A bit about yourself. How you got introduced to and later interested in finance?
I graduated as a Mechanical Engineer from IIT Madras in the year 2019. Just to mention, I got into data science before getting into finance. I wanted a Day 1 intern; Goldman Sachs was Day 1 and was testing predominantly for Data Science and Math. I seem to fit the bar and got selected. To be honest, I had little idea of what I was getting into. It was this very internship through which I got interested in finance.
If this intern built your motivation for pursuing higher studies?
Through this 3 months of internship at GS, I got introduced to the concept of quantitative finance, and I realised that it was aligned to my likings, and it is what I would like to pursue in the future. Also, I wanted to move to the US, especially from my career point of view, as there seems to be a lot going in quantitative finance.
One important thing to mention here is that the thought of pursuing higher studies was always in the back of my mind, whether it would be in CS, statistics etc. But the GS internship experience made the selection of field much clearer.
What were the factors which contributed to your selection at Columbia University?
Selection mechanisms can be complicated to dismantle. But I would give my theory on what would have worked for me. I had a good GRE score, especially in the quant topics, a good CGPA and high grades in the relevant subjects such as Maths, Probability and Quant courses. Apart from these two, one component that can be a deciding factor and a compensator for any of the weak points in your resume is the recommendation. I had recommendation letters both from the faculties and from my internship.
What are the scholarship opportunities available for pursuing masters in Financial Engineering?
Nothing. It’s an MS with an attitude of an MBA. As it provides substantial earning opportunity after graduation, it makes little sense for the university to offer scholarships.
What were the challenges you encountered in the university?
I would like to answer this question in parts. Let’s first consider the academic challenges. Here, I must highlight the importance of maths courses in Financial Engineering, Business Analytics etc. So, I had 6-7 maths courses which were pretty involved but being IITians, we shouldn’t be worried too much about them. The part I found challenging was to process the financial event and boil it down to a mathematical equation. In short, linking the finance and mathematics took some time to get used to.
Can you suggest few courses which can help pursue quantitative finance studies or jobs per se?
Stochastic modelling, Time Series Analysis, Machine Learning can give you a headstart.
Are the certification courses helpful?
They can be helpful but not necessarily needed to get into Financial Engineering.
How was your internship experience as an Asset Manager?
I had an amazing experience during my internships. It was great to be part of a team that is really attached to the company’s core business. You see where the critical decisions are being made, where the company is heading. One more special thing that I experienced was not being treated as an intern but as a full-time employee. Eight months of internship gave me an opportunity to build a vocabulary, to know more about the industry which definitely helped me to make better decisions about the roles.
Being in portfolio management, I got an enormous amount of exposure to multiple aspects like how we interact with clients, talked to prime brokers, worked with fundamental researchers, etc.
What are the job opportunities available to a Financial Engineering postgraduate?
I would like to highlight one fact the US job market is tough. It required skills I never had before, the skills to go out and get a job as opposed to opportunities come to you like in insti. In such a scenario, you can either be a generalist, the one who is good at everything and a specialist who is extremely good at a particular thing. I preferred the second one, I had an inclination towards hedge funds, and my skills were aligned to the industry’s requirements. Skills such as data science, python, knowledge about how the bank works etc., are indeed very useful in the hedge fund industry.
Apart from hedge funds, the financial engineering degree also opens up opportunities in the banking sector, Fintech sectors. If you have relevant experience and relevant electives pertaining to the requirements of the industry of your liking, it will definitely be helpful.
In Masters, you have to gear your profile towards one particular industry. This you can do by taking relevant electives, working as a research intern, projects, competition etc. One thing to note here that, If you are unsure about what you want, you will lag behind the person with the same skillsets but with awareness of his/her interests.
With so many options available, how can one decide which career path will work best for me?
I would suggest you start a bit early, research on different paths, talk to a different set of people, do thought experiments. All in all, predict the options and ready with the selection before actual choices are presented to you because when they are, you will really have a small amount of time to make a robust decision.
Still, many people would struggle or couldn’t figure everything out in the first go? So, in such cases, will they have opportunities to switch careers?
The best thing about financial engineering is that people come from diverse backgrounds; this symbolises that skills required for quant finance job are
ubiquitous; they are coding, maths, analytics etc. If you work in a division of quant finance domain, you will eventually gain the skills and shifting to other divisions wouldn’t be that hard.
Don’t worry that you will be choked in terms of your career opportunities after doing Financial Engineering.
What will be your advice to the “insti” students?
Life is long, don’t try to figure it out fast. You can’t, and you shouldn’t.