First Time Teaching FCIL Research: Weather Woes & Student Conferences

by Alexis Fetzer

After a strong beginning of the semester, the middle of the semester got off to a rough start. Susan Gualtier, FCIL Librarian at LSU Law, was scheduled to guest lecture via Skype on the topic of Customary International Law on a day our University cancelled classes. While you can plan out every detail of your course, you can never control the weather. The month of February brought new record low temperatures for Virginia and with that class cancellations related to snow fall. While Susan has graciously agreed to reschedule her guest lecture, the shuffling around of schedules and assigning days to make up classes missed has been a challenge.

snow in richmond

On a more positive note, I recently held individual conferences with students to discuss progress towards their final paper and presentation. Students were asked to choose a topic they would like to research involving international and foreign law, including any seminar paper topic they may be currently writing, and then compose a 6-8 page narrative of their research process. During the final two weeks of class, students will present on their research strategies and any problems they came across along the way. I modeled this final assessment after an assignment Susan Gualtier had previously shared with me.

The leeway in topic choice has been great in playing off of student interests but I believe it may eventually pose some problems in terms of assessment. I love the idea of having students researching topics they are currently writing about for a seminar course or have been employed to research as an assistant to a professor. At the very least simply being motivated by a personal interest gives the student more of a stake in the end product. The problem arises when topics range to such a degree that the types of relevant sources and strategies employed are very inconsistent. Granted the subject matter of this class ranges a great degree. Unless I were to force students to pick from a narrowly defined list of topics, I have to expect such variation.

Because this is the first time I have ever given this assignment, I put no restrictions on topic choice so long as it required substantial research in the sources covered in class. I indicated I prefer they address a fairly specific inquiry, but I did not place a scholarly survey of a topic off limits. In the future, I will give more guidance in choosing topics based on how I intend to assess these papers and presentations. I may also reassess my order of topics covered in class. Because we focus on researching foreign law during the last three weeks of class, students who chose topics centered heavily around finding foreign law are at a slight disadvantage.

Like topics chosen, preparation and discussion that took place in individual conferences varied widely. Some students came with a clear vision of the types of sources they need and examples of problems that had already encountered. Others had more of a theoretical idea of what they would be looking for and expected to find. This was another good lesson in the value of giving clear instruction.

One thing I had not expected were the questions I would come away with from student conferences. During each session I made suggestions of sources students should consult, but students also had questions about sources I did not immediately know how to find. For example, one of my students would benefit in finding Irish legislative history for her project. Not being an expert on Irish legal research outside what is readily made available through Justis and BAILII, I was challenged to find an answer to my student’s question.

I am looking forward to seeing my student’s final presentations a month from now. I anticipate learning just as much from them as they will from each other. In the meantime we still have several important topics to cover in class including researching the law of the European Union, customary international law, and foreign law focusing primarily on a select few common and civil law jurisdictions.

Introducing…Eugene Hsue as the March FCIL Librarian of the Month

1. Where did you grow up?Hsue photo

I grew up in Vestal, a small town in beautiful upstate New York. As a kid, my backyard was a fantastic nature preserve.  Along with my friends, we would hike up hills, build forts, scout for waterfalls in the creek, and stumble upon grazing deer. It was a great place to grow up.

2. Why did you select law librarianship as a career?

While I was a law student, I worked as a student worker at Temple Law Library. There, the Director, John Necci, and the Head of Reference, Larry Reilly, mentored me through the ropes of answering questions at the Circulation Desk. I grew to really love helping people find exactly what they needed.

John and Larry started strongly hinting that I should think of law librarianship as a career. And they shared so much of what they know with me. Before their retirement, each of them had been in law librarianship for more than thirty years. I am very thankful for their openness and generosity – these traits helped me discover a warm and helpful law library community.  I am grateful to have found great informal mentors in David Mao, Greg Lambert, Wei Luo, Joan Liu, Sergio Stone, and Al Dong. And I’ve had the chance to work with amazing peers internationally, like Michèle Hou of the ICRC and Jim Hart at the University of Cincinnati.

Second, I love research, both doing it and teaching it. I love the rush of identifying the seminal article for a point of law or watching a student’s eyes light up.

3. When did you develop an interest in foreign, comparative, and international law?

While I was an undergraduate at Cornell, I lived in a great dorm called the Language House, which at that time was housed in a beautiful Anna Comstock Hall. During the two years I spent in the French House, I made close friends from France, China, Taiwan, Japan, Italy, and Latin America. We would often stay up late at night discussing the rich differences between our cultures, languages, music and movies.  This gave me a passion to truly comprehend the world beyond my own country.

Then, during my third year there, I had the opportunity to study at Jussieu, Paris VII. One of the courses I took was the history of the European Union. Our teacher from Sciences Po, Marc Germanangue, lectured superbly. He told a riveting tale of the negotiations and friendship between Jean Monnet and Konrad Adenauer, which resulted in the CECA. It was my first introduction to a supranational organization.

After graduating, I went to live and work in China and Taiwan for two and a half years, in order to master Mandarin. When I came back to study at Temple Law, I took every foreign and international law class I could find: Japanese Law, WTO Law, Israeli Constitutional Law, among others.

4. Who is your current employer? How long have you worked there?

I work at Temple Beasley School of Law in Philadelphia. I have been here full time since November 2008. If you include the time I was a student worker – wow! – I started that in Spring of 2005.

5. Do you speak any foreign languages?

I speak French, Mandarin, and a little Taiwanese and Italian. I’m learning Latin. I find learning languages to be super fun. It’s like doing a crossword puzzle for me.

6. What is your most significant professional achievement?

I’m still a “young” law librarian, so I still have some achievements ahead of me! However, there are two dear to my heart.

Along with a team of six research assistants, I translated two law review articles from English to Chinese. The reason why I view it as significant is because I learned a lot:  how to motivate a team, communicate expectations, and have everyone accomplish goals by set deadlines. I also learned a lot of Chinese terminology in many disciplines. For example, how do you say Rawls’ “veil of uncertainty” in Chinese? Good times doing research!

Second – during my second year as a FCIL, Temple’s International and Comparative Law Journal gave me a tie and a card as a gift of appreciation for helping them find sources. The tie is sharp and smart. I was touched that they noticed I like to dress well.

7. What is your biggest food weakness?

I like to try out cheap eats and street food in Asia and Europe. I’m fond of oatmeal raisin cookies.

8. What song makes you want to get up to dance and sing?

This one. And this French one! Definitely this Taiwanese one too.

9. What ability or skill do you most wish you had (that you don’t have already)?

I would love to develop mobile apps to view rare and ancient documents, like the Vatican Secret Archive’s Lux In Arcana app. This requires mastering PHP, Python, ancient Greek, Latin, and classical Chinese. I would love to develop skills to bring cutting edge technology and the ancient world together.

10. Aside from the basic necessities, what is one thing you not go a day without?

Every day I try to make my baby girl laugh! Isabella is nine months old now. I cannot go a day without seeing her gummy smile.

11. Anything else you would like to share with us?

I look forward to reconnecting with my FCIL colleagues in Philly this July. There are so many foodie spots to discover!