Life after UniNE

“Your professional perspectives change as you go!”

Nesa Zimmermann, Legal Practitioner

In 2012, Nesa Zimmerman, from Zurich, completed her Master’s degree in Law at Neuchâtel and an LLM at King’s College London. She now works as an assistant at the University of Geneva, where she is studying for her doctorate.


What is your thesis about?

The protection of vulnerable people by the European Court of Human Rights.

Wow, a thesis title you can actually understand! Have you always seen yourself working towards a doctorate?

No. To begin with, I saw myself working for an international organization or an NGO. But my view has changed during my studies. I’m passionate about International Law and the question of human rights, but there came a point where I couldn’t see myself working for an international organization anymore. Many people take that path in the hope of “changing the world”, or at least of improving it... and they end up as paper-pushers. I realized that I was too idealistic about these organizations at the beginning of my studies.

As I’d already written off the idea of becoming a lawyer, at the end of my studies it occurred to me that, whilst I had studied Law because of the range of career prospects, the real question was whether these prospects were good for me, and for my life. With a law diploma, you get the impression that you can do anything… but in reality, it’s enough to do one thing, and not every option has to stay on the table. For me, writing a thesis buys me a bit of time. In all seriousness, preparing a thesis lets you do more detailed research, and go further than your previous studies have taken you. In fact, it was during my studies that I realized that what I enjoyed most was writing papers and conducting research. Then, a thesis seemed to be the most natural option.

You haven’t got even the slightest German accent, but you are from Zurich, and 100% a German speaker. How did you come to choose Neuchâtel?

I biked around French-speaking Switzerland with a friend. We visited all of the cities in the area, and I really fell in love with Neuchâtel. So I stayed. I was thinking of living here for a year, just to do some of my studies, and I’ve ended up living here for seven! I’d rather commute to Geneva than leave here! And the fact that I’ve gone on to Geneva is by no means a rejection of Neuchâtel, but simply because I thought that, after London, it would be useful to learn how another university works.

How is your work as an assistant at the University of Geneva going?

I’m enjoying it a lot. At the moment, I’m mainly working with first year students. They’ve only just started, they have lots of questions, so I have to make myself as available as possible. Being able to talk to assistants and professors is something I really appreciated during my time at the UniNE: they were always very approachable, very open. The professors are much less accessible in Geneva. Even though they try to be, there are too many students to have the same rapport as in Neuchâtel.

Does this close relationship with the students make you want to take up teaching as a long term career path?

You can’t really decide to become a university professor: it depends on too many things, so it can’t be your only professional goal. I can just as easily see myself teaching at high school level, although not necessarily the law. And that’s why I sometimes wonder if I’ve studied the right thing: to begin with, I was thinking of an arts degree, languages in particular. But at eighteen, nothing could seem more boring than the thought that you’re going to study something which will take you into teaching! So I did something else. And now, I realize that I love teaching, and that an arts degree would have let me do it more easily.

In addition to your studies, you were involved in politics, as part of the Young Greens. I get the feeling that you were an unconventional Law student...

An unconventional student? I guess so, yes. That’s one of the reasons why I didn’t want to study in Zurich, my home town. It’s easier to be “unconventional” in Neuchâtel. In my Master’s, we were all very much focused on human rights and international humanitarian law, which was great!

What do you think were the strengths of your education at Neuchâtel?

I soon got involved with the ANED, the association of Law students. Perhaps I wasn’t the “typical Law student”, but I still wanted to be a part of it. We organized lots of different things, from beach volleyball matches to meetings with professors and politicians, and student representation on the Faculty Council. They’re great memories, and I’d definitely advise students to get involved in the students’ association, because few of them do. It really added another dimension to my studies. In the end, fighting to have the exam dates changed and to save the world are pretty much the same thing! (laughs)

I have great memories of some of my classes. At the Faculty of Law, the teaching is of a very high standard, with excellent professors. Now that I can compare with Geneva — and I’ve also done a short exchange at Zurich — my impression has been confirmed.

What would you advise a future student? And I’m particularly interested in your response, given that you are not sure that you chose the right subject yourself!

I was told when I started university, although I didn’t listen to it then: you have to study what you find interesting. Of course, you have to think about your career, but not just that. Because your professional perspectives open up and change as you go! So you can’t focus too much on that to begin with. It’s better to do what you want to do. That’s somewhat true for me now: with my thesis, I didn’t think about how useful it would be, but I chose a subject which interested me, and that’s what you have to do with your education.  

Another piece of advice? Get involved, as I already said. As for which university to choose... I’d definitely recommend Neuchâtel! I love it here!

Interview UniNE 2013