Persistence, Perseverance & Passion – In Conversation with Maithili Modi

“I knew I wanted to pursue my masters in economics since junior college and my number 1 preference was always LSE (London School of Economics and Political Science)”, Maithili said with a smile growing on her face. She’s a B.A. Economics graduate from Jai Hind College. As of today, she has completed the 2 year Master’s in Economics programme from The London School of Economics and Political Science where she has been awarded Distinction. An apt description of her would be a well-rounded student. She grabbed every single opportunity she could lay her hands on during her years at Jai Hind College. She participated in an array of extracurricular and co-curricular activities, ranging from essay-writing competitions, publishing research papers to participating in Drama and other varied cultural activities. She believes that “It truly helped me in understanding where my interests lied”. Being a member of Jai Hind’s Econ society, she got the opportunity to participate in several competitions and also mentored juniors for such competitions in her senior year. 

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Being an undergrad student, she wasn’t well versed with the technical jargons revolving around economics. However, being an avid reader helped her get past that hurdle, she also spent a huge chunk of her time, during her undergrad, reading novels and research papers pertaining to the field of economics. “You cannot fit a vast subject like economics into the tiny textbooks provided by an institute”, she says and urges students to read books, newspapers, magazines and any other study material related to their field of study in order to increase their knowledge and understanding about the subject. Her favourite novel is ‘Fault Lines’ by Raghuram Rajan, which provided her with a deeper insight into the financial crisis of 2008. Another book that provided her with deeper insights in the subject of economic policymaking had been ‘An Economist in the Real World’ written by Kaushik Basu, the chief economic advisor to the Government of India in 2009. Along with reading innumerous research papers, she also co-wrote some herself, and believes that it is a painstaking process but a rewarding one, nonetheless. As a result of spending an ample amount of time in her undergraduate years incessantly reading econ novels to enhance her understanding about the subject matter, she was able to navigate the world of economic literature much more smoothly. 

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“Only one out of 30 research papers you write might reach the Government, so you need to make sure that the research is thorough.”

Maithili started off her professional journey at Gateway House, a think tank that specialises in the subjects of politics, international relations and geo-economics. Having interned there for 3 months, she understood the working of think tanks and the experience gave her some insight on where her interests truly lied. The idea of working at a think tank did not appeal to her as much, solely because she was highly sceptical about whether her research would reach the right people, i.e. the decision-makers.  

She later commenced working at Aditya Birla as a Junior Macroeconomist. She had the privilege of working under the guidance of Dr Ajit Ranade, one of the leading macroeconomists of the country. Her main job entailed tracking macro data for several countries where the group had business interests. Tracking and analysing the political situation prevailing in these countries had been her prime responsibility. Another brilliant opportunity she received was that of forecasting variables that will be taken into consideration when building the company’s budget for the next financial year. “This experience allowed me to truly understand the role of an economist and how data is used every single day to make even the smallest of decisions”, she said when asked of her takeaways from the role.

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Reading economic-related novels, newspapers and financial magazines at an undergrad level helps in bridging the gap between theory and practice”

Maithili urges students to read newspapers like the Economic Times and The Mint. She says reading newspapers gives one an insight into the mind of an economist. “Initially it is a little difficult to grasp heavy concepts, but you get accustomed to it gradually as you read more”. To better one’s understanding of technical jargons, one must see them in practice, hence urging students to subscribe to weekly email updates and Newsletters offered by the various financial and economic institutions such as the NSE, ICICI Bank’s treasury research etc.

“Studying at LSE was like being surrounded by a whole world of knowledge,” she said, brimming with enthusiasm and passion when asked about her experience at the institute. 

“Your first year is your foundation year”, she said. She initially felt overwhelmed as she was surrounded by highly intelligent peers and professors that were equivalent to celebrity economists. “When LSE acquaints you with the journey that lies ahead, you will be intimidated at first, but they try to make you as comfortable as possible”. She recounts studying 10 hours a day, 7 days a week for two years. “ It’s like studying for an exam every single day for two years,” she says. A large assignment for each subject was due at the end of every single week, which mainly consisted of complicated problem sets. Initially, Maithili did make errors, however, as she progressed through the academic year, her problem-solving abilities improved consistently.

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“Second Year wasn’t as hectic as the First Year and went rather smoothly,” she said, as she had become well adjusted to LSE’s rigorous schedule. She spoke highly of LSE’s Econ department and has proudly termed it as ‘the best in the world’. “They would offer us treats and take care of us like we were their children,” she recalls. She also dabbled into various extracurricular activities, mainly football and participated in various academically-oriented activities. She wrote research papers which were then published in LSE’s student journal in her first year and went on to become its Editor in the second year. “LSE took into consideration our requests and ideas and always strived to keep us involved,” she said. 

“Econ consulting does not prevail in India on a large scale i.e in the big 4 companies.”

When asked about her work experience at Deloitte UK, she started by explaining what her job entailed. She was mainly involved in the formation of regulations that protect the interests of the various market participants. She was also involved in devising socio-economic policies whose progress would be tracked over 5 months. It was an exhilarating experience for her, one that allowed her to work with the government side of things. The company also devised stress tests for the banking sector which can give some insight into how well they can perform during a state of distress. As her previous internships were more focused on macroeconomic research, her job at Deloitte was much more different as it focused on microeconomic research. An excellent example she quoted with regards to her role was that of a grocery store. A large grocery store with 1000s of outlets has experienced a recent surge in costs. Hence the job of an econ consultant is to collect data and analyse the reasons for the same. 

After completing her masters in economics from LSE, she has a wide array of options to choose from with regards to employment. Her major has allowed her to develop various skills like coding, data skills, math and statistics to name a few. However, she addresses the hurdle that a majority of econ major students face in India, i.e the MBA mindset, due to which it gets harder to get your CV past HR. 

“In India, it’s tough, however, in the UK, you’d be welcomed with open arms,” she added.

When asked how one should proceed with the application process for LSE, the number one point she elaborated on was that of research. 

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“The course content, ranking, the teachers, costs, duration and the research the school produces must always meet with your requirements before you apply.”

She advises students to not hesitate to email the universities’ admissions office regarding doubts, no matter how silly they are in the application process. She further elaborates on how a good GRE/GMAT result can make or break your application and urges students to take it as many times as they can until they secure a good enough score. With certain institutes that conduct optional entrance exams, Maithili recommends to always take the exam as it can strengthen your application. Coming to the SOP (Statement Of Purpose), Maithili strongly recommends students to take their time with it as it is the very heart and soul of your application.

“It is important to show the admissions committee your interest in the course. Quoting lines from your favourite economics novels in your SOP can also help in highlighting your interest for the subject,” she says.

“You need the right contacts to get the right internship opportunities.”

Maithili underlines the importance of using LinkedIn and building connections on the platform to gain a better understanding of the respective field that one would like to pursue by conversing with professionals and experts. Building an attractive profile will automatically help your connections accumulate a better understanding of your worth to them. 

“Do 3 things, but do them well”, she said, when asked on what advice she would give her juniors regarding extra-curricular activities. 

Emphasise on 3 key aspects, what position you took on, what you did and what you learned.”

Expanding your knowledge beyond the realms of a textbook is essential in your undergrad years as it gives you an edge over the rest. One can read research papers, take up an online course or simply read novels on their subject of interest. Since pursuing undergrad in India leaves you with a lot of free time, pursuing a hobby or learning foreign languages can make you seem more diverse, adding value to your CV.

“Whatever you do, do it well enough so that you can talk about it,” she adds. 

However, in the final year of undergrad, she urges students to focus on their grades, i.e scoring a good CGPA. 

When asked how she was able to balance her social life with her studies, she said that she and her batchmates stuck together like a family. They were a brilliant support system and would go out of their way to help her in any way whatsoever.

“Every Friday night, my friends and I would go out for dinner, it had become a sort of a ritual”

 She took four nights a week for herself to explore different parts of the city, either alone or with someone. She learned while pursuing her masters that though it is important to be productive, it is also important to step back and relax.  

Maithili is a prime example of a person who is living their dreams. She has learnt several lessons throughout the way and advises the students the following to help make their dreams a reality as well. 

-Being as productive as possible- 

 She stresses on consuming as much knowledge in your undergrad as you can from all the sources available at your disposal. These can range from books to online courses to research material. This will allow you to become more comfortable with understanding technical jargons and data oriented research material 

– Keep learning/Never stop learning- 

Maithili stands by the words ‘Learning is a continuous process ‘ and strongly advises students to never give up on education and to constantly learn new things from whoever and wherever. 

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-Don’t be afraid of something difficult and believe in yourself- 

Majority of the time, students are unable to achieve what they had initially set out for due to the fear of failure which stems from the lack of belief in themselves. Maithili addresses this fact and encourages students to not undermine themselves and to charge head on into difficult situations. 

– Be flexible-

“I had to change the way I studied after joining LSE”, says Maithili and recommends students to be flexible. She asks students to try and be more adaptable to the changing circumstances and emphasizes on the importance of being perseverant. 

We’d like to leave the reader with this phrase Maithili stressed on, “Stick with what you’re doing. If something hard is thrown at you, take it up. I know people who were terrible at Math but stuck with it long enough and have become the best in the subject. In my opinion, do not be intimidated by challenges and difficulties. Be persistent and the results will be in your favour.”

Register for India’s first online Business Economics festival, Arthanomics 2020, visit their website for more!

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