Finance Masters student insight - choosing electives
22 May 2017
In this month’s postgraduate student insight blog, our Finance Masters students discuss how they chose their elective modules for the term, and their dissertation topics.
I chose my elective modules mainly based on my career plan. I want to work as an equity researcher in the short term and as a mutual fund manager in the long term. Therefore I took the ‘Practices of Investment Management’ module, to study active portfolio management. Apart from this, I would recommend ‘Financial Reporting and Statement Analysis’ for students who have similar career plan since it is very useful for equity analysis.
If you want to work in investment banks, then ‘Mergers and Acquisitions’ and ‘Corporate Control’ are good choices. If you want to work in fixed income position, then you can take ‘Fixed Income and Credit Risk’. Also, the MSc Finance programme provides modules for bank, derivatives, risk management and currency business.
There is one particular module I would like to specify for PhD students - ‘Empirical Application in Macro, Financial and Energy issues’. I’d recommend this because it involves advanced econometrics, MATLAB programming and data searching that are fundamental and useful for PhD degree.
MSc Financial Mathematics
We were able to choose electives from three different departments: Mathematics, Statistics, and the Business School. With my particular background – a pure maths graduate with previous work experience in the financial sector – in order to add to my skill set most effectively I decided to choose two Statistics modules.
My electives were ‘Financial Time Series’ and ‘Brownian Motion’. Time series analysis is used heavily in the quantitative finance industry which many of are entering after our masters, and this module was therefore very practical, showing us how to fit mathematical models to real historical data sets. By contrast, Brownian Motion was incredibly theoretical, as we rigorously proved all the theorems we had used throughout the year in other modules. Although this sort of thing certainly isn’t for everyone(!), knowing where the theorems had come from helped to deepen and enhance my overall understanding.
The range of electives offered gave everyone the chance to really develop their individual areas of interest and broaden their skills in the lead up to choosing dissertation topics and, ultimately, entering or re-entering the working world.
MSc Finance & Economics
The first and most important step was to fully understand all the instructions on the project selection page. Doing MSFE, I had to choose at least 2 topics from each department, which is a piece of information that I was not aware of before. As for the topic selection, I started by discarding all the topics that am not interested in or lack the theoretical background to discuss. Among the ones left, I selected only the topics that align with my future career plans.
Now, left with 15 topics, I abandoned the ones that were not very clear or did not offer a decent explanation of the dissertation requirements. Finally, I did my research, skimmed through the reference literature and ranked the top five topics according to my abilities and the methodologies required.
MSc Finance & Economics
The MSc Finance & Economics programme only allows us to pick two electives in the 2nd term, so picking your extra modules, considering the number of options, is not an easy task! The easiest approach is probably to choose something which you know will directly boost your employability in a specialist field - e.g. if you're really keen on investment banking or have a job offer from an M&A firm lined up, then Mergers & Acquisitions is an obvious choice.
Another option is to choose something which develops skills in an area that you're interested in - I ended up choosing Big Data Analytics for this reason, and the module was immensely helpful in providing an introduction to manipulating digital data and getting myself acquainted with R.
But most importantly, choose something that genuinely interests you! If you don't do a PhD, the MSc is the last place where you have unrestricted access to leading academics who are happy to teach - choose something which you couldn't learn in the workplace. I chose my second elective to be an Economics module using this reasoning and haven't regretted it a bit.
Choosing electives can be tricky. Whilst the MSc Finance course at WBS provided a wide range of electives that cover different areas of finance, it is crucial to pick the electives that truly align with your interest. In contrast to the core modules which teach the basics of finance, the electives provide great opportunities for learning practical skills that can be useful for your future career.
Based on my personal experience, I would like to recommend a unique and practical elective: ‘Big Data Analytics’. It teaches you the basics of data science, including mining online data and conducting empirical analysis in R. Without any exams, you will need to propose your own research topic and complete an individual project by the end of the module. The programming skills, together with your final project, can add considerable weights to your CV if you decide to pursue a quantitative role after graduation.