could you tell us a little bit about your initiative “The Failure Show”? What was the motivation behind this and how did you go about setting it up?

We as a society are obsessed with success and successful people. Right from our childhood, we are trained to succeed, but not to fail. We treat students who fail in their classes as outcastes, as if they are good for nothing, & as if they won’t be able to do anything meaningful in their lives. The first time this reality of how failures are treated hit me hard, when I failed for the first time in my life, during my PhD coursework, in the Quants subject. Having had scored 94/100 in Mathematics during my 10th std, this failure was shocking for me, if not devastating, to my self-conceptualization. I realized I was too used to drawing my self-worth from external validation. I was too used to only being praised, & only winning.  

Having been an above average performer throughout my life, having won a gold medal & numerous other awards/prizes throughout my life, having been a decent law professor who was performing well in her career, I had never tasted failure before, & didn’t know how it felt like to fail. Hence, I was shattered when I failed during my PhD.

It took me almost 2 years to come out of the shock. And this is how painful the labour of giving birth to TFS was. I just decided one fine day that I want to talk about what happened to me, as I felt there are many people out there who might have similarly failed, but didn’t give up.

With this thought in mind, I approached my college junior for the first interview, as she had cracked JAG after failing twice, & the ball was set rolling. Now, I have so many people who have agreed to be interviewed for the Show, I am literally running way behind my schedule, & the response has been overwhelming. I realized there are so many people out there who have failed, & never gave up, & have succeeded to reach their goals!

Through TFS, I am determined to normalize failure & spread the message that failing is a very NATURAL part of succeeding in anything we do. No failure, no success.

Q. You had begun pursuing your M.Phil degree in Inclusive Development and Social Justice from the TATA Institute of Social Sciences. However, you quit mid-way to pursue a PhD in Public Policy instead from IIM-Ahmedabad. What fueled this shift and where did your interest for policy stem from. What is the scope of public policy in India?

I will be frank here. The main reason for me to shift to IIM Ahmedabad was the security of funding. Research programs at TISS are not fully funded, even if you have JRF. We need to be pay fees every semester. But that’s not the case with the PhD programs at IIMs, as they are fully funded. Secondly, I was not happy with the course structure of the MPhil (IDSJ), as its research scope was not aligning with what I wanted to do. Public Policy at IIMA offered a much broader research horizon, coupled with a rigorous training for 2 years on the nitty-gritties of research.

As far as my interest in public policy goes, I think the seeds were sown right in my bachelor’s degree, where my interest towards social sciences in general & not just Law, grew thanks to the contests of which I was a participant. This trans-disciplinary interest was only solidified during my stay at TISS, & I was clear in my mind that I do not want to stick to only Law in my studies, as there are many limitations in legal analysis.

For example, most law schools in India do not teach the politics of law making, which is a significant defining feature of not only what laws are legislated, but also who is consulted & who is left behind, & why the laws come to be how they are. This kind of holistic analysis fascinated me, & I am glad I chose to study Public Policy at the PhD level, & not Law.

Coming now to the scope of Public Policy in India: someone mentioned that it’s going to be the next MBA, and I fully agree. If you are active on LinkedIn, you must have seen a mushrooming of Public Policy courses being offered by various universities & think tanks. IIT Delhi recently started its MPP program. There’s also Kautilya School of Public Policy, Jindal, NLSIU, & various others. Careers in the development sector need knowledge of policymaking & analysis, & the future is bright for students who are interested in this field. For more information on internships, careers & scope of Public Policy in India, please refer to this curated list:  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/students-guide-public-policy-india-where-internwork-study-kulkarni/. I have also given a talk previously on Public Policy education & careers, which you can access here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFhQUh4B1Nw

Q. What were some of the challenges that you faced as a part of the process of making a career switch from the legal field into entrepreneurship and public policy? How did you overcome them? Looking back, do you think you might have wanted to do the entire process differently?

The main challenge I faced during the transition from law to policy was dealing with the emphasis that the non-legal world lays on quantitative analysis. As I have already described, failing in the Quants subject at IIMA was a huge setback to my self-confidence. I was shattered, and it took me a really long time to recover from the shock. Public Policy is ruled by economists & economics as it stands today, is heavily mathematicised. So if you want to pursue a career in Policy, you need to have exceptional quant skills, like most engineers do. I have overcome my setback by starting TFS, & by simultaneously carving my own research niche which does not involve quant analysis.

Having said this, if I had known about the extent of emphasis laid on quantitative analysis in the non-legal world, either I wouldn’t have ventured into it at all, or, I would have thoroughly brushed up on my quant skills before joining the program.

Q. Has your legal background helped you in anyway in your current professional journey of entrepreneurship? Are there any unexpected skills that you brought in from law school to your current venture?

Definitely. My knowledge of public law – like constitutional law, environmental law, labour law, international law, human rights law, and administrative law – has immensely helped me in understanding Public Policy in a better way. One thing I love about having a legal degree is that, it exposes us to so many different subjects & disciplines; it’s easier for us to transition into non-legal careers, especially in the social sector.

I think my mooting experience contributed immensely in running TFS, as it involves talking to people about their life journeys & building a narrative that highlights how they overcame their failures.

Q. Most of our readers are students of the law or are law graduates. Is it becoming an increasingly popular career choice to take up Policy after law? What are the advantages that a law student would have over other streams for a policy degree?

Frankly, I do not see many law graduates studying Public Policy, and it surprises me. Because, as I already mentioned, our legal knowledge already has set the foundation to understand policy issues in a better way. We already know the Constitution inside out. Is the requirement of quants skills stopping law students from pursuing a policy career? I am not sure.

But yes, Public Policy is gaining huge popularity in India, & it’s only going to be an upward trend from here. So if you are a law student who isn’t scared of math & statistics, and would love to work with policymakers, the world is your oyster!

If any of you is interested in knowing more about Policy, or want to be interviewed for TFS, please feel free to get in touch with me on LinkedIn.

Find out more about Pranusha Kulkarni –

Disclaimer – All views and opinions expressed in this interview are personal and belong solely to the interviewee(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the LAABh Foundation or the individuals and institutions associated with the LAABh Foundation.

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