It’s All About Getting to the Bottom of Things

Her work helps shape the discussion on big issues in international law, but what would she be doing if she weren't a researcher?


Jutta Brunnée is a Professor of Law at the University of Toronto whose research focuses on international environmental law and public international law. We asked her everything from her photography hobby to her unique advice for aspiring researchers in hopes of giving you a better understanding of what goes on outside the lab for one of the best minds in Canadian research.

What do you like most about being a researcher?

At the end of the day, it is probably the opportunity to “get to the bottom of things” that I enjoy the most. In the process, one gets to take a step or two back and consider various angles. While I may have a hunch about what I will find, and while my initial instinct is often right, sometimes I discover something unexpected, or something that confirms my hunch in unexpected ways.

As an international law scholar and theorist, I find that this applies to both practical and theoretical issues. I might discover, for example, that international practice concerning a particular situation or issue does not line up with something the majority of commentators had claimed. Such a finding then allows me to intervene in the relevant debate in a potentially track-changing way.

Or I might read a range of theoretical literature on a given point and have a genuine “light bulb” moment, such that something I had long thought now makes sense, and can be explained, in a new and much deeper way.

What advice would you give young researchers?

My main advice would be to not be quite as strategic about choices of topics and approaches as they may feel they have to be to build a competitive portfolio. Genuine interest and passion are important ingredients in excellence, and so should be a key aspect of what shapes a research agenda.

What inspired you to become a researcher?

The joy and satisfaction I have always derived from research, and the hope that, by “getting to the bottom of things”, enhancing people’s understanding of a given issue, and providing new perspectives and insights, I can contribute to addressing some of the big challenges of our time. For example, maintaining the international rules that limit the use of force between states, or developing the legal regime that directs international climate action.

What do you like to do for fun? 

I am a hobby photographer. I enjoy first seeing and then capturing the world through still images. I frame the image in my head and then take the shot. It’s an “anytime” kind of fun. I take pictures as I walk in Toronto on the weekend or to or from work, or while I am travelling for work or pleasure.

What’s your favourite cuisine?

Italian. Nothing like combining fresh, often simple ingredients to enhance their flavours in combination.

If you could do any profession other than your own what would it be?

Photographer… or opera singer.

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