Career Fair at NYU Lures 300+ Financial Math Students

December 1, 2005

On October 31, the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, New York University, hosted the fifth National Financial Mathematics Career Fair. More than 300 students, all nearing completion of professional master's degrees in financial mathematics/engineering, had the chance to meet with representatives of 23 financial institutions--including Bear Stearns, JPMorgan Chase, Lehman Brothers, Barclays, Amaranth, Bloomberg, and Morgan Stanley. The International Association of Financial Engineers and SIAM joined NYU in sponsoring the event.

The students were enrolled in programs at 24 graduate institutions, including Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Chicago, Cornell, Columbia, the University of Toronto, UC Berkeley, and NYU. Consistent with their designation as "professional," the programs take placement of their graduates very seriously. In the words of Robert Kohn of NYU, who has taught in the Courant program since its inception, students enter the program "to get a job, not a piece of paper."

As if in confirmation, the moderator of the panel discussion that opened the fair was a former student in the NYU program who accepted an attractive offer from a Wall Street firm while still a student. The panel discussion--How I Became a Quant--was followed by the main event: interviews with representatives of the firms.

Interviews were of two types. For the first, which were very short and fairly public, representatives of participating firms were stationed at tables in a basketball court-sized arena; long lines of students snaked away from some of the big-name tables. More in-depth interviews, held in a separate, more secluded space, grew out of the resume book (covering all registered students) sent to participating firms a few weeks before the fair. Firms had scheduled interviews with students in whom they were particularly interested.

Offers of jobs, of course, are not extended on the spot. Some soon-to-graduate students already had job offers at the time of the fair, in many cases at the firms at which they did internships. A small sample of programs contacted by SIAM News report that, in general, substantial majorities of their students go on to find employment in the financial industry.

Linda Kreitzman, director of the program at Berkeley, which began in 2001, has attended the career fair in New York for the last few years. Unusual for being located in the business school, the Berkeley program is typical in other respects: good placement record (about 95% of students have jobs within about two months of graduation, ac-cording to Kreitzman) and a required internship (on completion of three quarters of the coursework, at firms all over the world).

"The success of the program is going to lie ultimately in how well we place the students," Kreitzman said in a phone conversation with SIAM News. The placement office at Berkeley is geared toward MBAs, she pointed out; they don't really understand the skills offered by a graduate with a master's degree in financial math. For this reason, she and other program faculty largely handle placement themselves.

The Berkeley students, who enter the program with strong backgrounds (a PhD in about 20% of the current class of 59 students) in math, computer science, or economics, have varied career interests. Many set their sights on trading jobs, Kreitzman said; others are interested in portfolio management, and some want to do research.

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