PFC Spotlight: Academic Fellow Alumnus Christopher Robertson image

Petrie-Flom Center, September 22, 2016

Christopher T. Robertson was an Academic Fellow from 2008-2010, during which time Christopher completed an article on expert witness bias in technical cases which proposes a litigant-driven solution. He was previously a Student Fellow from 2006-2007. Today, he is Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Research & Innovation at the James E. Rogers College of Law of The University of Arizona

When did you first become interested in health law policy, biotechnology, and bioethics?

During my studies for a doctorate in philosophy, I served as a teaching assistant in a biomedical ethics class, and upon graduating taught the class myself.  That inspired me to begin doing research in the area, and I started on cadaveric organ transplantation.  When I came to Harvard as a law student, the interests deepened as I learned from Elizabeth Warren, about the medical causes of bankruptcies, and launched my own study to explore similar phenomena among people going through home foreclosures, and I served as a teaching fellow for a course co-taught by Michael Sandel and Doug Melton on genetics and justice.  Professor [and Founding Faculty Director] Einer Elhauge began mentoring me as one of the inaugural Student Fellows in the Petrie-Flom Center, and my interests only grew. 

What attracted you to the Academic Fellowship program at the Petrie-Flom Center?

It was an exciting place to be, with a vibrant community of young scholars like [current Faculty Director] I. Glenn Cohen, as well as the entire University, including people on the Longwood campus, the Kennedy School, and in Arts and Sciences.  The chance to have two years in this environment developing my own research was unparalleled.   

What was the focus of your Academic Fellowship research, and how did Petrie-Flom community assist you in completing it?

During my fellowship I wrote the first of a series of articles, which ultimately culminated in a book published this year, Blinding as a Solution to Bias:  Strengthening Biomedical Science, Forensic Science, and Law.  The Center gave me not only the time to work and opportunities to workshop preliminary drafts, but also funding to begin a series of empirical investigations to understand how blinding could work in practice to improve jury decisions in medical malpractice cases.

What were your key takeaways from the Academic Fellowship? Have you continued to interact with the Center and/or its affiliates since completing your fellowship?

I took away the skills and commitment to high-level scholarly research, and to engage with peers constructively.  Since then, I have returned to the Center every year at least once to participate in a conference, to workshop a paper, or this year, to celebrate the 10th anniversary.

How has the Academic Fellowship influenced your career?

The Academic Fellowship launched my career, allowing me to make a transition from being a student and young lawyer to a legal academic.  It also gave me a deep network of mentors, colleagues, and friends, which I still draw upon today.

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