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The Scoop on Berkeley’s Master of Financial Engineering (MFE) [Show Summary]
Dr. Linda Kreitzman, Executive Director of the Master of Financial Engineering Program at UC Berkeley – Haas is passionate about the program. On today’s podcast Linda will take us through specific aspects of the program and what makes it unique, what it takes to be successful in the program, and some of the expected outcomes for graduates. Listen in to the “Queen of Quants!”
Interview with Linda Kreitzman, Assistant Dean and Executive Director of the UC Berkeley Haas Master of Financial Engineering Program [Show Notes]
Our guest today, Dr. Linda Kreitzman, earned her Honours Degree in Political Science, masters degrees in English, French and Spanish and later on a Ph.D. in Economics. Most importantly for our call today, she became program Director of the Master’s in Financial Engineering at UC Berkeley – Haas in 2000 and Executive Director of the program in 2006. Poets and Quants recently named her the “Queen of Quants” and in the same interview she identified herself as her students’ “surrogate mother.” Let’s learn more about the Haas MFE from this ultimate insider.
Could you give an overview of the MFE program highlighting its distinctive features? [2:12]
It’s a one-year program that starts in March and ends the following March, with four academic terms. After 75% of coursework is completed, students go anywhere in the world for a paid internship. The program is ranked #1 in the country and has 50% faculty and 50% industry professionals who teach in the program. We admit students who have PhDs, masters or straight from undergrads. We have a pre-programmed set of classes that anyone can take before coming to the program, which helps us assess them. We believe success is not just what happens in the MFE but also post-MFE. We place each and every student, which is what we love to do.
If we find a student who is doing really well academically, we can recommend them for admission as early as their junior year, and then bring them on board and mentor them before they officially join. Any student at any university in the world can contact us about this.
I understand that you’ve been the Director from Day 1. Why did Haas decide to have an MFE? [5:30]
Haas’ decision to create the MFE came a little bit before I came on board in 2000, with professor emeritus David Pyle and dean Laura Tyson. There was a demand for financial engineers and students who could be very technical, with a stats programming skill set already, which MBA programs didn’t offer. There were other MFEs, CMU for example, but we were the first to launch an MFE at the business school, to make sure our students were not considered typical quants just doing number crunching, but that they had economic intuition and strong communication skills, which is what differentiates us from others. We wanted the ability to position our students in any field in finance or technology, not in the back room doing number crunching.
What makes the MFE different from an MFin? Or an MBA? [9:45]
The MFin tends to teach more the corporate finance side and is a general degree. With the MFE we are looking for people who already have strong programming, stats, math, and finance experience. We bring people who already have had corporate finance, and maybe already passed CFA level 1. Our program is much more technical, more data-science oriented. Also, the MBA program does not prepare students months or even years in advance but we do.
Obviously academics, specifically in advanced quant subjects, are important to the MFE. The average GRE/GMAT quant percentile is 93.2 and the average verbal percentile is 77.7. The average UGPA is 3.75. Beyond the stats, what is the MFE looking for? [11:16]
We are looking for people with strong logic skills, with a good understanding of financial markets (or willing to learn that), who are open to taking different courses to find their path, and willing to prepare before starting with us. We also are looking for someone who is humble, and can work well with others. 95% of the homework in the program is team-based, as you won’t work by yourself within a firm, so we provide that in the programming.
What about work experience? What role does experience play in the evaluation process? What kind of experience are you looking for? Is there a max amount of work experience? [14:00]
We don’t require experience. With young students just one three-month internship is good enough for us if they have a strong academic background. We have had great success with students straight from undergrad. We do look at the skillset but we do not want applicants to think work experience is necessary. For listeners, look at the bios of students in the MFE program and you will see a wide range of backgrounds, and some with very little formal work experience.
Can you describe the application process for the MFE? [15:58]
It’s a straightforward process. You answer questions, submit two letters of recommendation, and transcripts. For the questions, we ask about academic work where you may have solved problems or done research, and to talk about the tools you’ve used. We don’t expect you to tell us you have done very complex work, we just want to get to know you to help you prepare for the program. We also want to know why you want to do the MFE, and we also love it if you tell us you don’t know. It’s ok to say, “I love stats, I love math, I love AI, and I want to come and I’m flexible.” The other question is have you been innovative, and what are your strengths and weaknesses. Basically we just want to get to know you.
One thing that is important to note is that we work quickly – we give decisions back within 4-8 weeks.
What’s the purpose of the video question? [18:59]
We really want to see how they are able to communicate within a couple minutes of time, as well as how well they think on their feet.
What kind of careers will graduates go into? [19:24]
Our students go into all titles in finance. Some are managers, researchers, analysts, and associates. They go into M&A, trading, structures, data science, work for investment banks on the sell side or buy side, hedge funds, and fin tech as well.
What’s a cool story about a Haas MFE grad? Or one that you are particularly proud of? [20:14]
In 2012, we had a student Charles Gorintin who sang the same tune for pretty much the whole program – he wanted to be a high frequency trader for Virtue in Chicago. I set up the interview with them, and he did extremely well. His offer was expected to come in and so he asked me how he should decline an interview at 2pm when it was 10am that same day. It was two hours away and at Facebook. I told him he had to go. He begrudgingly went, and at 7pm he called and said he was going to accept an offer at Facebook. I just about fell off my chair. I thought maybe he would miss the market, but when I was in touch with him he would always say, “Don’t worry, I love what I do.” I am so proud of him because now he is back in France having launched a healthcare data science company. The moral of the story is come to the MFE, but be open, and we help you explore the paths.
What are the plans for the future of the MFE? I understand it will expand this year. [23:30]
We currently have 80 students and we will expand to 100, so we will have two cohorts, one that will specialize in data science. Those who want to continue their work in finance will be able to do that, but the reality is that banks are using data science. You don’t have to pick a specialization but can just pick the electives you want.
Your recent interview on P&Q said that you are angered when people tell you they want an MFE to get rich.
What are some good reasons for wanting to pursue an MFE? [25:19]
I am not angry, but rather annoyed or concerned when someone says they only want to do this to make money. There is no reason not to want to make money, of course, but there must be other reasons to go into this field – passion to make a difference, to apply your skill set, passion for finance, to understand the markets, to create things.
Why does it go March to March? [29:09]
It started because we thought we would make it a part-time program, and also for a bureaucratic reason as you can only have so many students on campus at a certain time. With the MFE I felt like you can’t have a summer internship because the students wouldn’t have enough of a skill set yet. As I started dealing with the companies I realized that a fall internship idea was extremely positive. Banks were telling me, “We have nobody to help us in the fall, so it’s great.” Students coming from the industry also were happy because they had gotten their bonus and it helped them pay for the program.
On a personal note, How does someone who P&Q notes has degrees in polisci, English, French and Spanish then move to the quant side of the world, earn a PhD in economics, and then become director of one of the most demanding quantitative programs in the world? Why the switch? [32:01]
I wouldn’t say it was a switch, as within political science I did do economics and statistics. I really love education and could have branched out and gone to industry, but it is pretty cool to be in my position because I get to work with the industry, students, and faculty, so it felt more a natural path for me. When Haas called me and wanted to interview I had already been teaching econ courses. I was going to join the industry but instead decided to launch the MFE.
There are deadlines but you get back to people quickly, so it seems kind of like a rolling admissions model. How does it work for you? [34:22]
It works efficiently for us. The reality is you want to have some deadlines to be organized and structured, but it is common for students to say they missed the deadline, so we need it open until the end of December. We also sometimes in January or March get individuals who apply for the following year and we may believe that they are right for entry earlier. We reserve the right to say you are ready to come within a couple months. We council students before they apply, and have discouraged applicants at times as well. We are a very forthcoming program so be in touch with us to talk about your background and interests.
What question would you like to answer that I didn’t ask? [39:52]
Why have I been in the program the last 18 or 19 years? To work at Haas with the other directors, I have to say it is really a cool place to work. The finance faculty are brilliant, kind, and they are very open to working together on curriculum issues. I am very fond of our team, and working with the students is exciting. You see them come in and help polish them. I believe we make a difference in their lives.
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