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Innovating and Staying Active During IAP

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Hello all! My name is Jack Zelman, and I am excited to tell you about how I’ve kept busy this past month at MIT.

For background, I am an MFin, graduating February of 2021. I’m an American (a rare commodity in the MFin program) from Leesburg, Virginia. I attended the University of Virginia for Undergrad, where I majored in Mechanical Engineering and minored in English—an unusual combination, I know. Here at Sloan, I am pursuing a concentration in Financial Engineering. I am fascinated by the application of data science and modeling in Finance, and have spent much of my time since last semester collaborating with researchers in the Laboratory for Financial Engineering to create a model that can predict the joint probability of approval for drug projects in clinical trials; if that explanation was confusing I encourage you to check out our website, where much smarter people have explained our work far more eloquently than I can. But enough about me, let’s get on with the point of this post!

As an MFin at Sloan, we have the option to continue our studies during MIT’s Independent Activities Period (IAP)—and though it certainly was tempting to take an additional month off after my two-week vacation, I am hear to say that I’m glad I didn’t.

During IAP, students have the time to pursue independent research, get involved in projects, and learn about odd topics that they typically would not or could not fit into their Fall or Spring semesters. Among the unique classes offered only during IAP is a “Poker-bot” class, where students design artificially intelligent poker machines to compete against their classmates, as well as a Kanye West class, which covers his music’s transformation over the course of his career. I, like many other MFins, chose to get involved in the Finance Research Practicum (FRP).

In the Fall semester, those who choose to participate in FRP rank a list of company-sponsored projects and detail their own skill-sets in a survey. The course administrators then do their best to give each student one of their top three choices while making sure that each team has a diverse set of abilities. As a student who is extremely interested in Impact Investing, this was an exciting opportunity for me to get my hands dirty on a real sustainability-related project—and I have been very pleased with how it has turned out. 

I was assigned to a group of three whose mission was to identify the biggest carbon emitters in the portfolio of a large fund, and for the top two, try to narrow down on the operational metrics that are driving those emissions. Within the group, we had a great spread of interests, skills, and backgrounds: an MBA with prior work experience in Consulting, an MFin pursuing a career in Private Equity, and myself with a passion for data science. With such a nicely structured team, we have been able to spread out tasks naturally and teach each other along the way.

FRP is led by Professor Rao and Professor Vartak, who have not only been tremendous resources themselves, but have also worked hard to connect those involved with professionals in the field, either through formal “classes” or individually on a project-related basis. The support base has been unlike any I have experienced in my Undergraduate or Graduate career thus far. Though FRP is a substantial project, it still allows for much free time during the week and weekends. I’ve been able to devote some more energy on my research in the Laboratory for Financial Engineering, and importantly, I’ve also been able to actually have some fun!

I’ve gotten caught up on some of the biggest movie releases just in time for Oscar season (Parasite or 1917 should get best picture in my humble opinion). My friends and I spontaneously decided to rent a car and visit the beautiful beach town of Newport, Rhode Island where we walked along the cliffs and visited some mansions.

If my bank account could talk it would likely share a few choice words over my indulgence in some of Boston and Cambridge’s best restaurants and bars.

And, of course, I made sure to load up on some sleep that I will certainly need as the next semester starts up. All in all, my past month has been the perfect blend of learning, fun, and relaxation, and I have come to realize that IAP is truly a unique opportunity for all students at MIT, MFins included. For any future students deciding what to do during the month of January, I encourage you to take the time to get involved in research, learn about Kanye West, and make some good memories in this great city!

Jack Zelman, MFin 2021

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