Allow me to start this post by quoting two disparate but equally monumental works of modern-day literature. Here’s Milan Kundera writing in The Unbearable Lightness of Being:
Human life occurs only once, and the reason we cannot determine which of our decisions are good and which are bad is that in a given situation we can make only one decision; we are not granted a second, third, or fourth life in which to compare various decisions.
…and Andy Bernard speaking from an episode in The Office:
I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.
Such tragic nature of our lives notwithstanding, I am willing to bet that M&T is one of the best decisions in my life. I wish I could generate a Buzzfeed-like post of “10 Reasons to Apply to M&T,” but I lack the required creativity and wit. Instead, I’d like to share how my past years at Penn — and my ultimate career choice upon graduation — have been molded through serendipitous meetings of people and events, all thanks to M&T.
Transferring to M&T: January Stayton Wuerth and the M&T Staff
I first arrived at Penn in the Fall of 2011, just as Penn Park opened. “Party Rock Anthem” was in full blast across campus, and it was still acceptable to abuse the term “legit” when I ran out of positive things to say. I started off my year as a computer engineering student — I was not in the M&T program, having been rejected in the regular admissions. But, transfer into the Program stayed on my mind for a simple reason: M&T housed the most talented and motivated individuals on campus. I distinctly remember Steven Xing (M&T, ’15) from my digital audio basics class, then an M&T freshman, outsmarting TAs in a discussion about fourier transforms. To me, that was M&T.
As an interested transfer student, I met multiple times with the M&T Administrative Director January Stayton Wuerth. It was only then that I realized, much to my chagrin, that I had no idea what an undergraduate business education entailed. January kindly shared the accomplishments of previous M&T graduates, and I was able to form a more concrete idea of how engineering and business education can be intertwined. As a prospective transfer student, I probably annoyed January more than she ever deserved, and I’m forever grateful for her generous treatment of a soul as desperate as mine.
As someone just starting school, it may be difficult to envision the benefits of studying both engineering and business. Now that I have finished both degrees, the benefits are obvious. First, you never get bored; the curriculum comes with a healthy mix of qualitative readings, quantitative problem sets, and time-demanding lab work. Naturally, such a wide array of experiences also grants flexibility in choosing a career. Most importantly, it pressures you to assume both the role of a fledgling engineer and that of a business professional. You acquire a different social experience from each, and this is the greatest benefit to the dual-degree education. M&T facilitates this pursuit of two degrees by reducing coursework, creating a community of similarly motivated individuals, and hosting an alumni base that have gone to do great things.
Thus, lured once again by the prospect of M&T, I submitted my application in May. My transfer, however, ran into unexpected delays. I had decided to fulfill my required two-year military service in the Korean Army after my freshman year, meaning my application was pushed for review two years later. Given the long wait of uncertainty regarding my future, you can imagine how ecstatic I was upon receiving the e-mail notifying me of my acceptance!
Upon transferring, it was clear the staff at M&T was the Program’s greatest assets. The presence of a Faculty Director (Professor Gad Allon) dedicated to helping M&T students thrive is a privilege not many get to enjoy. The open doors of the staff, the frequent e-mails about our well-being and school lives, and the host of social events steered by the M&T Student Board are fundamental elements of the Program that we often take for granted.
Interning in India: Nalin Moniz, Radhika Gupta, and the M&T Alumni
Summer internships – among topics like campus squirrels, BYOs, and the attractiveness of the TA in an introductory computer science class – dominate Penn student conversations. Naturally, I partook in the frantic search for summer internships. I was rejected by a data science firm after incorrectly naming a Python package and never heard back from a Google software engineering program intended for freshmen and sophomores. That’s when the M&T Intern Fellowship came to my rescue. And that’s how I met the greatest M&T power couple, members of the class of 2005, Nalin Moniz and Radhika Gupta.
At the time, Nalin and Radhika were running India’s first ever alternative investment fund, Forefront. The firm had just been acquired by Edelweiss, another financial powerhouse in India, but the team remained intact, lean, and strong. A firm situated in India that worked in the financial sector appealed to me greatly, as I had spent the previous summer focused on the engineering side, working on wearable devices and android programming. I passed the resume screening and went on to two phone interviews. After a week or so, I was set to spend the next 10 weeks of summer in Mumbai.
Nalin and Radhika were, and remain to this day, great mentors. During my time in Mumbai, they genuinely cared about my learning and well-being during the internship. For example, they always took care to answer my questions about finance, many of the inquiries so naive they probably regretted hiring me. They frequently took us out to dinners, hosted gatherings, and even invited the interns to a screening of the Champions League finals at their home.
They also give back to the M&T Community with great passion. A few weeks into our internship, the interns were invited to an M&T alumni event in Mumbai, which Nalin and Radhika were instrumental in hosting. They actively participate in the Alumni Interview Program, interviewing M&T applicants from countries such as Turkey, India, and South Korea.
Most importantly, they are incredibly capable. Nalin and Radhika left their jobs at Goldman Sachs and AQR respectively to build one of the iconic alternative investment boutiques in India – from scratch. They are great people, and I aspire to be more like them. There is no shortage of M&T alumni as accomplished and inspiring as these two (check out the entrance to the new M&T office and you’ll see their names shining, literally). As a student in the Program, you will have no trouble finding your own Nalin and Radhika.
Immersed in Innovation: Sahil Singhal, and the M&T Students
During my five years at Penn, I have run into some crazily accomplished students. For me, there is one M&T student in particular whom I had the pleasure and privilege of befriending, whose intelligence and ambition have significantly affected my own. His name is Sahil Singhal (M&T, ’17).
I first met Sahil in ESE 215, an introductory circuits class. He and I were the only electrical engineers in our M&T class, so we worked as partners on future projects. For ESE 350, we worked to build a digital system for urine output measurement, the last missing piece of the complete automation of the operating room. For our senior design, we worked together with two MEAM students to build an autonomous water sample collection drone.
Despite hours spent together, Sahil and I diverged in many aspects. For instance, he was a devoted fan of (Steph) Curry, while I fanboyed Lebron (James). He never shied away from voicing opinions, well-supported by his remarkable array of knowledge. I, on the other hand, was less confident in both my logic and my eloquence. He liked to meet smart people and spend time working together. I was a borderline recluse and preferred to enjoy my quiet solitudes. Yet, I’d like to think we made a pretty good team. In fact, it’s a rare privilege to work closely with people like Sahil. This opportunity to interact with such individuals, I believe, is the greatest benefit derived from being part of M&T.
Sahil has many talents — including a particular knack for public speaking and badminton — but he really shone when it came to quantitative finance (and is now a full-time trader at Citadel). In fact, I owe him for granting me the opportunity to interview with AQR, whose offer he received yet declined. I mention AQR because it is the summer internship at this firm that led to my future decision to do a Ph.D. The internship would not have been possible without Sahil’s referral. He also invited me to join the quant team at Wharton Investment Trading Group (WITG), which I eventually came to lead upon his graduation.
Sahil’s desire to learn and his multiple talents are representative of many other M&T students. From 2011 to 2018, I’ve had the chance to talk to students from all years. Each time, I am humbled by the diversity of interests and their pursuit of passion. When you are surrounded by people like Jacob Kahn (M&T, ’18) inquiring about the recent development in Korean politics, Prakash Mishra (M&T, ’19) discussing the incorporation of tropical house into mainstream pop, and Jonathan Chen (M&T, ’19) telling me of his plan to take the most interesting courses possible, I feel eternally grateful to have met them through the M&T Community.
Final Thoughts: Moving on to M&T Alumnus
If you’ve had either the patience to read through this post or the shrewdness to jump to this section directly, it’s time to share my final thoughts upon leaving Penn and M&T. This Fall, I will be starting my Ph.D in financial economics at the University of Chicago. After brief stints as an engineer and a financial analyst, I’ve decided academic research is a career I love and cherish. Attaining a Ph.D will be the first step in fulfilling my dream, and I’m eternally grateful for the opportunities provided by M&T that helped me reach this conclusion.
I only have one piece of advice, especially for those reading at the onset of their college education: don’t restrict yourself to a specific profession in your first or second year. Don’t listen when your parents try to push you towards what they think you need to do. (But if it’s academia, then well…) Ignore your peers when they think you’re insane for not drooling over the glamor of big-name firms. Join different clubs, see what each career looks like, and find your path based on what makes your mind come alive.
With this mindset, I moved from aspiring hardware engineer to a Ph.D student in finance and economics. And the journey had been quite an enjoyable ride.
Thank you Penn, and thank you M&T. I hope you accept my future son or daughter into the Program when they apply for early decision!
P.S. I forgot to include another crucial, life-changing piece of advice — remember your deadlines. I had fulfilled all my requirements for a math and computer science minor, but missed the deadline to fill out my paperwork! Hence the two minors are absent from my transcripts. I can only hope that you will not make the same errors.
Simon Oh (M&T ‘18) holds a BSE and MSE in Electrical Engineering and a BS in Economics, with a concentration in Finance from the University of Pennsylvania. Upon graduation, he will start his Ph.D at University of Chicago’s Joint Program in Financial Economics. He will greatly miss the overweight squirrels on campus, whose lives he had been passionately documenting on Instagram: @upennsquirrels. His lifelong dream is to master the art of comedy-writing and produce a show called “The (M&T) Office.”