Master of Finance program at MIT Sloan is renowned for its emphasis on quantitative approach and rigorous coursework. However, the flexibility of this program is relatively unknown. As graduate students at MIT Sloan, MFin candidates have vast freedom to explore various areas of interest. While some of my fellow MFin students took general management courses such as marketing and management, others enrolled in engineering or even liberal arts courses as part of their requirement for general electives. Some students even pursued independent studies or wrote a thesis in keeping with their personal academic interests.
As an avid advocate of Corporate Social Responsibility, besides studying finance, learning more about Socially Responsible Investing had been on my-to-do list when I came to MIT Sloan for MFin degree. Soon after joining the program, I realized that in order to integrate my understanding of various academic areas and to actively interact with academic and other working professionals with a shared interest, I would have to put in much extra work. While I knew writing a thesis could be a truly good option, I was afraid I could fail, as my other coursework would demand substantial amount of time, quite apart from the time I would have to invest on a job search. However, the resources at MIT Sloan, including top class faculty, dedicated staff, exceptional library resources, smart fellow students and experienced alumni around the campus were too tempting an opportunity to pass up. Hence, I started to work on an optional thesis titled "The Influence of Institutional Investors on Firm Value."
To my surprise, I found the thesis writing experience enjoyable and highly rewarding. The most obvious benefit of writing a thesis is gaining a better understanding of a specific issue one is really interested in. But, besides solidifying understanding of certain concepts and developing analytical skills, there are some practical benefits of writing a thesis. I would like to share few of them.
Even if you have a passion, if it is not communicated, your passion remains unexpressed and latent. But since thesis writing is a very dynamic process, it often involves personal interviews and interaction with various people. People also tend to be really nice to a student when they are approached for thesis research. By meeting people who share a common interest with you, you can naturally expand your personal network.
For most students, job search is their primary concern. And as working on a thesis is expected to be time consuming, at first glance it does not seem to be a good option. On the contrary, it has been my experience that writing a thesis is really an excellent recruitment tool.
• Interview Skills: A large part of any interview is to ascertain whether you can explain your experience of solving a complex problem in a clear manner. Nobody knows more about your research than you do. By explaining your analysis intelligently, you can distinguish yourself from other qualified candidates.
• Finding a niche market: People respect MIT as one of the best research institutions in the world. Though you may think doing research at MIT merely indicates your interest in a certain field, people outside the school will look at you as if you are an expert in that particular field. If you wish to target a specific area for job search, consider writing a thesis on that area and putting the thesis title on your resume. You will attract stronger response from potential employers.
• Software Skills: When you post your resume on a job board, listing some statistical software such as STATA, SPASS, SAS, or MATLAB on it can have an extremely positive effect. While learning these programs is very time consuming, by using these software in your thesis, you can legitimately claim competence in them.
Many people say that they do not know what they really want to do in their lives. Perhaps, the most important benefit an individual can get out of the thesis writing experience at this stage in life is to test whether he/she is really passionate about an area. Had I not written my thesis, I would not have known what I would really like to do over the next five to ten years of my life. It helped me to find a specific area of academic interest and also establish a foundation to apply for a Ph. D program in management in the future.
Writing a thesis is challenging but it is doable, enjoyable, and rewarding. I am convinced that most MFins are capable of writing a thesis. If LGOs and an MSMS can do it, why can’t a bright MFin? MFin curriculum is not designed to write a thesis, but because it is more challenging, an MFin student’s thesis could be more valuable and rewarding. I hope more future MFin students would challenge themselves by taking this initiative.