Alumni profile - Kajal Kumar
The field of economics is male dominated and it becomes more so as you progress to higher levels, but the profession is trying hard to attract more women. I hope that the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences which was given to a woman, inspires other women to enter the profession like I have.
What did you study at Queen Mary and what are you doing now? I studied BSc (Hons) Economics at Queen Mary. After that I went on to do a MSc Economics at UCL because I enjoyed the subject so much. I currently work in economic consulting at CRU (a mining and metals research consultancy). I am also taking time out from my job to start an MRes in Economics at UCL very soon!
What is it about Economics that you love so much? I recently met with senior Economics and Finance lecturer Yioryos Makedonis who admitted that Economics (the degree and the field in general) can sometimes be male dominated. Did you face any difficulties as a woman studying / pursuing your passion for Economics? Economics is such a broad subject, but once you find the corner of the subject that resonates with you, it becomes much more interesting. After studying labour economics, I got intrigued with youth unemployment, over-education, skills mismatch – these topics felt relevant and critical, which made me want to study further and do research.
Yes, I agree that the field is male dominated and it becomes more so as you progress to higher levels, from 40% female at Undergraduate to just 20% female at research level. Although, there is no such difficulty – male classmates can be very accommodating – it becomes hard to see yourself as a successful economist if there are no women mentors, and this might mean you give up more easily. The key reason for male domination is that economics is portrayed wrong, people think it’s all about money and finance. Women aren’t entering because these issues don’t resonate with them. But in reality, economics is also about fighting poverty, labour market policies, education reform, issues that might resonate more with women. The profession is trying hard to attract more women, and I hope that the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences which was given to a woman, inspires other women to enter the profession.
Why did you choose to study at Queen Mary? What do you think is unique about Queen Mary compared to other universities? Queen Mary is unique because it is such a vibrant community, you get people from all over the world studying there. Our diversity is one the best parts of studying here. Before choosing Queen Mary, I came to an open day and instantly felt welcome and part of the university – the staff were friendly, the student ambassadors were helpful, and things just felt genuine. Apart from this, it was campus based and in London! A combination you don’t often get. The canal made it feel like home and I didn’t have to walk miles to get from one class to the next.
How did your time and study at Queen Mary help your career and development? Graduating from Queen Mary in 2017, I felt that I had gained so much more than a degree. I had friends from every corner of the world and good relationships with staff in the school who inspired me to further my studies, built my interest in economics and supported me. With help from QMSU, I had established the Fashion Society on campus, which is bigger than ever today. I had the opportunity to work with the Queen Mary marketing and comms team to develop student communications, volunteer as an ambassador, become a course rep, a PASS mentor and study abroad! All this together helped me build my transferrable skills, in communication, leadership, time management, research, analysis and teamwork – all skills I use in my consulting role and in academia.
How does it feel that something you created (the Fashion Society) is still thriving today? Did you encounter any difficulties setting up your own society? Would you encourage other current and future students to set up their own society too? It feels unreal! When I first started the society, I didn’t know what to expect, and when we had 60 people at the first welcome event, I realised it was going to be big. Fashion resonates with everyone in a unique way, so I’m not surprised the society has grown to what it is today. And yes, it was difficult setting up the society, there was a lot of paperwork, designing a logo, marketing a brand-new society and given most of us were in our second year, we had a lot of studying to do too. But it was so much fun and I learnt a lot! I knew some staff at QMSU and had an amazing group of friends who formed my committee and helped me through it all.
If you’re thinking of starting a society, I couldn’t recommend it more. It is hard work, but in the end its worth it when you see your members smile and it really shapes your university experience. Not to mention, the friends you make and the legacy you leave behind. Someone special told me, you know something has succeeded when you leave, and things are able to run without you. And Fashion society is definitely living up to that, so well done to all involved!
Where did you study abroad? What did you learn from your experience of studying abroad? I did a summer abroad at the University of California, Berkeley, after my second year. It was one of the most spontaneous, scary, but best decisions in my life. I know that sounds cliché, but honestly, I had never lived abroad by myself before, and I had always wanted to visit sunny California. It was like a dream there, every day was sunny and happy, I took courses that I loved (microeconomics and econometrics) and I made friends for life, one of whom I met when he visited Paris last year. I learnt not only economics, but important life skills; the simple things like making my bed which I never did at home, ha! I also got to experience a different culture and loved it. Now, every summer I try to experience a new culture.
Is there any advice you would give to current students or recent graduates considering their career options? The best advice I ever got, and I would give, is to be open and don’t be scared. I was often scared of trying new things, applying to jobs/courses which I thought were ‘too good’ for me. With the help of supportive lecturers, who believed in me and encourage me even to this day, I started to believe in myself and apply for things. At the end of the day you can say ‘at least I tried’ even if you don’t get the job. But often that isn’t the case, and you’ll be surprised how good life becomes when you start believing in yourself. I started the first year of university thinking I would go into investment banking, but soon discovered it didn’t make me happy, so I worked with academics in SEF as a research assistant and found my passion in economic research. So, keep your options open, don’t constrain yourself to one type of job and try new things. Have fun with your career, there’s so much you can do!
Why is it exciting to do what you do? I loved talking to people, helping them make decisions and bringing a smile to their face, that’s when I knew that consulting was for me. But I also loved economics, research and the world of academia, which is why I didn’t give up on furthering my knowledge through my masters and research work. My role in consulting also allows me to apply economics to real world problems in the mining and metals industry. You don’t need to pick one passion; you can do it all. I was inspired by some of the best lecturers who taught me during my undergraduate at Queen Mary – Yioryos Makedonis, Guglielmo Volpe, Stepana Lazarova, PhD students and numerous others. They sparked my interest in economics and made me want to learn more, challenge myself, question things and most importantly believe in myself. They are wonderful people, and if you are lucky enough to have them teach you, you’re in for a treat!
Would you encourage students to do a masters after their undergraduate degree? What were your motivations for your further study? If you’re interested in your subject or want to specialise – then yes, do a masters! Masters courses are great for digging deeper into a certain aspect of your subject which you found interesting at undergraduate level, but only just brushed the surface of. Masters courses often have a research component, so are also good if you want to get a flavour of research. I personally did it out of love for the subject. In my final year at Queen Mary, I did a course in labour economics which fascinated me, but it was short and only touched the surface. I wanted to learn more, so I did a masters and specialised in labour! I also had great mentors and lecturers who motivated me to be my best and pursue a masters.
What was so special about your time at Queen Mary? Can you give one or two examples of your most memorable moments? My time at Queen Mary will always be a fond and unforgettable memory. Every time I come back to campus it still feels like home. If I had to pick just a few memorable moments, they would surely involve: interning with the QMUL marketing and comms team on various projects such as the Queen Mary University of London app, newsletter, and snapchat filter; when Fashion society won best new society at the QMSU society awards; being a student ambassador during numerous open days, welcome weeks and taster days; and writing blogs for SEF. The latter two memories were especially special, because it was such a nice feeling helping new students or prospective students, giving them advice and making them feel as welcome as I had been made to feel when I attended Queen Mary open days. The joy that Queen Mary gave me motivated me to become an alumni volunteer – I recently came back to campus to give a talk at the open day, and I am engaged in the QMentoring scheme, helping keen students learn about consulting.
Do you have any role models that you look up to, both inside and outside of your field? Firstly, I look up to a few of my lecturers, who have always been there for me and still are. They taught me, believed in me, supported me and got me to where I am today. That’s why teaching is such a noble profession, it really does change lives. I hope I can do the same and be there for someone.
Secondly, after reading her book ‘Becoming’, Michelle Obama has become a huge role model to me. Her journey from a small town, to law school and a career in a big law firm which she quit to follow her dreams and do something meaningful in the charity sector, is beyond inspiring. Many people see their job as something they dread and a means to make money, even if they feel its meaningless. We need to break this stigma. She has taught me to do something you love and settle for nothing less. Her passion for helping people and the community is something I will always look up to and aspire to do.