Dr Jian Ma has worked in finance since he left Imperial and is currently portfolio manager at Swiss Re, the world’s second largest reinsurance company.          

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

"I came to Imperial in 2003 to study my Ph.D degree at the non-destructive testing (NDT) lab and spent four years there completing it. Then I spent another two years as a post-doc researcher in the lab. We conducted cutting edge research at the NDT lab that is very close to specific industrial applications.

I think what I have learned most at Imperial is problem solving: how to tackle complex problems with innovative thinking, challenge arguments with rigorous analysis and implement the solution in pragmatic ways.  Although now in my career I face problems that are different from academic research, this systematic approach has always been the starting point for me.

In addition, I feel that writing up for academic publications and presenting at conferences and project meetings are very good training for communicating complicated research ideas and findings in an easy to understand language to different audiences. This is particular useful to students like me who are not native English speakers."

What is your fondest memory of your time here?    

"There were plenty of great moments during my time in the NDT lab of Imperial.  It was an international research lab with many talented people with very different cultural backgrounds. We were all young students and supported each other on both work and life. There was never a shortage of social events arranged in the lab. I miss the tea time of a day when we all gathered to share interesting stories (sometime research ideas) in the mechanical engineering common room. It was a very cohesive atmosphere, we were like a big family and I have countless great memories from there. We still keep regular contact now many years after graduation, though we are scattered all over the world and working in different industries."

What jobs have you done since graduation?

"I have been working in finance since I left Imperial. I started off as a quantitative analyst for a hedge fund, responsible for developing models to support investment and trading. Then I moved to the asset management group of Swiss Re, the world second largest reinsurance company. Currently I am a portfolio manager managing Swiss Re’s investments in China’s financial markets."

Please give some details of the sorts of activities involved

"Recently, I was relocated to China to manage our investments in China’s financial markets with a specific focus on its bond market.  China’s bond market is actually one of the world’s largest after the US and Japan. As China is rebalancing its economy to boost consumption, the country’s vast savings must be put to work productively as the interest rates liberalisation takes place.  This, combined with China’s long-term goal to eliminate capital controls and open up its economy to foreign investment, creates a good opportunity for foreigners to access its financial bond market that offer a genuinely attractive alternative to core bond markets in developed markets."

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

"I feel that I benefited a lot from the training that I had at Imperial, particularly on the following aspects:

Firstly, I gained solid analytical and quantitative skills. This is the cornerstone for students with an engineering background to make an entry into an investment /finance career

Secondly, I gained pragmatic problem solving skills. Finance always requires a very pragmatic approach to solving real problems in a timely manner.

Also the ability to communicate ideas and arguments in a concise and efficient way.

Finally, I was able to develop a mature personality.  Finance is a very competitive industry and it is absolutely crucial that one can handle the enormous pressure and persistently aim to achieve targets. The PhD program at Imperial is great training and helped me build my confidence so that I can complete very difficult tasks after overcoming countless hurdles."

What would be your advice for current students?

"First of all, I want to say that please cherish your time at Imperial and make the best use of your time there.  It is one of the best places you can train and lay the solid foundation that you need to succeed in your future career, no matter which industry you end up in. 

Secondly, I think it is very important that you can identify your competitive edge and position your career accordingly. Be honest with yourself, find out what you can do better than others and build on your strength. Your competitive edge over peers will be the crucial element to make breakthroughs and advance your career.  However, a competitive edge normally won’t come by itself and it is not easy to build one.  You always need to work outside your comfort zone to learn and build new knowledge, skills or networks.   Make sure you always stay hungry and keep up with a steep learning curve.  

Last but not least, we should never underestimate the importance of communication skills.  You will have to be technically good and equally importantly you will need people to realise it. The latter is not as easy as it appears.  Make sure you develop your soft skills alongside your career advancement."