Interviews

Balancing the Grind With Rebecca Watson, Law Student & Child Protection Researcher

September 11, 2019

Rebecca Watson is a law student currently studying at The George Washington University Law School and child protection researcher, having just completed an intership for the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your background and career?

I’ve had a pretty winding career path – and that worked for me!

I always knew I wanted to tell stories. After obtaining undergraduate degrees in journalism and dramatic arts, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue comedy.

I went through the training program at Upright Citizens Brigade, performed around town with an improv troupe, and juggled a variety of side-gigs to actually pay my bills (everything from cupcake sales to cloud data storage quality assurance).

As I approached turning 25, I had what I call my “quarter-life-crisis.” I realized I wasn’t feeling fulfilled or challenged. Armed with the reckless invincibility of my early 20s, I sold almost everything I owned and moved to Jordan to study Arabic – ostensibly for just three months. But who sells their car if they’re only going to be gone for the summer?

Three months in Jordan turned into two years – I first worked as an English news editor for a news aggregation site before stumbling into refugee/asylum legal aid. Surprisingly, I found law to be the most compelling form of storytelling, coupled with the ability to affect the real-life narrative through direct-services and policy work!

Law seemed like a weird pivot to outside observers – my family and friends back in LA thought I was having a breakdown – but I did and do find law to be extremely creatively fulfilling.

I came back to the states to work in the business immigration department of a corporate law firm for a year before starting law school, and just wrapped up my first year (1L) and my first summer internship – and I start 2L next week!

2) What is your current role and what does it entail on a day to day basis?

I just completed a summer internship with the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children. At ICMEC, I researched child sexual abuse laws in the Middle East & North Africa for an upcoming global study and developed country-specific profiles for our trainers leading workshops in the field.

Both the global study and the country reports require a lot of digging through penal codes, constitutions, various legal acts and amendments, and recent cases, and bringing together all that information to gain a comprehensive sense of a country’s strengths and weaknesses regarding child protection.

I split my time between those two main projects, and made an effort to schedule meetings with my supervisors to learn more about their career paths and all the different opportunities in the child protection field – especially since I’m considering moving back overseas once I graduate law school.

3) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

During the semester, I wake up at 6:00am every day – sometimes 5:45am if I have a project due. My brain works best first thing in the morning, so I try to get out the door as quickly as possible.

I shower, lay out my clothes, and prep my coffee/breakfast/lunch/snacks the night before, so the morning is just grab-and-go. I try to get to the library by 7am and study for 2-3 hours, depending on my class schedule that day.

After morning classes, I try to carve out 30 minutes of no-laptop-no-phone lunch, sitting with friends outside if the weather is agreeable.

Afternoon classes are always a drag for me, as my attention starts to wane. I’ll usually get an afternoon coffee (though I’m trying to cut this out) and study for another hour or two, but I’m almost always done for the day by 5pm – my brain just maxes out for the day and no more learning can take place!

My evenings are school-free zones and almost always include plans with friends. I try to rock climb twice a week and run (slowly!) a few miles on the other days. I strive to be in bed by 10pm because I FEEL IT when I get less than eight hours of sleep.

(My internship followed a similar schedule, because I worked 7:30am-3:30pm this summer – just replace “studying and classes” with “researching and writing!”)

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4) In between everything you do and all your responsibilities, how do you ensure you find some sort of balance in your life?)

Three main things have helped my maintain balance!

First, I avoid bringing work home if at all possible. I live in a tiny studio and try to keep my space a stress-free sanctuary.

Compartmentalizing and keeping “work at work” – be it the pressure of law school or the emotionally-heavy sexual abuse research – keeps school/work from bleeding over and taking over my entire life. (Except for exam season, which unavoidably takes over my life, but that’s only a few weeks each semester!)

Second, I maintained friendships and hobbies outside of law school. If my readings were incomprehensible or I staggered through a bad cold call, it was such a relief to have a reminder that there was and is more to life than law school.

Third, I’m Christian, and having a spiritual practice really helps me maintain a healthy perspective and stay grateful even when I’m getting bogged down in heaps of readings and feeling overwhelmed and insecure.

5) What are some of the things you do to take time out and recharge?

Anything that forces me to be away from my laptop/phone, and usually involving other people since I’m a major extrovert.

I love rock climbing because you have to intensely focus on the problem at hand – your attention can’t be divided with worrying about work! Completing routes feels like small, tangible “wins” for the day. Since I top-rope/lead climb, I always need a partner, so that’s built-in social time on top of getting a great workout!

On weekends, I try to get outside as much as possible: hiking, backpacking, kayaking, whatever. I’m part of a women-in-the-outdoors organization in D.C. that has made outdoor adventuring a lot more accessible for me, since I don’t have a car!

I also attend church weekly and try to pray through the day’s compline before I go to bed. It gets me in such a peaceful and re-energized headspace and makes the frustrations of the day feel so much more manageable.

This past year, I made a Sunday night tradition of making baked salmon and veggies with a homemade honey-dijon sauce (with honey from the bees my dad and I keep back in North Carolina) and a nice glass of… sparkling water. Something about having one favorite, slightly-elevated meal to kick off the week always made me happy – and it was healthy, too!

This is all “scheduled” recharge time – if I’m in the middle of something and feel the panic / distraction / frustrating welling, I stop what I’m doing and write down five things I’m grateful for on a post-it note.

I started my grateful post-its while working at the firm, and I have kept every single one in a mug on my desk! I’ll read through a few of my saved ones when I’m having a particularly bad day, and it always gives me a little boost of encouragement.

6) Are there any gadgets, tools or products can’t you live without?

For school, I go for the opposite of gadgets – actual textbooks, a book stand, binders with loose-leaf paper, and a spiral-bound planner!

I tried a semester of scanning all my readings and reading them on my laptop and it did NOT work as well as having the tangible book in front of me. My laptop and phone are blaring sources of distraction most of the time, and I don’t possess the willpower to not open ten different chats and iMessage in class – so the less technology, the better.

Outside of school, I love my white-noise machine and my oil diffuser for maintaining peaceful energy in my home.

I feel naked without my FitBit (I have the Charge 2) and it’s a great motivator for dragging myself to the treadmill – but I always take it off to sleep, because reading how restless I was or how many times I woke up at night was making me anxious and in turn, giving me poorer quality sleep.

Also, the sole reason I didn’t entirely survive off of pizza 1L year was my InstantPot. I got it for my birthday last year and meal prep with it once a week. My go-to meals are veggie chili, chana masala, and taco soup!

7) Do you have any books that you love and would like to recommend?

I read a lot for school and work, usually very dense and very heavy material. When the rare privilege of reading-for-fun occurs, I stick to fiction or memoirs.

My three favorites I’ve read from the past year are:

I also keep Streams in the Desert by L.B. Cowman on my nightstand for a quick, 2-minute daily devotional.

8) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

Make a list and CROSS THINGS OFF. I am typically very scattered and try (and fail) at multitasking, but when I have a set, specific list, things actually get DONE instead of started-and-abandoned and I feel accomplished.

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