Karina Maheswaran

Economics with a Year in Industry

I honestly can't remember a year that I’ve changed as much as I did in my year in industry.

Why did you choose to study Economics at Kent?

I chose Economics for A level because it was something I’d never done before and I just fell in love with it. And I really did just want to continue it as a degree; I thought there's no point even thinking about doing anything else. There were a few reasons why I decided to come to Kent: I loved the whole vibe of the campus when I came to visit, and the accommodation. The year in industry was a big thing for me too, because I couldn’t find many universities that offered it. Also, Kent gave me an academic scholarship because of the grades I achieved at A level.

And has the course met your expectations? Do you still love Economics?

Yes, I do really enjoy Economics! I'm really glad, I don't know what I would have done in place of it, but  I'm so glad I did it. And it's so broad, which is something that I really enjoy –  there are so many different aspects of economics to learn about. I’m interested in international trade and international finance, how economies interact internationally. And then, when I'm looking at a smaller scale, at an individual economy, I probably prefer looking at the structures of firms and how they interact with each other. So, we learned about oligopolies, monopolies and perfect competition. If you look at, say, supermarkets, you have a few companies that dominate the whole market and small independents can't really compete with them, so you would say that's an oligopoly because there you have a few big firms that dominate the entire market.

For my dissertation, at the moment I’m thinking of looking at how tax impacts innovation.  Some economists argue that if someone is innovative, they won't really think about the tax aspects or the financial aspects, they’ll just innovate. So I want to look at whether having lower tax rates would cause innovation to increase within an economy or whether innovation happens regardless of tax.

What do you think of the support you get from your School?

It's been really good, actually. I think probably one of the hardest things about school versus university is that, at school, your teachers are always … not on your back exactly, but they're always there and they make sure that you're always doing the work. Whereas, once you get to university, it's very much more independent, the work is on you, but the lecturers are here to help you if you want the help. I found that especially when I was doing my year in industry: I had to apply for jobs by myself, but they helped me go through my application forms, they helped me with interview prep. They gave me guidance. So you have to go to them, but if you do go to them, they give you the support that you need.

Tell me about your year in industry – how did you get your placement?

I was a student economist in the international tax team at the Treasury. I got the placement through the Government Economic Service, they run a very big placement scheme and you apply to them rather than to a specific department. I filled in my application form over the summer [between Stage 1 and Stage 2] and then if you’re successful you get invited to an interview in a specific department in around November. I found out early in the new year that I’d got a job. It means you have to start preparing quite early but the upside is that I knew I’d got the placement by the start of the second term so I could concentrate on the course and my exams.

What did your work involve?

I didn't do a lot of economics – I think other students at the Treasury and across government did more - because my team was very much a policy team. But I really enjoyed it anyway. They get you to work on proper stuff really quickly. The first few weeks is just learning what your team does, so I was doing international tax but my friend was doing the Budget, another friend was doing fiscal policy. I did a wide range of work and contributed to lots of projects. My work often involved understanding of the global international tax framework, and working on projects related to this. I was also the lead on international tax research at the Treasury, so people from other teams would ask me to do research for them.  For example, one of the policy advisers was looking into whether a specific tax system could be amended, so I looked at how that type of tax worked in other major economies. It was really interesting. 

How do you think your experiences on placement changed you?

Before I went on placement I couldn’t imagine how I could be anything other than an economist but because I was working as a policy adviser rather than as an economist, it expanded my ideas about what I can do after university – whatever I do, I’ll still enjoy it. Also, I honestly can't remember a year that I’ve changed as much as I did in my year in industry. Not in my personality, but how I think about work and how I would go about doing work. I think academically I've changed the most, which is odd because I wasn't doing academic work!

Can you explain what you mean?

Before I went on my year in industry, if I ever had a piece of coursework I would probably struggle with knowing how to start the work, what I should be looking at and how to structure it. But once you’re on placement you have lots of that type of work and it’s all on you. Sometimes they're asking the question, and my interpretation was different to their interpretation. So I became a lot better at making sure I went back to them, giving them an example of what I thought they meant. And then they could easily say, ‘Yes, that's exactly what I want’, or ‘No, I think you should look at this aspect’, or ‘That's great but I think you should think about this when you're doing the work’. So I became a lot better at interacting and understanding what people want from my work rather than just doing the work.

Did you live in London during your placement?

I commuted from home because my family live not too far outside London so it was cheaper but other students did live in central London. The Government Economic Service has a Facebook page where you can find other students to live with.

And now you’re back at Kent, I understand you’re involved with the Economics Society?

Yes, it's a fairly new role, but I'm an assistant researcher for the Economics Society. We meet every week and most of the time we'll do a presentation, so the head researcher Ollie and I will think about the presentation we want to give and and do research for it. As well as the presentations, we do quizzes and get people in to do talks – this week some psychologists are coming in to talk about the interaction between psychology and economics, behavioural economics. Sometimes we might have talks about how to find jobs, or a presentation about doing placements.

Finally, what advice would you give to a prospective student coming to Kent?

I’d say that if you haven’t done economics before, they are very good here at making sure you start from scratch, they don’t assume you have an economics knowledge beforehand. And if you have done economics before, don’t assume you know everything that’s being covered in first year because there is a lot of new stuff as well. There’s a step up from A level to university in the way you approach essays and how you act as an economist.