Rahi Islam is an Economist at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and has worked on issues ranging from achieving peace in Syria to helping poorer countries get access to money to tackle climate change. He completed his undergraduate in Economics from the University of Surrey with a semester abroad at the University of Hong Kong. He completed his masters in Economics from the University of Cambridge.
Why did you choose to study economics?
Economics was everywhere you looked on the news when I was growing up! I spent my teenage years living through the aftermath of the financial crisis and the age of austerity, things weren’t much better abroad with the Arab Spring a direct consequence of inequality and marginalisation. I wanted to understand why these things happened and what we could do to fix it – and that motivation is still there!
How would you describe economics?
Economics is a generalist’s toolkit – though it can feel super abstract when you study weird looking graphs in school, economics is applicable to all the world’s problems, both big and small. It is relevant to almost all current events and so if you look at the biggest challenges the world faces and think I want to tackle that – there are few degrees which can prepare you better than studying economics. You can work on loads of different issues, varying from statistical models to help firms make better investment decisions to how the government can help people get into work! There really is something for everyone whether you’re a maths nerd or more of an essay type person.
If you had a time machine and could meet your 16-year-old self, what advice would you give them?
I understand the pressure of wanting to have everything figured out as soon as possible and to know what you want to do – but you have time on your side! Being a student isn’t just about studying and preparing for exams it’s about discovering new things, finding what you love and enjoying yourself! Try new things and as many different things as you can and you will find what was meant for you. Until then, don’t stress and enjoy the journey because there is so much fun to be had at both school and uni.
What is your favourite part of economics?
It’s hard to pick but I love political economy analysis and international economics – understanding how politics and the decisions governments and bodies like the UN make are influenced by economics. More broadly, I take huge pride in knowing I am a part of that bigger machine of economists, statisticians, education advisors, healthcare specialists, engineers etc helping to make the world a better place.
Is there anything you would do differently if you had the chance?
Probably studied a little harder at A-levels but also change my mindset when going into uni – I went through clearing for my undergrad and was really disappointed at first, and because of my negative mindset I missed out on a lot of great opportunities in my first year. Sure, things might not go to plan but if you keep plugging away and focus on the opportunities ahead of you instead of the ones you missed you can do even better than you originally planned! Also don’t be intimidated by big opportunities or shy away from chances because you don’t think you’re good enough – you are and there are loads of programmes/scholarships to help you make that step up.