How’s it going folks. Checking in, January 2020, continuing the blog series. New year, new semester, new classes, new opportunity, and so on. January is a strange one at MIT; some people are relaxing at home with their family, some are doing intense trading internships, some are traveling the world, and there’s the fortunate few (myself included) who are still in Boston, ticking away. But, lucky for us, January is no ordinary semester.
But, before I start lecturing on the pros and cons of action learning, finance, and personal development, I best introduce myself. Devin Connolly, 18-month Master of Finance student, class of 2021. Dublin (Ireland) born-and-raised, sports-fanatic (soccer, rugby and running to name a few), Guinness-drinker, story-teller, analytics/maths/statistics enthusiast (tragic, I’m aware), and, for the purpose of this blog, an honest reviewer.
I graduated from Trinity College Dublin with a degree in Management Science and Information Systems, the majority of which was spent trying to figure out how to best explain what my degree title actually means. Statistics, data science, programming and operations, all amalgamated into one beautiful, analytically-driven monster. I’m now focusing on intersection between analytics and finance. I have just about completed the Financial Engineering concentration here, and am doing my best to branch out into machine learning, mathematics and statistics. Grand, done, introduced. Onto the stuff you actually care about.
January brings two things into the equation. Snow, and MIT’s Independent Activities Period (IAP). IAP is a nuanced semester that runs throughout the month. It eases you back into the workflow after the Christmas holidays, allows to step outside your comfort zone with your hobbies and class selection, and allows you to focus on your own development outside of solely academics. Only marginally better than the snow.
Now, as a student enrolled in the Finance Research Practicum, one of the Master of Finance’s action learning opportunities, I haven’t got a complete break from academia, but definitely enough to work with. In this blog, I want to give a run through of what IAP is actually like and what I, and others, have been up to this month. With a little bit of my own ramblings sprinkled throughout, of course.
Now to the important stuff. My IAP is dominated by the aforementioned Finance Research Practicum. Myself and two classmates (the ever-supportive and endlessly-knowledgeable Tracey-Nilsen Ames and Coco Qu) are working on trade signal generation in emerging market foreign exchange and credit markets. Working closely with our sponsors at William Blair, we have spent the month so far brainstorming, discussing, developing and refining a model in Python that 'should' give worthwhile insights by the end of the project. And if it doesn’t, at least it is one more thing crossed off the long list of things to attempt in the future.
We treat it close to a 9-5 internship-esque experience, with a little less structure and a little more freedom (a little less 5 and a lot less 9). In a typical week we will have a meeting or call with our sponsor, a meeting or two with our Teaching Assistant, the guru on all things econometrics, and a meeting or two with the instructor for the class, Professor Gita Rao. Given that we work so independently throughout the month, the regular catch-ups and guidance allow us to ensure we are on the right track – which, of course, is not always the case.The first question many of you will have is likely to be ‘Is it worth it’? Sure, I open up Instagram every morning and see my pals jetting off to places I would likely fail to point out on a map, or tearing up ski slopes in New Hampshire/Colorado/The Alps, but I’m still glad I’m here.
The benefits are two-fold. On one hand, I am engaged in a challenging project in an area that interests me. I am supported by a good team and a great sponsor, the relationships with which I’m sure will last beyond just this project. Simply put, I’m exposed to a real project in the (almost) real-word, which is valuable, no doubt. On the other hand, the freedom that comes with IAP has allowed me to explore other interests and focus on things in my own life that may have fallen to the wayside during the busy Fall semester.As the pressure of the Fall term mounted, and the amount of free time available to me dwindled, I made the potentially rash decision to enter my first marathon in Cape Cod this February. While I’m no stranger to running, 42.2 kilometers (26.2 miles) is damn far. But, thanks to IAP, I can stick to my training schedule and rack up the distance I need to in preparation for the race. A unanticipated consequence of this, however, is the disapproval from my peers as I continue to ramble on and on about running. You can’t win ‘em all. At least the views around Boston in winter are nice, huh?
On top of that, I managed to get down to my first MIT Rugby training session, and MIT Soccer training session, both of which have been plastered on my to-do list since I arrived in Boston back in June. To me, meeting people outside my direct cohort, outside of Finance, and in some cases, outside of the wider MIT community, is important. Dublin is a relatively small place, so it took some time to come to terms with the fact that I have literally moved halfway across the world to a place where I know nobody. The best way to fix that is to put yourself out there, and sport has always allowed me to do exactly that.
In the remainder of my self-proclaimed deserved free time, I’ve managed to go on a day trip to Sunday River in Maine to ski, learn to ice skate at the Johnson ice rink in the MIT Gym, brush up my FIFA skills, expand my knowledge of the Boston craft-beer scene, visit New York twice, and struggle painfully through another poor Fantasy Football season. In my eyes, you get from this month, and this program, exactly what you put in. Don’t be afraid to work hard, expand your horizons, and put yourself out there. Ask the question, enroll in the class, say yes to the event, go to the company presentation, join the club, and the experiences, free-time, opportunities and memories will surely follow.
Devin Connolly, MFin 2021