Tiffany Howard (MSc Quantum Fields & Fundamental Forces 1999) describes studying at Imperial as a very special and exhilarating time of her life, where she thoroughly enjoyed immersing herself in the ‘intensely creative’ realm of theoretical physics.   

Having acquired a range of transferable skills during her MSc, Tiffany had some freedom to explore her career interests upon graduating. She began her early career in the environmental markets before spending some time in the food industry. Both of these chapters eventually led her back into the financial sector.

Today, Tiffany is focused on private equity and is currently working towards the CFA Certificate in ESG Investing

What did you learn during your time at Imperial, in class or out?

I did a postgraduate master’s degree in theoretical physics - Quantum Fields and Fundamental Forces. It was a rigorous and intellectually demanding course spent in a department that does cutting-edge research with some of the most brilliant minds in the universe. It was the most exhilarating year of my life; I remember feeling my brain light up. The course took dedication and effort, but the discipline has stayed with me ever since.

My year at Imperial was a very special time in my life. It wasn’t just the inspiring tutorials but also the great lectures and meeting fellow students from all over the world – it all influenced my way of thinking. I forged bonds for life. It was an experience I will never forget.

Can you tell us about your studies at Imperial?

I learned about the unification of the four fundamental forces of nature: the early universe, quantum gravity, supersymmetry, string theory, and quantum field theory. My dissertation subject was: ‘The Problem of Time in Quantum Gravity’.

Quantum gravity is the still-unresolved theory of everything, which is to reconcile quantum mechanics with the classical theory of general relativity. Einstein’s general theory of relativity describes the nature of macroscopic events using time as a fourth dimension, which explains the effect of gravity on the shape of space and the flow of time. Quantum mechanics replaces classical mechanics at the atomic and subatomic level. Here in the quantum world, events are unpredictable and time behaves very differently – it is hidden within the spacetime structure.

Who did you find inspiring at Imperial and why?

The Theoretical Physics Group has the most incredible lecturers, who I have great admiration and respect for. They were all very inspiring. I remember the late Sir Tom Kibble in particular, who helped discover The Higgs Boson, he was so modest and unassuming.

What is your fondest memory of your time here?

Passionately debating the different approaches to quantum gravity with my classmates on the roof terrace of The Blackett Laboratory.

Also being invited to an event at the University of Cambridge, to celebrate Stephen Hawking’s 60th birthday.

What is your favourite place at Imperial and why?

The Blackett Laboratory had a roof terrace overlooking the Royal Albert Hall. The department would host socials and visiting lecturers there, which I have very fond memories of.

Tell us a bit about the work you’re doing now.

I help private equity fund managers raise capital from institutional investors across Europe. My role involves building long-term relationships with investors, learning about their investment programmes, and qualifying those who are actively seeking exposure to specific investment strategies. We represent a number of managers and strategies in various regions and sectors. Every day is different!

How has what you learnt at Imperial helped you in your career so far?

Theoretical physics is an intensely creative endeavour. The greatest minds so far successfully used their intuition, knowledge and skills to find unique approaches to solve problems. I try to take a blended ‘art’ and ‘science’ approach to my role in sales.

Theoretical physics is also a very demanding undertaking which requires resilience and grit, it is important to keep on going even when the going gets tough.

 What have been your career highlights and lowlights?

The early part of my career was spent in the environmental markets. The EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) was the first greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme. It was launched to fight global warming and has become a pillar of EU energy policy. It was exciting to be part of an emerging asset class driven by good intentions to help the planet. However, the carbon market was greatly affected by the financial crisis, which led to a lot of banks shutting down operations.

I experienced a low point when I ventured into the food industry and set up my own business. It was very tough, I felt lonely and isolated trying to problem solve in an industry that was very new to me in a period of great technological change.

However, there was a silver lining - as it would be through this experience that I would come across a supplier whose operations were stunning and incredibly well run, the company really stood out amongst its peers. I researched them to find out who the owner was and discovered it was owned by a large private equity firm, who I later discovered were preparing it for exit. When I decided to return to working in financial services, I knew I wanted to be in the private equity sector. The rest as they say, is history.

What are your plans for the future?

I am excited about the dawn of a new era in private equity with increased attention on the ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) elements of potential investments from all parties. Success is no longer measured purely on profit, but also by how firms and their portfolio companies are adapting to becoming more sustainable, socially conscious, and well governed. The firms that prioritise these three pillars will reap the biggest benefits over time.

For the past year I have been our firm’s ESG lead. It has been an inspiring new area of my business to discover and I am currently studying for the CFA Certificate in ESG Investing.

What would be your advice for current students?

Try to identify and train your weaknesses.

What makes you proud to be an Imperial alumnus?

I feel incredibly lucky and fortunate to have had an extraordinary and unique learning experience in a world class academic institution.

What is one word or phrase would you use to describe Imperial alumni?

Interesting and interested.

Do you have a favourite quote or saying?

"Imagination is more important than knowledge" - Albert Einstein. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I love the fable of The Tortoise and The Hare.

Follow Tiffany on LinkedIn here.