5 Questions for a Public International Law LL.M. Graduate: Dainyah Mason

Dainyah Mason, born and raised in the British Virgin Islands, recently graduated from the University of Leiden’s LL.M. in Public International Law (PIL) after earning an undergraduate law degree from the University of Kent in England. We sat down with her to chat about her path to Leiden, as well as her LL.M. experience.

Can you tell me a bit about your process of choosing a PIL program? 

I actually always knew I’d wanted to do international law, even before starting my undergraduate degree. And it’s pretty important to have an MA in International Law to even get into that career, so I decided to do that. My undergrad was also in England—I thought at the time to maybe move to Europe, broaden my horizons a bit. So I just googled it, and Leiden was one of the top programs that came up, being near the Hague and all that. 

A Dive Into Public International Law LL.M.s

Within international law, I was pretty interested in human rights; at Leiden you can choose to do general international law or humanitarian law. I did the latter. I really was considering applying to Utrecht University or Maastricht University, but in the end decided to put all my chips on one horse, so I only applied to Leiden. At the time I also wanted to take time off before becoming a student—Leiden’s program started in February, instead of September.

What was your favorite aspect of the program—and conversely, what were some things you felt were drawbacks?

I think the first thing that comes to mind is meeting all these other people, law students who were interested in international law. Overall, law students don’t exactly get a good reputation—being over-competitive, getting well-paid jobs—so it was really cool to meet a bunch of law students who were the opposite of that, who actually cared about making the world a better place instead of just making money. 

As for the curriculum itself, I thought it was really interesting—and since I did the human rights track, I liked that there was one that was focused on contemporary issues. You got to do your own research in areas you’re already interested in, so that aspect of it allows you to pursue what you’re already passionate about. For one of the final papers, for instance, I wrote about nanotechnology and laws that regulate what weapons you’re allowed to use. That was really fun to research. You can get weapons that can affect people on such a significant level, and it’s like, how is that even allowed? It’s not even mass weapons—you’re dealing with nanotechnology, and yet the impact on people is detrimental.

Maybe one of the drawbacks of the course is that for the general track, which most people end up choosing, you don’t get as much depth in those fields as you’d like. On the other hand they do get to explore a bit more—you can go on to do environmental law, space law, or law of the sea, topics like that. 

[See the Top 10 LL.M. Programs for Public International Law]

Living in Leiden was great—it’s a really lovely place. Beautiful, very historical. It’s a pretty nice location to do a one-year program.

What’s your job now, and how are you applying the things you learned in your LL.M. directly to your current work? 

After my program ended I moved to the Hague for a bit, doing an internship at the Antonio Cassese Initiative—a Dutch NGO based in Amsterdam. Of course I also had a job, since none of the internships are paid. 

Right now I’m a bit in between; I’ll be moving to London in September to do the preparation for the bar so I can practice as a lawyer. So for now I’m working in something completely unrelated to international law, trying to save up while I’m down here [in the British Virgin Islands] to be able to afford living in London. It’s a really long career path in international law, so it’s ideal to get some experience built up; so what I’ll do is get a job as a lawyer practicing something related to the field, just to get the experience under my belt—and also not to have to sell my soul for a few years before getting into it properly. It’s like a five-year plan—a long and winding path. There’s really not a direct way to go about it. 

Do you think the LLM was worth it, or really needed for what you wanted to do?

I do. It was really enjoyable, I had a great time, and I also feel that I learned a lot. The other important thing about it is that you meet a lot of people—in this field, networking is really important. And it’s the perfect place to do that—the Hague, where all the international courts are. 

Now that you’re on the other side, what advice would you give prospective LL.M. students looking to study PIL? Any personal regrets, or things you wish you’d done before going into it? 

You know, I decided to really focus on my studies when I started, so I went into it a bit like, “I’m not going to meet anyone”—I just studied, and didn’t really go out that much. So I’d say embrace that party side of it, it’s also a really important part of the whole experience. Go to the events, chat with some of those important people—you never know who you might end up talking to. 

Photo: Cropped/Maarten/DSC_0049/CC BY 2.0/Headshot courtesy of Dainyah Mason

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