Toan Nguyen on receiving a life-changing economics scholarship

Published8 April 2021

Dr Toan Nguyen was the inaugural recipient of the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre PhD Scholarship in 2015 and is the centre’s very first PhD graduate.

Why did you want to become an economist?

I was a software engineer before I moved to economics. What interested me in economics was one day when I was a software engineer, I realised that I needed to know more about how the country allocated resources, and how the country can grow and provide more support to disadvantaged groups. Some days I would read news articles that talked about economic growth and labour mobility, and I wanted to know about it in more systematic ways, that’s why I chose economics.

What was the focus of your PhD?

My PhD consisted of three essays, and the three essays linked together to assess the economics of immigration in Australia.

In the first essay I assessed the roles of migration policies in allocating immigrants to match with regional labour shortages in the commodity cycle in Australia.

In the second essay, I addressed how immigration affects the labour market outcomes of Australian-born workers. There have been some bad things said about immigration in Australia, for example by anti-immigration groups, but we have no source of rigorous evidence about the labour market impacts of immigration in Australia.

My third essay focuses on internal migration and what drives people to migrate internally within Australia.

Toan Nguyen and Curtin Chancellor Andrew Crane

What did it mean to you to receive the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre PhD Scholarship?

The BCEC PhD Scholarship is the thing that really changed my life. I was born in a disadvantaged-background family in Vietnam. I worked hard and became a software engineer and I had a dream that I needed to improve my knowledge in the fields of economics. My parents are farmers, and when I informed my Dad that I got a very good scholarship to Australia, he cried. That night he could not sleep because he never imagined that his son could go to a country like Australia to study.

I’m really thankful for the scholarship that gave me a huge chance in my life and provided me the opportunity to learn more about economics, to contribute more to society and do the thing that I really love.

What did you enjoy about studying with the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre?

BCEC provides great support; my supervisors and colleagues here were all very supportive. You sit in the office together and you know how people work in a real environment, not isolated in little rooms. And the team here is very highly qualified. They encouraged critical thinking and urged me to be more creative and approach interesting topics.

What is your top tip for anyone else undertaking a PhD?

From my experience, the PhD journey isn’t about who is smarter than others, it’s about how you pursue your dreams and build resilience. Keep following the topics and understand that you need to work hard and never give up and you will get there.

What are your plans now?

I love academia and I have many excellent colleagues that I can learn from. I plan to publish more in high quality journals, teach and apply for grants. I want to do more meaningful work for society, learn more about the fields of the economics of immigration so that I can provide rigorous evidence about the benefits and costs of immigration to Australia so that we can improve the system.