In Conversation With Mr. Tejas Mehta

Tejas is a Xavier’s Alumna who graduated with a degree of B.Sc. in Statistics in the year 2018. Today, Tejas has completed the 2 year Master’s in Economics programme from The Delhi School of Economics. He is now working at JPMorgan Chase & Co. as Country Risk – Analyst. So presenting to you, an insightful conversation about Tejas Mehta’s Master’s journey through DSE.

1. Could you tell us about your time in Xavier’s? What were you subjects, How involved were you in extracurriculars as well as the economics department?

So, basically, I took up science during Junior College at St Xavier’s. And Xavier’s is one of the few colleges that allow you to study economics along with science. And later, I wasn’t sure about whether to pursue engineering or economics. But after the 12th Boards, I realised that I wanted to pursue economics. So, I approached Aggie Sir and I wanted to know whether I could shift to Bachelors of Arts. He intimated me about the high cutoff for the BA course and he also said that if you really wish to study economics, it is always important to have a strong quantitative background. And he told me that I encourage students who wish to pursue Masters in Economics to do a BSc in Mathematics and Statistics, so I ended up doing a BSc. But I was constantly aware that I wanted to do a Masters course in Economics.

Thus, in extracurriculars I did a lot of stuff that generally students of BA engage in. I tried to write a lot. I wrote for The Arthniti twice, it sharpened my ability to think through one theme and really argue what I had in mind. I was a part of the team that started Declassified, before Declassified there was the Gazette, I wrote for that and also the Maths and the Stats Magazine.  The idea was really to write as much as you can and as widely as you can. The more you write the more you really have to read. That’s something that really helped me. 

I wasn’t a big fan of all the fests but was pushed into becoming the chairperson for the Stats Society in my third year. And I ultimately had to organise a fest, which was a different experience where I learnt how people work and the ways in which you deal with them. So my extracurriculars at Xavier’s were mainly about writing. And I encourage everyone to write a lot, it gives you a flavour of subjects you otherwise wouldn’t have read about. I mean that’s my view. 

2. How must one go about selecting an internship for themselves? How should one analyse the benefit and need of the internship and whether or not it suits the kind of work they plan on doing? 

Absolutely! At least for me, I wasn’t the kind of person who knew what exactly I wanted to do in life. Though I knew that economics was something that interests me and I want to pursue the same. But, I think at the undergraduate level it is always good to not restrict yourself to particular job roles in specific companies. It is a very narrow view and chances are that you don’t have the informational advantage to really choose what you really want. So if you get an internship, any internship you should really do it. And the reason boils down to the fact that you have certain expectations of what a workspace looks like but you don’t really know how it looks like unless you actually get in there. 

So I interned at a lot of places. Between my 12th and first year, I interned at an Ad Agency. Those two months taught me lots of things like thinking differently and advertising something I don’t want to do. My second internship was with the Indian Express. That’s where I started writing a lot and I learnt to condense an idea into two sentences where otherwise I would have written a paragraph. Then, I interned at the Confederation of Indian Industry, a body which acts like a connector between the state/government and the industries. So there I engaged in organising and writing, here my past writing experience came in handy. Those were my internship experiences. 

I look back and I feel that if someone had asked me whether I wanted to do this, my answer would have been ‘No’. But ultimately some of those internships were because someone was kind enough to give me a chance and I couldn’t refuse. And others were the ones where I had myself applied and got in. Long story short, I encourage you all to do any internship you can get your hands on and I believe you will learn something. Ultimately what you want to do in your undergrad is to try out as many things as you can, apply wherever you can, do the maximum that you can and if you are able to do that then as you finish your graduation, you have a broad understanding of things which drives you to make a better choice. 

So don’t be rigid about things. If you wish to do a particular internship and it didn’t work out, it’s okay. I wanted to work in a bank but didn’t get through and got in at Indian Express instead. There I had to read the financial statements of companies and got to learn new concepts which have come in handy now. Don’t worry a lot, just get an internship and if you get in just take it!

3. Your work experience is wide ranging from a stint of journalism, marketing to financial services. How have these experiences shaped you? 

I’ll narrate anecdotal experiences, I think that will be the best way to answer this question. So in the Ad Agency, I learnt in some sense to think about my ideas thoroughly. So usually in internships they don’t know what to expect from you and you don’t know what to expect from them. So for the first week, you will mostly be hanging around at your desk and someone might be sweet enough to take you under their wing. That’s what happened to me. So my mentor told me about the Ad project they were working on and asked my take on it. And I directly shared my idea. That’s when I was told that whenever you share your ideas, think about it holistically, think about the kind of questions you might be asked, so frame your idea properly and then pitch it. Though it seems very obviously, at that particular moment it helped my thought process.

At the Indian Express, when you write, because there is limited space in a newspaper, you attempt to convey your idea to the audience in as few words as possible. At the same time, I tried to not come across as a person who used fancy words for the sake of it. Some of my first articles were 100 words or 80 words, very short snippets, then you begin to think about what is the essence of what I am trying to convey and how do I convey that. So that was a challenge for me. 

At my third internship, there were a lot of menial tasks I had to do. So in my last few days at the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), I had to flier emails to all their clients in their database about an upcoming program. So I was disheartened since I had done a lot of good work before this and now I had to send emails. I had to send some 5000 emails and there were some restrictions on the number of recipients per email. So I was literally just copying, pasting and sending the content. And I made some mistake in the task, and my boss told me that this work might seem very menial to you but he told me to read the content of the mail. The mail was about a CII conducting employment generation drive in Bihar, prior to the elections in the state. So CII was reaching out to companies encouraging them to invest in the state and employ the local people and it was sponsored by the government. So even if one person gets employed due to the email I sent, it would be a big thing. So my boss told me that whatever task is assigned to you,  however small it may seem, give your best. And that has always stayed with me ever since. So that is how these experiences have shaped me. 

4. Was there any sort of conflict between Job or post graduation in your mind? 

I think an important way to view this job-post graduate conundrum is to have a vague idea of what interests you, and a definite idea of what doesn’t. I was clear about not wanting to pursue an MBA, which is a great course, but lacks the scope and depth that I sought out in a Master’s. This decision made it easier for me to decide between a job and a PG. I had the motivation to pursue a Masters in Economics, and the idea was to take up a job thereafter. 

While the safety of a job is tempting, I decided to stick to my gut, and take entrance exams for various schools in my effort of continuing my studies further. 

5. What was your motivation behind pursuing masters in economics, especially having done your graduation in Statistics? 

I think a process of elimination is always helpful. I had ruled out streams which I definitely did not want to pursue, such as law, or a PhD, and focused on what would help keep me in sync with my interests. 

I remember discussing my subject choices with Aggie Sir, while I was still in junior college, and we came to a consensus aware of the fact that going forward, I would want to pursue a masters in economics. My main goal was to do my masters from the best place possible – knowing that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, I wanted to live it out to the fullest.  

I think a student is driven by one of two motivations to pursue the stream they choose.

  1. They intrinsically care for the subjects and that passion for learning helps keep them on their path,
  2. They find instrumental motivation to take on a particular course.

I think these are defining ideas, and a lot of this thought process helps one make their decision. 

6. Do you think MA economics leads to research oriented individuals? Or does it prove to be beneficial for those looking for a career in business and finance as well? 

One of the common misconceptions most people have about pursuing a masters in economics is that it’s very “research oriented”. This is not necessarily the case in India. At DSE, we covered a whole array of varied topics. While pursuing my degree, I was surrounded by a varied cohort as well, there were students with all sorts of educational backgrounds, and so another common misconception of having a strong quantitative background in order to pursue a masters in economics can be safely debunked.

7. How did you tackle the question of Masters in India or Abroad? 

It’s important you have people who can give you frank guidance. I went to Aggie Sir with this exact question in the first year itself saying, “I really want to do Economics. Where should I apply?”

He said that anybody can get through to institutions like LSE, Columbia, Harvard, etc. The real challenge is getting into top Indian institutes, so keep your eyes on those and prepare accordingly. The faculty, course structure, syllabus, etc. is at par with top colleges anywhere in the world.

That advice is something I really took personally and from then on, I wanted to get into an Indian college. Also, I wanted to be sure of being in India, that was very important to me. There are people who want to go abroad but on a personal level, I wanted to stay here in India. Also, quite honestly, the kind of Masters Programme in a top school in India is at par, or even better, than a Masters from a top school abroad. With that perspective, there was never really a dilemma for me of whether to go abroad or not (but I did apply abroad just to have a backup admission).

I applied to IGIDR (Mumbai), ISI (Kolkata/Delhi), DSE (Delhi), and IIT for an Applied Stats Programme in India. I also applied (and got through) to a few places abroad as backups in case I didn’t get into these extremely competitive programmes here in India. Why I think that was a good decision is because once you get into a good institution abroad, you immediately become less stressed and perform better in the entrance exams for Indian colleges.

However, I missed the IGIDR cutoff by 1/4th of a mark. I completely bombed the ISI exam and did very badly. DSE was the last exam in June, and believe it or not, I actually got in on the Fourth and Final list, and I was the last person to get through. What really helped me through this entire phase of not clearing multiple exams was safety admissions to colleges abroad. Dividing your colleges into Dream, Target, and Safety/Backup Schools is very important.

8. Could you tell us about your GRE preparation? What was the experience, syllabus covered, amount of time went into preparation etc. 

I think the GRE is very, very overrated. Don’t stress too much over it, because it’s the Indian entrance exams that are the ones you have to prepare at length in advance.

If you are in a Xavier’s BA Eco programme, you have a lot of reading and background in both English and Stats/Math either way. The difficult or challenging part comes in because of the very constrained period of time within which you have to complete the paper. It is a marathon of multiple sprints: so, it’s one section after the other in succession. Focusing continuously for 4 hours is the real hard part which needs practice and dedication.

I got a 328/240 in my GRE. Essentially, if you score beyond a certain cut-off for Maths, you’re through. If you’re doing an Economics Programme, they don’t penalize you for doing too badly in the English section of the paper. The aim would be to do 15-20 full-length tests, whether it’s ETS official tests, Baron’s, Kaplan, Princeton Review practice tests, etc. Do as many full-length tests as you can sitting 4 hours continuously, and just keep monitoring your progress.

In terms of classes/tuitions, take a baseline test, prepare on your own for a month, and if you still feel you’re going nowhere, then maybe classes are a good idea.

Take as much time reviewing the tests as you would doing the tests. Analysing where you lost the marks, the types of difficult questions, etc. is important to work out, and go forward from there. You’ll be fine, though!

9. Considering the importance of Maths in economics, how do you think an individual should strengthen his or her maths base? What sort of mathematics concepts did you come across in your post-graduation?

Using an analogy: when you’re learning a language, you learn articles first like a, an, and the. They don’t make sense in the moment, but when you start using them in sentences, they immediately start making sense. It’s similar to mathematics. Ultimately, you’ll be doing a lot of Maths whether it is while preparing for your entrances or your first semester at Post-Graduations. You’ll constantly be questioning why you’re seeing all this when you’re doing an Economics degree and not a Maths degree, whether it’s optimization, derivatives, calculus, etc.

You actually end up using those concepts and applying it in the following semesters at your course. You basically get the context to all the concepts you are required to learn. The concepts themselves are just a means to an end, the end being the formalizing of concepts, therefore there’s no one textbook/chapter/essential concept I can recommend.

There’s a vast difference between the Economics you study at an undergrad level v/s the postgrad level. That becomes really apparent only after you start pursuing your Masters.  In the undergrad level, you’re really just trying to understand how systems and people interact, what can the outcomes be, etc. You’re yet in a more graphical, equation-focussed, conversational underpinning, which is always your framework to understand questions that you have.

On the other hand, at the Masters level (especially in a place like DSE), you really want to be concrete in the concept that you’re trying to convey. How you do that is via the language of mathematics. Conveying ideas from one person to another, and being really specific and concrete with what we try to say is where the Math comes in.

What you do need to look at is, for example, the DU undergraduate syllabus and what they’re studying in their Mathematical Economics courses.  Those will give you a good idea of the kind of concepts that you require before your entrance, and they’ll also give you an applied sense of how they tune into the subject matter of Economics., Having a BSc Stats / Mathematical background, the abstract concepts themselves were not necessarily a problem for me. However, the main problem was understanding how these concepts connected to the subject matter of Economics.

What I want to ultimately get across is that sometimes people think that doing Economics at a Masters level is like signing up for a Maths degree; it’s really not! The point is to understand how the concepts play into the phenomena you’re trying to understand, and communicate it forward through mathematics and statistics as a tool to sharpen your argument. What these tools do is really help you sharpen your arguments, and in a clear-cut way, help you establish a cause-effect relationship, while answering questions you otherwise wouldn’t be able to.

Hence, as long as you’re able to apply the mathematical concepts you learn, you’ll be okay. 

10. What was the admission process like for DSE? What is the environment like in DSE? How is it different from Xavier’s? Or are there any sort of similarities? 

Genuinely, one of the reasons DSE is easier to get into as compared to other colleges is that they accept around 60 out-of-Delhi, general category students. And that’s a big number! For comparison, ISI and IGIDI accepted around 10 and 30 applicants respectively. Secondly, DSE only has a single MCQ-based examination, while ISI has both a written and an MCQ-based exam. ISI also has a second interview round unlike DSE. Quite naturally, a solely MCQ based paper is much easier than doing a subjective paper and going through an interview.

As I previously mentioned, a definite plus point of DSE is that they release past year papers. In my time, IGIDI did not do so. So, if you can solve these past papers, getting in would not be that difficult. The difficult part begins once you get in. It is because there are 60 general-category non-DU students, 60 general category DU students and another 120 non-general students from across the country. And all the 240 students are very, very smart. 

I went in thinking that I would be able to waltz right through, but it is a genuinely difficult program, especially in the first year. To be honest, DSE must take many students because it is ultimately run by the Delhi University. Like all big universities there are some institutional limitations which must be forced upon the professors. On the other hand, professors tend to prefer as few students as possible because that’s how you really learn. At a master’s level you want to be able to discuss things, interact and spend hours talking about the subject, working on assignments and so much more. That becomes hard when you have 240 people.

The first year is a rat-race, where everyone is just worried sick from trying not to be in that lower second half. You realize later in the second year that if you work regularly, there is no need to worry at all. Nevertheless, one definite takeaway from DSE is that your work ethic improves tremendously because of the amount of work you are doing. In my personal experience, it opens your eyes. I was born and brought up in Bombay, and studied in Xavier’s, so I have only interacted with a limited set of people. But when you go to DU you become open to a whole world of possibilities. You realize that there are people who have left their homes in 6th or 7th grade because they got a scholarship in their village. You really begin to respect that and look at things differently. You interact with people who you would otherwise not have a chance to interact with. All in all, it was a great experience. First year was stressful but after that you are in a much better space to assimilate thoughts and discuss things. 

11. What do you think are some things that can really help an aspiring student stand out from the crowd during the admission process? 

This is in relation to foreign universities as I already discussed the entrance exam requirements for DSE and other Indian Universities.

I had applied to LSE, Columbia, Princeton, and a couple of others. I think the GRE score is overrated. What you really need to do is tell a story and that is where your statement of purpose comes in. It is very easy for someone to lose track while writing the statement of purpose, in an attempt to impress the reader. But what ultimately matters is telling a story of ‘Why you want to do the course and what have you done that will help you achieve that.’ Furthermore, extracurriculars help. You can definitely highlight your achievements and leadership roles but a question that often comes up is “So what? What have you done that would help them as an institute or bear relevance to the course?” It helps to have a prominent background in formal academia. It might mean writing stuff for Arthniti or even assisting professors in any of their works.

Last but not the least, your letter of recommendation also plays a vital role. I have seen a lot of people taking their professors for granted, often telling them about the LORs just a few months before the deadline. I think it’s a little bit unfair because initially you must build a rapport with them. I mean, don’t try to butter up professors from the first year. That rapport can only be built if you have genuine interest in the subject and actively participate.

However, ultimately it does boil down to luck. My personal anecdote would be a good example. I had applied abroad in October to take advantage of the ‘Early applications’ system. I was confident about getting in since there were a greater number of seats available for early applicants. However, as time passed, I did not receive a reply and meanwhile, I had friends who were getting their own offers from LSE. This made me quite nervous. And in January I received an email from LSE saying that I hadn’t replied to their admission confirmation. To my surprise, the admission letter had been lying in my junk folder for two months. On the other hand, I was rejected by Oxford the very same day. And things like this really put into light the importance of the element of luck. 

12. Any tips for students who want to pursue MA Economics? Or join DSE?

I think I have spoken enough about the things that I liked about DSE, but it is also necessary to talk about the things that I didn’t enjoy too much. 

Firstly, a lot of the things that we did in DSE were essentially based on optimization. For example, we were doing first order condition which meant, taking a derivative, equating it to zero, doing some complicated algebra and deciding the optimal tax rate or optimal rate of penalty to prevent bribery etc. But after a point it just became a bit too much. 

Secondly for me it became a bit about excessive modelling. Just to give an analogy: Everyone knows that the value of pi is 22/7. However, in some instances, we assumed pi to be 7 and then delved deeper into its decimal approximations. What was the point of such high accuracy in these approximations that were based on these weird assumptions? And this seemed a little bit fake to me. Making all these assumptions to your model and then solving for an exact optimal point and subsequently deriving a conclusion seemed a bit too much. “What’s the point of detail when you have abstracted away from so many things”.

Thirdly, for people who genuinely want to do a PhD, DSE might not be the best choice. It’s because you have 200 students coming in and you only get an opportunity to properly interact with teachers in the second year when the size of the batch is usually halved. 

Also, if you want to do a PhD abroad, people generally do 1-2 years of research assistance before applying abroad. Even after that, only 1-2 students from DSE manage to get into the Ivy leagues. On the other hand, it’s much easier and to crack an ivy league by doing your masters abroad. I know for a fact that if someone is doing a PhD, time is not a barrier, but saving those extra two or three years does make sense. Thus, if you are keen on doing a PhD, I encourage you to apply abroad directly or even do it through ISI. ISI is genuinely THE place to go if you are inclined towards doing a PhD abroad. A large chunk of their batch is successful in getting into the Harvards and the MITs of the world because of a greater connection between the students and professors. This doesn’t mean that DSE isn’t a great place. Geetha Gopinath, the head of IMF did her masters in DSE. So, I am not saying that you should rule out DSE for a PhD, I am just saying that try not to keep it as a first option.

Edited by:

Shreya Singh (Editor, Econ Declassified)

Saloni Vichare (Editor, Econ Declassified)

Contributors:

Jui Chawan (Writer, Econ Declassified)

Mehak Singh (Writer, Econ Declassified)

Anuj Khare (Writer, Econ Declassified)

Samarth Khanduri (Writer, Econ Declassified)

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