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Independent study: you have everything you need!


Written by
Omar E.

My experience at the prestigious Carroll Round was hugely rewarding, and reinforced the benefits of distance learning with the University of London. 

Omar giving his presentation at the Carroll Round.

How has the DACA program in the United States helped social mobility? (Dartmouth College); How does an additional female legislator affect spending on education in the United States? (Georgetown University); Do better institutions in China help with the problem of "missing women"? (University of California, Berkeley); Did the displacement of jobs in the United States really cause the high demand for opiates? (Harvard University); How did the slave trade affect state formation in Africa? (Georgetown University); Did the ancient nomadic travel routes in Asia have a long-term effect on the economy? (NYU Abu Dhabi).

All these questions were addressed at the Carroll Round conference in mid-April. About 20 senior undergraduate students of all backgrounds, carefully selected from nearly 100 submissions, met at Georgetown University to discuss their research. Diveena, studies at Warwick and is about to join Barclays London as an investment banking analyst; Yi Ying, originally from Singapore, had just accepted an offer to study a Master's degree in Econometrics and Mathematical Economics at LSE; Dustin joined the Princeton Program in Public Economics as a pre-doctoral researcher before applying for doctoral programs in economics, he has just finished his bachelor's degree at Harvard. Each of the 20 students in the Carroll Round were authentic economics researchers.

So what about me? I am a distance learning student of Economics and Politics at the University of London, doing independent economics research. I was fortunate to find the International Programmes of the University of London, almost by chance, when I was looking to study at University in Mexico. The free planning of my time allowed me to study R in Coursera and get a job with a researcher, who is now at Harvard. That's right - the independent study at the University of London has allowed me to self-study all the subjects I am interested in. Some of the further skills I have been able to learn include programming in Stata and using Tensorflow for artificial intelligence. This led me to win awards for academic research in Mexico, to co-founding an NGO that seeks to fight against corruption, speaking at conferences in Argentina and Colombia, and finally, reaching the prestigious Carroll Round.

Don’t get me wrong, my path has been complicated, difficult, and with each success I have had many failures! But what I want to show you is that it is possible for each of us to do great things. In the Carroll Round, I was asked how many hours I travelled from London, implying that I would have spent many hours on a plane. My answer was "In fact, just three and a half hours from Mexico City, because I study remotely at the University of London." The students from Harvard, Dartmouth, Berkeley, and even LSE, were astonished. I felt like I didn’t belong, but their response surprised me: "Really, you distance study and you managed to be accepted in the Carroll Round?", "You must be the first distance student in the history of the Carroll Round".

I remembered then that no one from a Mexican university had ever made it to the Carroll Round, this is no coincidence. I arrived at the Carroll Round not just through talent, I arrived because I learned to study independently, without attending face-to-face classes. I used books, online classes, articles and a range of other media. The University of London taught me not to depend on face-to-face classes, and showed me that all I need is a good number of courses (provided through the VLE), an online library and most importantly, curiosity. So, thank you University of London!

I hope that if you take anything from this brief piece, it will be this: You are already an independent student, so congratulations - you already took a big step, to learn the hard way. So use it, learn freely and remember that you have all the tools you need.

Omar is studying BSc Mathematics and Economics by distance learning in Mexico.