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Breaking into top US universities with economics as discipline

Stories of three successful Bangladeshi graduates


| Updated: June 13, 2022 19:38:16


Breaking into top US universities with economy as discipline

Economics, being at the crossroads of Humanities, Science and Business, has a huge potential when it comes to research and higher education.

The rising number of students choosing economics for their higher education speaks volumes about the discipline's potential.

Sakib Sharaf Protik, Farzana Shirin and Marzuka Tartil Esha are three students of the discipline who are getting their higher education abroad. The writer has been in conversations with them about the discipline's ins and outs, regarding the opportunities it offers to go for higher study abroad.

PhD at Virginia Tech

Sakib Sharaf Protik, a student of the Department of Economics at the University of Dhaka, is currently pursuing his PhD at Virginia Tech.

Protik, who directly got into the PhD programme after completing his Bachelor's degree told the writer regarding his journey,

"The plan started roughly in 2020, after the pandemic. Initially, I planned to do my MSS but eventually, I ditched that for my PhD. I started to look for GRE materials and also saw that Master's programmes in the USA usually don't give as many funding opportunities as the PhDs."

Talking about whether he was passionate about the subject, Protik said,

"I won't say I was passionate, but definitely, I had some fondness for economics. DU economics didn’t give me the exposure and the tools to work with, to be frank, but still, there are some good and cherishable memories that I can look back to."

Planning for GRE and getting a good enough GRE score and statement of purpose are very important for getting a funded admission.

"I gave the GRE a bit late as I was still confused and unsure whether to finish my Master’s and then go abroad or just go for my PhD directly. So after the GRE, I had to work quickly to write my SOP and also manage the LORs."

"I'll suggest taking the GRE very seriously, especially the quant part. I also suggest giving GRE at least within October so that you can have ample time to focus on your university application."

Talking about his overall life experience in the USA, Protik mentioned that the education culture there is exemplary and rigorous, so there are frustrations sometimes.

"But, I'm enjoying myself. The air is much cleaner and the food is healthy. Can't complain."

From the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Farzana Shirin, another graduate of the Department of Economics, University of Dhaka is currently a PhD student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Talking about the starting point of her journey toward PhD, she said,

"When I was in middle school, I came to know about the potato bumper harvest of Bangladesh in the newspaper. The next day the news channels broadcasted how this resulted in a fall in potato price and brought about misery for the farmers."

"That observation of the ‘paradox of bumper harvest’ was my first encounter with applied Economics."

Farzana also mentioned, "I started with a basic interest in Economics in middle school. My favourite course throughout was International Trade. But it wasn’t until the Development Economics course at DU Econ which stirred my interest in the specialisation."

Presenting research at an international conference early on and growing interest in the application of the theories she learned, prompted her to apply for higher education.

"I knew I wanted more training and dive into the world of research. I planned accordingly and got into my dream PhD programme in the Fall of 2018," she remarked.

When asked about the means of preparation and the overall condition of life of PhD students in the United States, she said,

"For Economics graduate programs, the quantitative score in GRE is crucial. The higher the better and it’s always safe to have it above 165. Getting in is just a speck, so much to consider about what follows."

One should keep in mind that graduate degrees, especially PhDs require a big commitment and grit. The top things to always keep track of during graduate studies are: maintaining a healthy work-life balance, avoiding isolation and remembering your purpose."

Graduate life in the US is both challenging and here one competes and learns from the best of the best. However, it allows you to develop as an individual and be independent in more than one aspect of life, thinks Farzana.

"The best part is the opportunity to experience such a diverse environment and to collaborate with fellow passionate economists: the kind of fulfilment to strive for."

For both Sakib and Farzana, their undergraduate CGPA played a big role in their journey as they were among the top students in the department.

CGPA couldn't spoil the fun

Unlike the other two, Marzuka Tartil Esha's story is a bit different. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree at Indiana University. Her undergraduate CGPA was not extraordinarily high.

"I was born and raised in Dhaka and spent my entire academic life here. I didn’t want to stay in science anymore, hence this decision," said Marzuka about taking Economics.

"I was always adamant about getting higher education abroad, whatever my discipline was going to be. At a very young age, I came to know about Mohammad Zafar Iqbal’s student life in the USA which inspired me even more."

Marzuka was involved in a lot of extracurricular activities at DU and she believes that she didn’t study as much as she should have.

"I also had to retake an exam four times before passing and graduating. All these events made me reconsider my goal of getting a higher education abroad."

However, she found her inspiration to come back to her goal noticing a friend of her going abroad for higher education with a slight better CGPA than her.

"So, I started preparing for GRE and everything. My IELTS score was pretty good, but due to extreme exam anxiety, my GRE score was not as good as it should have been. But with good recommendations and a solid statement of purpose, anything is possible."

However, she leaves some warning remarks for the aspirants.

"Life here is stressful. I personally have to study 40 hours a week and also have to work 20 hours to support myself."

"But I am enjoying the education here which is quite unlike the one in Bangladesh where a few exams carry a lot of marks that will decide your fate."

You should have a clear goal if you are looking to get a degree abroad, as it is a lot of pressure.

"Also having a strong command of the English language as well as being consistent and not giving up on your goal despite all the obstacles are some of the things which are essential," Marzuka concluded.

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