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Subject: PhD Economics
Place of work: Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, New Delhi, India
Please tell us about yourself
Driven by a desire to make a difference to her motherland, Natasha relocated to India after completing her PhD. With a strong focus on policy analysis, her primary research concerns Indian and Chinese development issues. She has worked directly with policymakers, bureaucrats and industrialists, particularly with regard to international trade.Natasha sees herself as a global citizen and is passionate about discovering different cultures. She is especially interested in women’s rights and has campaigned on the issue in India.
How did you first become interested in an offbat and unconventional career such as economics?
During my undergraduate degree, which was in accountancy and auditing, economics wasn’t a very significant model, so at that stage economics wasn’t one of my strengths. I decided to work on my weakness when I chose the subject for my masters – an MSc in international business with a focus on economics.
And you don’t regret that decision?
Absolutely not! I quickly became fascinated by econometrics, international trade and foreign direct investment. In particular, a World Trade Organisation simulation exercise got me thinking about why and how countries trade. The concept of comparative advantage stayed with me, and the world started to make sense in a theoretical way. From that point on there was no looking back.
What did you study before?
I did my Bachelors (Accounting & Finance) from University of Mumbai and then did my Masters (MSc, International Economics) from Lancaster University before embarking on a PhD in Economics from Nottingham.
Why did you choose to study at the Nottingham School of Economics?
I was especially interested in investigating whether inward foreign direct investment in China had an impact on rising regional inequality in the country. For all sorts of reasons – the modules, the staff, the Ningbo campus – Nottingham was the best place to do that.
What are your fondest memories of your time at the school?
My PhD supervisory meetings with Professor Chris Milner. His questions made me think deeply about the subject and enabled me to become a better reasoner.
I also like to remember mid-mornings in the school coffee room, lunchbreaks with my PhD colleagues, working late on quiet Sundays…and I enjoyed the press coverage that my early research earned, which helped encourage me to pursue further cutting-edge studies.
What advice would you give to someone considering or about to start a course at the school?
First of all – and I know this isn’t advice as such – I would just say that the school is brilliant. Every faculty member makes sure that you learn at every stage and that Nottingham always feels like a home from home. I came from India, but I never felt away from home.
As for advice, I would recommend attending as many seminars and other events as you can. There are seminars almost every day, and they help you develop in every aspect of economics. The summer schools are also great. These events are fantastic for expanding your knowledge beyond what you learn in your coursework.
What has been your career path since you graduated?
After I submitted my PhD thesis I had a number of job offers. I chose to go to Oxford, but just a few months later I was offered the chance to work as an economist at the Reserve Bank of India, which is India’s central bank, so I quit Oxford and returned to India.
At first I worked as a research fellow on a project to identify systemically important firms in India. When that was nearly completed I started working with the former Deputy Governor of India on several policy questions, including the impact of Regional Trade Agreements on India’s financial development and the impact of trade finance on international trade. I also got to work with Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz and his team.
After a few months I was asked to join the team at the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT), which undertakes research for the Ministry of Commerce. The task was to identify potential trading blockages and suggest export products that the Indian government could use in trade negotiations with China.
Since completing that project I’ve remained associated with the IIFT, undertaking public policy research on contemporary topics such as India’s visa programme, the Open Government initiative and Digital India.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I love the fact that it has an impact in the truest and most direct sense. That’s what really gives me a kick.
And are there any challenges?
There are several. Obtaining data is a problem, as it is for any empirical economist, but I think the biggest difficulty is overcoming the sort of bureaucracy and corruption that too frequently characterise a developing nation.
Can you tell us more about that?
When I was growing up I was taught to be honest to my soul and to my country. I always thought that was my biggest strength, but sometimes my determination to remain honest seems like my biggest shortcoming. You see nepotism, sycophantism and other illogical ideologies…I’ve been called a fool for refusing to compromise on my honesty, but I refuse to bend.
In what ways have your experiences at the school helped shape and develop your career?
Above all, my time at Nottingham taught me to think independently. Just to think is a challenge, but to think independently is a different ball game altogether. That alone has helped shape my career path.
I’m very conscious that not everyone has the privilege of that experience. I often feel that in many places real thinking isn’t encouraged. That’s a shame. I always give people the example of how my tutors and advisers encouraged me to really think about my thesis topic rather than doing the job for me.