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Part time PhD route: studying in Scotland, living Stateside

By Saeed Zaman - Posted on 13 July 2022

Saeed Zaman completed his PhD via a part time route at Strathclyde while working in the USA. Here, he explains what compelled him to do it and how he found the experience.

Prior to my enrolment into Strathclyde’s PhD programme in the Department of Economics, in my role as an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, I had been advancing my research agenda alongside my contributions to policy. This research agenda included making progress on policy-relevant research for eventual publication both as working papers and journal articles, presenting research at academic conferences, and refereeing journal articles.

Even though I had been able to make these contributions without a PhD, I thought completing the degree would significantly strengthen the skills that support these activities and help me gain credibility within the research community of academia and the economics profession more broadly.

I opted for Strathclyde for three main reasons. Most importantly, I would be supervised by Professor Gary Koop, a world-renowned Bayesian econometrician. There was also flexibility in the PhD coursework - the required coursework was structured in such a way that faculty-led instruction would be of one-week duration, and then deliverables weren’t due until a few weeks later. This was crucial as I could travel to Glasgow for one week for the period of instructor-led training and subsequently make progress on the deliverables from my home in Cleveland. The required tuition fees were reasonable and, for a part-time PhD student, were well within my employer’s annual tuition reimbursement limit.

I took about 3.5 years to complete my PhD via the part time route, successfully defending my thesis in late August 2021 and, in November 2021, I formally graduated with the degree.

Although I worked in the US while studying in Scotland, it worked out well. I say this because roughly 70 percent of my work responsibilities (research component) overlapped with my PhD dissertation research. In other words, making progress on dissertation research also counted towards making progress on my work-related research. The flexibility of the Strathclyde PhD programme and the fact that my supervisors were very accessible via virtual means, such as email and Zoom, made a very smooth and productive educational experience.

Had I not been around people doing academic research at my workplace, it would have been a less smooth journey because it would have been less motivating to make progress on PhD research. The fact that I was surrounded by colleagues doing academic and policy-relevant research more than compensated for the time away from my PhD colleagues and the Strathclyde faculty. Importantly, I had lots of support from my management on this journey, which kept me motivated to continue making reasonable progress.

For people who are not fond of traveling, the limited number of trips required to the Strathclyde campus (in my case from the east coast of the US) may make it a bit difficult and costly but I didn’t mind travelling and I looked forward to my visits to the Strathclyde campus.

In the first two years, I travelled twice to Scotland. In the last two years, because of the COVID pandemic, I didn’t travel but frequently met my supervisors virtually via zoom. In the first two years, in addition to meeting my supervisors at Strathclyde twice a year, I would also meet my primary supervisor at some academic conferences. Overall, I did a lot of it virtually. It worked surprisingly well and huge credit goes to my supervisors Gary Koop and Julia Darby for this.

In my role at Cleveland Fed, I do analytical and policy-relevant research that involves developing macroeconomic models to forecast, and nowcast (which is very short-term forecasting) aggregate macroeconomic variables, such as inflation, the unemployment rate, real GDP, and interest rates. Often, I will present my findings at some academic conference venue or seminars. Since obtaining my PhD, I have been promoted to research economist, which means I continue to do the work I have been doing, but now I must publish in academic journals on a routine basis.

These views are Saeed’s own and not those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland or the Federal Reserve System.

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