Case study

Assistant economist — Cameron Levy

Cameron studied for an MSc in Development Economics at SOAS, University of London and now works for the Department for Transport (DfT)

What do you do at the DfT?

I currently work in the department's aviation directorate, specifically on matters related to airport capacity. As an economist, this means doing analytical work such as cost-benefit analysis to support policy decisions across the directorate, and communicating the results in a straightforward, comprehensible matter.

My previous rotation was in the department's central analytical unit. I was involved in some of the department's most high-profile business cases, providing economic advice on projects such as HS2 and the Lower Thames Crossing.

You applied through the Civil Service Fast Stream - what did you make of the process?

It's definitely not for the fainthearted. There were five stages to pass over the course of four months. The apex of this is the infamous Fast Stream assessment centre, where you're tested in various ways from decision-making in groups, to role-play as a team leader managing a government project.

As an economist, you do a further assessment testing your technical skills, which is where doing an MSc in Development Economics at SOAS really came in handy.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The culture of learning and development.

It cannot be overstated how much emphasis people put on training within the department, with line managers making sure you dedicate a good amount of time each month to improving your skills. For example, I am currently on a VBA (coding for Microsoft Office) course, having identified this as a development need for my current role. Training isn't confined to hard skills. Many of my colleagues attend courses on programme management, team leadership and communication with ministers. I've also been able to shape my work to help me develop these skills on the job.

How did your studies help you in your chosen field?

I doubt I would have been able to cope with the technical aspects of my role without having been to SOAS, with the modules in quantitative methods really bringing me up to the level needed to be a professional economist.

The culture of challenging the status quo at SOAS has also helped immensely in both my roles at DfT, in terms of knowing when to make a point and how to back it up with robust evidence.

What was your favourite module?

I'm a big fan of microeconomics, specifically problems of asymmetric information (when different people, businesses and governments have different levels of knowledge about economic transactions). The SOAS module in microeconomics let me delve into this in greater detail than I had previously, learning about information problems in the developing world and how innovative methods and policies can serve to remedy this.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Being an SOAS alumnus I have a great interest in international development, making work at the Department for International Development a natural goal. Being quite knowledgeable of the trade versus aid debate from my time at SOAS, I'd love to see how these policies are formulated in practice.

Beyond that I hope to still be working in the public sector in some shape or form, perhaps with a charity or think-tank.

Any advice for those thinking of going down the same route?

Something I'm very glad I did even before sending off my application was sit down and really think about where I wanted to apply to, and why. I can't tell you how many people I've spoken to who wait until the last minute to send off applications, and end up either missing the deadline or filling in an application that isn't up to scratch. Something as simple as sitting down the summer before applications open and writing down where you want to apply to, what the deadline is, and how long you're going to dedicate to each application can do wonders.

Don't forget to use all the resources at your disposal - I had my application read-over by the SOAS careers service and had a practice interview before the assessment centre, without which I doubt I would have been accepted onto the Fast Stream.

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