Master’s In Finance: Monika Tran, UCLA (Anderson)

Student Name: Monika Tran

Graduate Business School: UCLA Anderson School of Management

Describe Yourself In 15 Words: A European-born Asian, passionate female empowerment advocate, and a trading-to-consulting career switcher. 

Master’s Graduation Class: 2019.

Undergraduate School and Major: University College London, Mathematics and Management Studies.

Current Employer and Job Title:  ZS Associates, Decision Analytics Associate. 

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I am most proud that I have been able to continually make transitions in my career that allow me to explore new areas of learning and growth. I am proud of the work I accomplished in the financial field, such as sales and trading at Citi, deals at PwC and market risk management at AIG, and am looking forward to building a career around my passions and rounding out my skill set. 

As a consultant, part of my job responsibility is to give high-level strategy advice to corporations using data analytics and machine learning tools. Coming straight out of business school, I am excited that I can work with highly qualified and influential people who treat me equally and won’t hesitate to discuss a problem they are facing. This is a big plus for me as we don’t see that very often in corporate culture. Consulting, from day one on your very first project, will enable you to lead the project team, provide direct analysis for clients’ solutions and even work directly with senior clients — you won’t get that opportunity so early elsewhere!

Describe your biggest accomplishment as a graduate student: Five MFE students and I were selected to participate in the annual Rotman International Trading Competition, a three-day simulated market challenge held in Toronto, Canada. The competition is a great platform to test your quantitative acumen, fast-paced thinking and understanding of the financial markets. The six cases for the competition were released a month before the final competition. We had to use skills gained from the program to figure out some quantitative trading strategies. We had a month to build the models that we would then use during our three-day live trading simulation. The competition was also happening during the winter quarter when the academic workload is the highest and you’re looking for a summer internship. Nevertheless, we were consistently building our strategy and models and practicing them on a daily basis. All the effort paid off when I was the 2nd highest trader for one category and as a team, we achieved the best result in the history of Anderson’s MFE program at the 17-year-old competition.

Having noticed that most teams attending the competition relied on the models and experience of the older students, we also decided to coach the future team of MFEs that would go to that competition the following year. We designed a structure, through which we could select the best 6 candidates out of 80 students. One of the selection processes was actually an open outcry (as this was a key part of the competition as well). We saw how the participants were excited about this sort of organized chaos while everyone was shouting their bid/ask prices and we wanted to test the future MFE team on that. After selecting the team, we helped train them for the following three months. This allowed them to be better prepared for the competition. 

What was the key factor that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? MFE at Anderson is one of the rare Financial Engineering programs globally that occurs within the business school. Pursuing a master’s degree, I not only wanted to develop my technical skills, but I also sought to enhance my soft skills further. I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to meet people from different age groups, countries, and backgrounds who are simultaneously learning mathematical finance and advanced-level programming while having the resources of a business school as well as one of the biggest universities in the U.S. One quarter, I even audited one of the dance major classes! Having grown up in Poland and studied in London, I was eager for the warm and sunny weather!

What led you to choose a Master’s in Financial Engineering over an MBA? Having interned in the Sales & Trading division at Citi and Nomura, I realized that applying my technical knowledge to the field of finance is highly satisfying. It instilled in me the necessary problem solving and analytical abilities and further motivated me to study applications in mathematics, especially under real-world conditions. 

Learning how to develop and implement mathematical models while conducting data analysis and understanding the trends and patterns of the global economy, fueled my interest in pursuing MFE. I wanted to build on my technical knowledge of mathematics and understand how it can be applied in the real world, particularly right out of my undergraduate studies as my mind was used to “soaking in” the information. I wanted to use this opportunity to foster my learning.

What has been your favorite course and how has it helped you in your career? Data Analytics and Machine Learning with Professor Lars Lochstoer. This course had a perfect combination of theoretical and hands-on learning. With each class I was learning more and more models and I could implement my knowledge in the practical project at the end of the course. The decision-making-oriented models and predictive analytics theory I learned in the course now allow me to use unstructured data to understand clients’ dynamic business issues. Driving analysis and problem solving at ZS essentially allows me to guide decision-making for my clients and team and investigate and inform my clients’ needs.

 What role did your school play in helping you to land your first job out of the program? The MFE program’s career services office, especially Sheila Benko, organized many talks by professionals from different fields in finance which gave us great insights into the industry, connected us to alumni, and from the orientation week prepared us for quantitative interviews. From numerous career workshops to one-on-one coaching, I was able to take the next step in my career.

How did your classmates enhance the value of your business school experience? We had a wide range of academic, career and cultural backgrounds. Being one of the youngest students in my program, I was continuously learning from my classmates – I loved that we had people like myself who joined right after getting our undergraduate degrees as well as people with eight years of experience. 

Several of my peers from the MFE program inspired me to challenge myself with new opportunities. In particular, I would like to give recognition to Juan Ferreyra Máspero, who is one of the most driven, hardworking and brilliant people I’ve worked with. His ambition and results-oriented character have motivated me immensely throughout the length of the MFE course.

Who was your favorite faculty member and how did this person enrich your learning? It’s really hard to choose! I enjoyed Professor Lochstoer’s lectures, because I admired his emphasis on understanding and knowing how to apply the theory quickly to different scenarios, instead of focusing on memorizing institutional details. 

Also, I really appreciated the program coordinator’s help in implementing my idea of creating the first-ever mentorship program for MFEs. I really valued her patience and diligence while listening to my idea about the buddy program. Being an international student myself, I knew how challenging it can be to move to another country far away from your family and friends. I wanted to create a connection on campus for prospective and new students, someone they could turn to no matter what issues they were facing, whether it’s the feeling of homesickness, being overloaded with the amount of coursework or figuring out how to get settled in LA. I am most energized by forging deep connections with others and few things are better than hearing my fellow students say that I have made them feel like part of the MFE family.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s graduate Master’s program? Get outside of your comfort zone! Talking to strangers might be daunting, but the online webinars and conversations with current students and recent alumni will let you solve any uncertainties and questions you might have. Everyone will be happy to help you, as long as you reach out. 

What was your best memory from your Master’s program? Apart from many competitions, nights at the libraries (surprisingly this is when I bonded with my classmates the most) or occasional evening outings, I really enjoyed “Anderson Afternoons.” It’s a social event occurring every Thursday with all Anderson students (MBA, MSBA, MFE) that allows students from different Anderson programs to get together and unwind from a busy week over some delicious food and a glass of wine with some of their closest friends.


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