Scottish Graduate Programme in Economics

Lonjezo Sithole

Lonjezo Sithole studied the Econometrics pathway of the SGPE MSc in 2018/19.

Lonjezo Sithole

Why did you choose the Scottish Graduate Programme in Economics?

When deciding where to do my MSc, my main consideration was the reputation and quality of the programme. I wanted ample and rigorous preparation for a potential doctorate in economics at a world-class university. Looking at prospectuses for different economics programs in the UK, it became increasingly clear to me that the Scottish Graduate Programme in Economics at the University of Edinburgh offered some of the highest quality postgraduate degrees in economics in the UK. It also offered a unique and rigorous econometrics pathway.

I was also particularly sold on the fact that the SGPE draws teaching expertise from eight different Scottish universities.  With the best teachers picked from each of the eight universities, I was guaranteed of being taught by some of the finest minds in each course, and that was a huge attraction about SGPE for me. The experience afterwards proved me right.

What attracted you to this programme in particular?

All the postgraduate programmes offered under the SGPE are rigorous and quite demanding, and that’s exactly what I was looking for. In particular, I was drawn to the unique structure of the econometrics pathway. For example, to my knowledge, there is no top UK economics program that offers a separate Bayesian Econometrics course. Under the SGPE, they not only offer the Bayesian econometrics course, but the course is taught by one of the finest Bayesian econometricians in the world, Professor Gary Koop.

The programme also has a healthy mix of theory and application, so it is an excellent preparation whether you are considering tooling up for a career as a professional economist or for doctoral studies. In my case, I am interested in doctoral studies with a focus on econometrics, both theoretical and applied. In retrospect, I couldn’t have chosen a better programme to set me up for this future undertaking.

What did you enjoy most about your time here?

I have a lot of fond memories of my stay in Edinburgh. Edinburgh is an amazing place. The only niggle I had with the city was the cold winter, but I got used to it. The people are generally very nice and friendly.

My favourite place in the city was the Mosque Kitchen, just a stone’s throw from the Central Campus, where I grabbed most of my meals. During study breaks, I would go grab food and have a chat with them.

There were also a lot of other places I used to visit often: Calton Hill, Arthur’s Seat, Portobello Beach, Cramond Island and the Ocean Terminal. For a history buff like me, Edinburgh was also a paradise of sorts. Some of my best memories are the tours around the city to soak up the barely acknowledged legacy of slavery in Scotland and stories of heroes and heroines who gallantly fought against the institution of slavery.

My experience of Hogmanay (end of year festival) was also mighty memorable. I attended arguably the world’s largest street party in Edinburgh, and memories of it are still vivid like it was just yesterday. And towards the end of the academic year, we had the Edinburgh International Festival, which is certainly a welcome reprieve from the gruelling grind of dissertation-writing.

What are your plans for the future?

Just before graduating from the programme, I secured a job as a Consultant with the World Bank Headquarters. My current portfolio involves coordinating allocative efficiency studies for TB and HIV programs in different countries in Eastern and Southern Africa as well as Central Asia, and providing technical backstopping for mathematical modelling exercises that we carry out as part of those studies. My plan is to return to graduate school for a doctorate within the next couple of years.

The MSc equipped me with superior transferable analytical skills that have been extremely crucial in my work. My econometrics training also helps me discern why econometric analysis has not made inroads into these studies when there are various econometric techniques for modelling allocative efficiencies on the shelf. That insight is what I want in order to build better econometric models in future that can find their way into empirical application in organizations such as the World Bank.

The MSc programme has been enormously useful in respect of my future aspirations as an econometrician. My MSc armed me with enough theory and placed me firmly on the research frontier in economics and econometrics, so highly technical papers in top journals are now very accessible. I can spot deficiencies in a good number of the papers I read, and begin to think of ideas for resolving some of those deficiencies.

If you could offer any advice to new or current students, what would it be?

The most important piece of advice is: work very hard. I know it sounds clichéd, but if you want to get excellent grades, there are no two ways about it: you have to put in hours. Do not wait for work to pile up. Try to read through the material after each class. Even if you don’t understand it completely the first time, you still get a sense of what you understand and don’t understand, and then you can plan how to master what you are struggling with. Also try to do the problem sets as much as possible by yourself before going for tutorials. But it’s still important to remember to spare time for recreation. Take care of yourself: sleep well (if you can) and exercise. My favourite exercise was a 40-minute walk from campus back home.

Another piece of advice: don’t see your classmates as competitors. The School is not trying to grade you on a curve. If there are 17 people who deserve distinctions in an academic year, the School will award 17 distinctions. If there is only one person who deserves that award, they will give that one. So, do not see academic achievement as a zero-sum game. This abundance (“the-cake-is-enough-for-everyone”) mentality frees you up to seek help when you need it, and also makes you willing to help others. Which brings me to this open secret: you learn more from helping others. As you teach others, you begin to notice deficiencies in your own understanding of the material that were lurking somewhere but only show up as you try to explain some concepts to someone else.

I also encourage students to make best use of available resources. If you are struggling and need help, use the helpdesks. Meet the tutors. They are so happy to help. If need be, use office hours to speak with the professors about issues you are grappling with. They want students to do very well in their courses and they are therefore very happy to assist. The Postgraduate Office is also extremely helpful. Feel free to speak with the team, they are there for you and if they cannot help they will refer you to resources that you probably didn’t know existed. 

And equally crucially, do not panic. The SGPE programmes are very hard! There are times panic will creep in and you will begin to think you are a fraud. Banish panic. Even though it may seem like some of your classmates are doing far better than you and seem to sail through the coursework without a struggle, remember everyone is struggling in their own way or they will struggle at some point. It may take a while for some of the material to make sense, even into April and towards the May exam diet, but don’t panic. Otherwise, seek help from others, if you are not making any headway in your studies.