Kate Karklina is a third year PhD student in Central European University’s (CEU) Department of Legal Studies. Before that, she obtained LL.M. in International and European Law from Riga Graduate School of Law in 2018. We spoke to her on the occasion of her 2022 Presidential Scholar Award. This is an edited interview conducted on November 14, 2022.
What does this honor mean for you?
Above all the award was a boost of motivation. When I learned that my supervisor nominated me, I was really honored because it felt like a great acknowledgement of the path I’m on, the project in general and my attitude toward work and research. I was moved by that and did not have further expectations since I know the amazing work that PhD students do at CEU. There's really so many excellent research projects being done, so when I found out that I had received the scholarship, I was over the moon.
Each of our projects are personal in a way. They of course reflect an interest in something near and dear to our hearts. The award really showed me that my project is also relevant to others. I think the context of receiving it as I begin the third year is very important. A PhD program is a big commitment and I believe it's normal that students grow a little bit tired working on the same thing for years working with the same topic. For me the award came at a perfect moment to build more motivation and inspiration to continue what I started.
What was your route to CEU?
Before the PhD program, I completed a master’s at CEU – the LLM in Human Rights Law when the university was still in Budapest. It was the year of moving to Vienna so quite a turbulent year, but when I started my master's, my mind was already pretty set on a PhD. I was not sure that it would be at CEU, but it was one of my options and I continued my studies here.
Prior to CEU, I had a master’s degree from Latvia where I’m from in international law, and then I took an internship in Vienna. I worked at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Fundamental and Human Rights and I stayed there as a research assistant for my project. At that point I did not really have plans of continuing my studies. That was one of the first serious experiences I had working in the field. I had been a student for many years before that and eventually really missed studying. I wanted to deepen my knowledge of human rights. CEU has a very good reputation back in Latvia. Some of my professors had graduated from CEU, so I knew that it would be a good choice.
What drives you in your work?
I think the inspiration has come from various sources in different parts of my studies. I really like the topic of my research work and I find my project extremely interesting even after working on it for several years. In moments of exhaustion, confusion or doubt, I reflect on how I felt when I had this idea originally. I was driven by sheer willingness to understand what the concept of human dignity means in human rights.
I work with human rights jurisprudence of three regional human rights courts: Europe, the Americas and Africa. In my project, I research the notion of human dignity, trying to understand how these different regional systems interpret the concept in jurisprudence, and how dignity appears in human rights case law. My hypothesis is that even though there are a wide variety interpretations, we can speak of a shared common concept of human dignity.
What advice do you have for others applying for this scholarship?
I don't think I would have had the courage to nominate myself, so what I would encourage is if you see a colleague who you think would deserve the award – someone with drive and passion who is contributing in a meaningful way to both scholarship and the general atmosphere in the department - do not hesitate to nominate them. It feels nice to be acknowledged and if you're thinking about nominating yourself then I would say just go for it. I think so many people deserve honors like this with so much great PhD work being done at CEU.
What else would you like to express?
I would like to encourage everyone to hold onto their beliefs and idealistic values about the world despite the difficulties happening around us. There is always so much that we can take as discouragement or disappointment, especially in my field of international human rights law. As scholars it's important for us to try to retain our core belief in human rights law. I think its common for the idealistic vision to dissipate a bit, but I would encourage everyone to, time and again, come back to it because it really matters. It matters how we think about it, how we talk about it and how we debate about. Maybe this advice is a bit idealistic, but that's what I believe.
The Presidential Scholars Fund was established by Michael Ignatieff and Zsuzsanna Zsohar. It supports four Presidential Graduate Research Awards for exceptional master’s and Doctoral students whose research shows promise for the next generation. The Fund also awards two scholarships per year to incoming bachelor's students demonstrating exceptional academic credentials and leadership promise.