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From international relations to virtual reality education: Dr. Farah Jan ML’23 expands her expertise in the ML Program

March 07, 2022

A self-proclaimed “life-long learner,” Dr. Farah Jan first enrolled in an ML course to help her navigate a new tech venture – and enjoyed it so much that she opted to complete the whole degree.

This feature is part of an ongoing series celebrating the diverse array of University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School students who make up our Law School’s uniquely collegial academic community. Together, students at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School engage in rich academic discussions, push the boundaries of contemporary legal thought, and work collaboratively toward our shared goal of upholding principles of justice locally, nationally, and around the world.

Dr. Farah Jan ML’23 is an International Relations Lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania. She received her PhD in Political Science from Rutgers; she also holds an MS in Global Affairs and an MA in Political Science. Dr. Jan’s research focuses on interstate rivalries and alliances, nuclear proliferation, and the security politics of South Asia and the Middle East. Her dissertation, “Adversarial Peace: The Persistence of Nuclear Rivalries,” examined the impact of nuclear weapons on strategic rivalries. She lives in North Jersey.

What were you doing prior to coming to Penn?

I’ve been teaching in the International Relations Program at Penn since 2018. My research mostly focuses on Middle East and Southeast Asian security politics. Besides my academic passions, I also have a deep love for technology. I work on virtual reality (VR) in the education field. When we went virtual due to the pandemic, I requested to teach a course in VR, and for that, I designed a platform and created a virtual space for a virtual seminar. I recently got a course development grant from Perry World House, and it gave me the opportunity to develop three VR simulations for the course I’m teaching on Southeast Asia.

In my opinion, VR is a much better way to learn than on the Zoom platform, where there are distractions: texts that pop up, a news alert, or maybe you get a little bit bored and want to check something else. In a VR classroom, you have your headset, and you are in the seminar room just like you are in person. If a student takes the headset off, their avatar droops. The droopy avatar tells me they’re not in the room. Knowing who is focusing and who is not is an important part of a live teaching session, and VR also writes on your memory a bit more than a pre-recorded lesson does.

It really is a lot of fun. It feels like you are in the same room. I’m not a winter person, so the VR set up was bright, like it was 10 o’clock in the morning, with this massive window that had beautiful views. It really wakes you up. When you teach, it gets tiring, and you feel a drain in the evening. That set up helped me regain the energy that I needed. I personally enjoyed it, and I know the students enjoyed it. I wish we could do more of it; I really think the future of online learning is in VR.

What inspired you to pursue your ML degree?

When I was working on the VR projects, I lacked an understanding of the business and legal dimensions of many decisions I had to make. Having a PhD was not enough and reaching out to lawyers is expensive. The ML Program doesn’t turn someone into a lawyer, but at least when you have the degree, you have some idea.

I initially started with “Gender and Business Law” and “Entrepreneurship and the Law,” and both were excellent courses, but I did not start them with the intention of applying to the degree program. It turned out to be a fun experience, so I continued and began to take core foundational courses that fall.

What aspects of your University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School experience have you found most influential so far?

Once you’re done with the core foundational courses, where you learn about the structure of the legal system, you can also take other courses at the Law School. It gives you an opportunity to connect your previous work experiences to the law. Last semester, I took a short course, “China in International Law,” which aligned with what I work on in the international studies context. It merges two of my passions; I get to explore my tech, and I get to learn about how international business and law work together.

How has the Law School’s commitment to cross-disciplinary legal training impacted your education so far?

The ML program really gives you the option to engage on all sides of a topic; it’s a very cool program. I got to meet and interact with people from all over the University. I really enjoyed it, because I learned from different people, who have all had different experiences. I enjoyed learning about the creative projects people were working on. Plus, it gives you the chance to talk about your work, as well.

What do you hope your University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School education will help you to accomplish?

A friend of mine asked, “You have three other Master’s degrees, why do you need another one?” And I said, “It’s an opportunity. We are lifelong students.”

I wanted to get a better understanding of international business, an arena that I really had no idea about, and I think the knowledge I’ve gained from the ML degree has already helped me to discuss the tech ventures that I am working on. We’ve named the app for the VR classroom “Aristotle.” Our goal is for it to be open to everyone at universities and classrooms around the world; there is an international dimension to it.

When you are a Penn employee and you have the option of participating in a program that is paid for, I don’t see why you would not take that option. One of the other features of the ML program is that there are classes in the evening, which made it easier for me, someone who has a full-time position. It’s a great opportunity for all Penn employees to learn from and be a part of – and why would you refuse the chance to get a degree from Penn Law?

What is one thing that most people don’t know about you?

I’m a poet at heart. I see life and everything through the lens of poetry; I love everything about it. If I could incorporate poetry and philosophy into all of my work, I would.

What is your favorite thing to do in Philly?

I love trying out all of the good restaurants in Philadelphia. I love going to Zahav — it’s my favorite place to go to eat. And nothing beats Federal Donuts. I think those are the best things about Philadelphia: good food and Federal Donuts. The more intellectual response would have been “the museums in Philadelphia,” which are great, but you asked me to give you a fun answer. I wish Federal Donuts would stay open longer. They close too early.

Learn more about the Law School’s Master in Law program.