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A former research scientist, Dr Ming Kalanon makes the move to law.

Left to right: Chief Justice Anne Ferguson, Dr Ming Kalanon and Dr Marilyn McMahon (Deputy Dean, Deakin Law School)

Deakin law graduate Dr Ming Kalanon has won the prestigious Supreme Court Prize for best student in 2017.

Presented at a ceremony on 18 April, the Supreme Court Prize is awarded to the highest-achieving law graduates from Victorian law schools and is recognised as a hallmark of outstanding excellence and intellectual ability.

‘Winning the prize is an immense honour,’ says Ming.  ‘I was very honoured to hear the news, and having attended the event at the Supreme Court ceremony I am now inspired to live up to its potential.’

Completing his law degree with honours, Ming is now working as a graduate lawyer with global firm Norton Rose Fulbright where he’s enjoying new opportunities to develop his career. 

‘I’m working in the environment and planning practice and my role involves a variety of tasks such as preparing for cases, writing research memos and attending hearings. The issues are very tangible and a lot of the work deals with property and buildings in areas that I know so it’s really interesting to learn their history. It’s inspiring to think that I might be involved in the story of some of the buildings in the future,’ he says.  

Ming made the transition to law after a successful research career in microbiology.

He completed his PhD – which explored drug targets for malaria – at the University of Melbourne before moving to Deakin where he continued his research career across two faculties.

A lifelong interest in law saw him commence a Bachelor of Laws degree with DLS while continuing to work part-time as a research scientist with Deakin. 

‘I’ve always been curious about learning how things work – that’s a big part of why I pursued science.  But unlike science, the law provides a unique perspective on how our society works – the law is so fundamental to so many aspects of our lives – whereas science tends to be very focused and arguably narrower,’ he explains.

Needing the flexibility to continue working as a researcher, Ming studied his law degree both on-campus and via Deakin’s Cloud Campus. 

‘All the DLS staff were really engaged and supportive in their teaching. Although I found reading cases to be quite dense and difficult at first, I did get better at it over time and found it really interesting to see how the law, and legal issues, were applied to real life situations. I also really enjoyed being able to study with other students online and on campus.  Early on, I joined a study group with other mature-aged students who have since become good friends.’

Ming says making strong connections and friendships has been an important part of his study journey.

‘I strongly recommend to other students to take advantage of all the opportunities that Deakin provides to make connections. Participating really does enhance the study experience and it provides a network of support and information that has benefits far beyond the final mark or degree.  I have made great friends along the way and I’m looking forward to maintaining these relationships as we progress our careers.’  

During his law studies, Ming gained hands-on experience through work placements at Villamanta Disability Rights Legal Service, the State Revenue Office, and Deakin’s law clinic unit where he worked with real clients on business entrepreneurial matters.

‘I think the practical experience I gained, particularly with the VDRLS, was essential for helping me succeed. These experiences helped me apply the theoretical and academic side of my studies to a real-world situation.’

Importantly, it also gave him valuable insight into the diversity of professional pathways.

‘It made me realise that I was not alone in changing careers, and that there are a lot of opportunities and directions I could take my legal career. When I started my studies at Deakin, I was leaving behind a successful career as a postdoctoral research scientist to pursue a gut instinct that I wanted to follow a legal career instead. It seemed unconventional and risky,’ he says.  

However Ming says that since studying law, he’s been inspired by the many others who have made the same decision. 

‘I am also very fortunate to have the support from my partner Carole, who definitely went through all the ups and downs of my studies with me, but I would encourage anyone who might be interested in studying law to take that next step because it can be done.’

Ming’s wife Carole Poon, his VDRLS supervisor Naomi Anderson, and DLS Deputy Dean Prof. Marilyn McMahon also attended the Supreme Court Prize ceremony where they had they opportunity meet some of the Justices and hear inspiring biographies of other recipients.  

‘I felt very proud to be amongst so many illustrious people and I am hopeful that winning the Supreme Court Prize will be a great advantage for my future law career.’  

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