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Q&A with Alumni

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Student Alumni Success

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Jennifer W.

NYU Stern Opens Gateway to Finance and Tech, Class of 2021

Jen Wright has always taken a passionate interest in social impact work, having led UNICEF initiatives like Dine Below the Line, and founding UNICEF Youth For Change as New Zealand’s ambassador during her final years of high school. But it was her admission to New York University’s Stern School of Business that saw her develop a new passion for finance, and enjoy the benefits of studying in one of the Top 5 business programs in the world.

Jennifer

Zhong H.

Caltech Senior Arrives at the Frontier of Automation, Class of 2020

After graduating as Dux of Maclean's College in New Zealand, Zhong applied his unrivalled academic excellence to his studies at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), currently ranked the number 5 university in the world (by QS World University Rankings). Over the past four years, the current college senior has discovered a passion for mechanical engineering, which has led him to work on electric race cars, dishwashing robots, automated vehicles and spacecraft simulators in innovation hubs like Tokyo and Silicon Valley.

Zhong
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A Community of the World's Brightest Minds

From Stanford to Oxford and other top-ranked US and UK universities, the Crimson network includes honours list students, Magna Cum Laude graduates and positions at companies including Bridgewater, Google's Waymo and McKinsey & Company.

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Pathways to College and Campus Life

Slide 1 of 6
  • How Crimson Helped Jessica to Get Into Oxford to Study Biological Sciences
  • Crimson Eatucation: Pinocchio's, Harvard Square's Best Pizza
  • Stanford Admission Reaction Video 2017
  • A Day In the Life: Columbia Student
  • How Jennifer Got Into NYU Stern
  • Rapid Fire with Seyoon, Princeton University
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Collegiate Community

Connect with fellow students before, during and after college

Q&A with Alumni

What helped position you strongly in your appeal to venture funds?

A: (Soumil Singh, Harvard Class of 2020)

For one, what I'm studying definitely helped shape my mind and put myself into a space where I can do this confidently. The other things are, I did Applied Mathematics at Harvard so having enough mathematical maturity to understand various aspects of data science has helped.

What does a typical week at college look like?

A: (Soumil Singh, Harvard Class of 2020)
One of the few components to every week is class. So for me I did Applied Math which means a ton of the classes I take are obviously math classes, and typically STEM classes have weekly assignments, so it was the first time where I really felt like I had to do really rigorous homework. There's a very strong problem set which basically means homework. We have a ‘problem culture’ here where you learn some mathematical concepts and have to solve a bunch of them on the concepts you’ve learned. It's really stretched me often because the homework is not very easy all of the time so part of tackling that is going to many office hours which are help sessions to basically finish those tasks and I think that’s where most of the learning and academic stretching comes from.

At times it's been a little overwhelming with an almost crazy amount of time being sunk into it, but overall I think it's quite a good thing and means you have a more rigorous education.

Last year for example in a day I would spend maybe seven to eight hours studying ... more or less a full time job but spread out. I guess it just depends on the semester and how much you choose to stretch yourself. My roommate who is completely insane takes ridiculously hard classes all the time. He spends at least 60 hours per week if not more on them. He's always just grinding. He just loves it.

I think it also just takes a level of awareness of what you're doing and why you're doing it. I've definitely been in the trap before of working hard but also losing sight of why I was doing it. And losing an awareness that stopped me from benefiting from the work I was putting in. It's not only hard work, it's more just your attitude. And if you can really get that right it doesn't feel like work so much it just feels like iteration and improvement of yourself which is very much in line with the purpose of being there anyway.

A: (Zhong Huang, Caltech Class of 2020)

The workload is certainly difficult (most colleges have their students take 8 courses a year, Caltech students take 15) and homework problems usually take a while to do. During my senior year I've taken more high level advanced classes. I've always been hands-on which for me includes working on cool robots!

As a freshman, I discovered the professors teach quickly, however I found most of the content quite interesting and it's engaging to work with other students on the questions as collaboration is heavily encouraged.

California's relaxed atmosphere and perfect weather also take the edge off things and makes the lifestyle enjoyable.

Campus culture in America is a lot more cohesive and I am liking the greater sense of belonging compared to somewhere like Auckland Uni. The small size of Caltech (just over 1000 undergrads) is nice as I can get close to a lot of people there.

A: (Jen Wright, NYU Stern Class of 2021)

I usually wake up around 7am and get ready for my 9:30 classes. I’m currently taking 6 classes which is a reasonably heavy work load so sometimes I’ll be working until midnight or later. Although, I don’t mind too much because I still find time to see my friends and have fun. Also I really enjoy my classes and my professors are fantastic so it makes it easy to keep up the routine.

What kind of mentoring is available to you?

A: (Jen Wright NYU Stern Class of 2021)

Well, while friends generally mentor/tutor me and I try to pay that forward, there are also more formal ways that Stern students help each other. For example in my co-ed business fraternity, they pair you up with someone who has already had experience in investment banking or private equity, connect you with people currently working in these firms, and review your resume with a fine tooth comb so that everything is perfect down to the punctuation. That was pretty invaluable when I was searching for an internship. They also teach you everything from exact dress code down to the color of your shoes, to how to answer common technical questions like “walk me through a DCF”, “how does $10 of depreciation flow through the statements” etc. These are the kinds of questions that if you’ve had practice with, you can answer very easily, but if you haven’t, you may not answer as well as you could have with some practice.

Can you describe the internship opportunities you have secured?

A: (Zhong Huang, Caltech Class of 2020)

I've completed two so far and then there is one coming up. The first one I did was actually working in Japan, in the greater Tokyo area for 10-12 weeks. The position was a Manufacturing Intern at Sumitomo Chemical.
My second internship was in San Carlos, Silicon Valley. It was for a startup company that was making dishwashing robots. I worked on a big commercial dishwashing robot that could wash dishes really quickly compared to what a human can do. This second internship was more on the high tech side of things and I thought that was pretty cool. It was a startup, so it was a pretty small company, but the people working there were all super smart and very talented. It was also in Silicon Valley, which is just a hub of talent and also innovation, which I found really exciting. And next summer I'll actually be going back to the Valley and working out of Mountain View, for Waymo, an autonomous driving technology development company. Waymo originated as a project of Google and became a stand-alone company in December 2016. In April 2017, Waymo started a limited trial of a self-driving taxi service in Phoenix, Arizona.

A: (Jen Wright NYU Stern Class of 2021)

I interned at a couple of places. One of the placements was in M&A law at King & Wood Mallesons (a top-tier law firm) in Beijing, and that was an interesting experience that I broadly really enjoyed. But I did decide that law wasn't for me in the end, and then beyond that, I also interned at an investment bank in their mergers and acquisitions division. Investment banking is quite physically demanding as you often have to work over 80 hours per week. A lot of people can’t or don’t want to deal with those kinds of hours. However, there's some great perks to it, as well. For example, one of the deals I got to work on was worth multiple billions of dollars and there were only about ten people on the whole team. I think as a young person in their early twenties, it’s quite rare and an exciting experience to be a part of such large deals. At the end of the day, I accepted an offer at a fast growing edutech start up which I’m excited to join when I graduate.

A: (Soumil Singh, Harvard Class of 2020)

The most basic benefit I gained out of both internships - Radiance Labs and Bridgewater, because they were both software engineering internships, was learning how to code and learning how to build things. Before that, regardless of my imagination, there was very little ability to translate my technical skills into something that could actually work and other people could actually use. Beyond that, though, particularly at Bridgewater the culture of radical transparency was quite interesting to see. I think the benefits of that are you learn to look at yourself a bit more closely and understand not only the progress that you're making in terms of your engineering but also in terms of your general intuition and your attitude towards other people. That was quite specific to Bridgewater I think and quite interesting.

What clubs and/or extracurricular activities are you part of?

A: (Soumil Singh, Harvard Class of 2020)
Yeah there's a very strong extra curricular culture here. When I came here I did a bunch of things, like Harvard Glee Club which is a man's chorus. It might be gender neutral now ... it's the oldest chorus at the college, maybe even in America. So that was my artistic expression that I did for a few years.

Funnily enough I also played cricket here on the cricket team and that's more for just enjoyment. I used to play a lot more in high school but it's still good to play here ... I also did some peer counseling, so I was a counselor for a while for a group called Contact Counseling which provides a service for students who identify with the LGBTQ community.

The last thing I have been a part of is Varima which is the Hindu Students Organization and that's been a great community to connect people.

It's funny, In New Zealand I was very switched off, but then I came here and there's actually a large strong South Asian community here and I very strongly now identify with that part of my identity. I think that's one of the greatest things that has come out of this experience for me … like sort of discovering a whole new half to myself which I didn't know was there.

It’s really cool. I guess that's the whole point of extra curricular is to open your eyes up in different ways, more than academically.****

A: (Zhong Huang, Caltech Class of 2020)

The main club I'm involved with now is a university racing team where we are designing an electric car that will perform against other universities around the world.

Between the freshman year and sophomore year a lot of people do research on campus. I took up a research position over the summer as part of the SURF program, and had the opportunity to work in a lab with a professor. I have also done a little bit of research work with two different robotics labs during school years.

How did you adapt to college life?

A: (Soumil Singh, Harvard Class of 2020)

When I first go there it was very foreign to me. It was almost like I didn't know what to do with this experience because I had been working so hard to get here, I spent very little thought for what I would do once I actually arrived. So there was that level of confusion to begin with, and I didn't really understand what being in America would be like and that was quite interesting to me, too. So now I have a lot of great friends. At the time I felt very different to everybody. Even my sense of humor I felt was kind of ... in itself was a bit of a barrier to connect to people initially.

All the slang terms dropped out of my vocabulary because no one understood them and my accent changed as well because people didn’t understand my accent. I recently saw video of me when I was 13 making this speech at my school and I sounded so Kiwi. I'm like ‘wow, I haven't sounded like that at all here’!

Describe experiences that have been unique?

A: (Soumil Singh, Harvard Class of 2020)

So being here, everybody seems to be doing something extraordinary. You’d never build up a network of friends who are each doing great things. Impressive things. So I think that makes you believe that you can do great things and it means you know people doing impressive things, which means that you just inevitably end up doing what you had previously thought is impressive.

If look back at how I was in high school and look forward to some of the things I am doing now, I would think, ‘that's kind of impressive’. It's actually so normalized for me now because that's the environment that you're in, this sort of bubble. In a way you also need to ground yourself in the reality that some of the stuff isn't actually that normal, or isn't common. That's the best way I can summarize the benefit of coming to a "prestigious" university. I think the types of peers and types of opportunities you'll inevitably take up just rubs off on you. It has to rub off on you, there's no getting around it. So that's been great.

What do you think sets you apart as a young professional?

A: (Soumil Singh, Harvard Class of 2020)

I think the strategy started a long time ago. It started when I was 17, so I think a big reason is just getting here to Harvard. It gives you a level of legitimacy and it also gives you a level of confidence. Because my confidence is a bit higher, looking back at getting Bridgewater feels like far less of a big deal than it did before I got the job. Now it just feels like a job I would expect to do if I applied for jobs again for example. So that's the first thing, I think building up that mentality over multiple years means it just feels well within your capability.

Another element that’s quite important is applying a level of concentration in preparing for those kinds of interviews. It's really hard to explain, because the assumption is that these are special opportunities, and I guess they are - the venture funding opportunity is quite rare. I don't know why they chose us, it's hard to say. I think they just liked us as people and they thought, ‘sure we'll give you a shot’.

I think definitely the legitimacy of having worked at Bridgewater, having gone to Harvard from a different country … there are a number of signs that you build up that you're somebody who will continue to learn. It's a signaling mechanism really. I'm sure that lots and lots of people are talented, it's just hard to make somebody else believe that unless there are strong signals to suggest that.

It ties back into the investment you make in yourself and with a team like Crimson, where you know, the investment really helps you leverage a lot of the resources that you have, that you don't even know you have; like mental capacity, time, vision … all these things. That's why I look back at my experience with Crimson and think it's life changing because of that. It's an illuminating experience. I had very regular interactions with Jamie back then and he's very illuminating for that reason because almost from a vacuum he just decided and realized very early on the constraints that most people think of subconsciously, they're not even aware of it. He realized that they are not necessary, he completely worked around them, did a bunch of other things, and now he's doing what he's doing. I think this is a hallmark of a lot of people who find success. People around them are like, "how did you even do that? How did you even think of that?" That’s the kind of mentality that sets you apart.

Can you think back to impressive speakers that have spoken in certain lectures or seminars?

A: (Zhong Huang, Caltech Class of 2020)

A few years ago Bill Gates came to Caltech where he spoke about renewable energy. It was just really cool to see him here.

A: (Nathan Huynh, Wharton Class of 2021)

We hear from a bunch of impressive people not just from the business world, like the actor Woody Harrelson and other artsy perspectives.

Then we also hear from top executives, like the recent CEO of Walt Disney, Bob Iger. Most of the founders of elite boutique banks like Moelis & Co. and PJT Partners are Wharton alumni. They come down to our campus once every year, or once every semester, so there's always a star speaker every few weeks. These people are pretty amazing, and it's kind of crazy that they went through the entire college process with a similar experience to what I’m going through now.

We have also seen Howard Marks, Cofounder of Oaktree Capital Management (over $100 billion USD in assets under management), who some would say is as famous as Warren Buffet and also the other day, Daniel D’Aniello, Cofounder of Carlyle Group ($201 billion USD assets under management).

One really memorable experience was being accepted into a 10-person seminar with Stuart Weitzman, founder of the luxury shoe brand. He studied each of our resumes beforehand so it was pretty interactive. It was honestly so cool because he talked about his decision-making process throughout the life of the company … including the risks in choosing talent for campaigns.

He also apparently considered investment banking as a career path, so it was interesting to hear his experiences.

A: (Jen Wright, NYU Stern Class of 2022)

We have these sessions called ‘Fireside Chats’. So we have people who are running big banks, Founders and CEOs of publicly traded companies, CEOs of big banks, and more general leaders coming in every week or so. I’ve had my graduate job lined up for a while now, so I haven't been as proactive as I could have about attending the voluntary ones. We’ve had some brilliant guest speakers come into class though.

What initiatives / projects were born during your time at college?

A: (Soumil Singh, Harvard Class of 2020)

Last semester my now co-founder now and I were chatting and he had been working on projects to help governments design transportation systems better, in particular looking at bike and scooter sharing.

So he approached me and said ‘do you want to work on this with me?’ At the time I knew he was a really hard worker and I knew that the issue was quite interesting so I said ‘yeah, let's do it!’ but we didn't really know that it was going to be a company.

Securing venture funding happened a few weeks after that first conversation occurred, and then working within Harvard Innovation Lab was a part of the process to gather the company together and make it an actual business. They provide access to various mentors and a work expense to help build what we're doing.

What is one piece of advice you'd pass on to students who are about to embark on university studies?

A: (Jen Wright, NYU Stern Class of 2021)

Talk to as many people as possible about what you want to do. I actively reached out to consultants, bankers, lawyers and tech students to figure out which industry was right for me. Be proactive! It’s a lot easier to spend a few hours chatting with a range of people, than choose a career you’re not sure about and then spend years wasting your time.

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