AIFMRM celebrates its first PhD graduates

Four of AIFMRM’s PhD students submitted their theses and graduated in 2018 – the first PhD graduates since AIFMRM’s inception in 2014. We caught up with them to find out more about their journeys and their reflections on the PhD process.

“We are incredibly proud of our first cohort of PhD graduates, not only for their individual achievements but also as their success indicates what AIFMRM has collectively achieved as an institution that values research as the vehicle for everything else it does. We are truly building intellectual capital and contributing to industry and the global academic community.” – Professor David Taylor, AIFMRM Director

Dr Alex Backwell

What was the subject of your PhD?
My thesis was on term structure models with unspanned factors and unspanned stochastic volatility. Broadly speaking, I established a theory that helps to understand a certain class of interest rate models.

What do you do now?
I am a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at AIFMRM, so I am still working on my PhD topic, with a view to publishing it. I have brought on co-authors for some aspects of it and some I am publishing alone. I am also teaching on AIFMRM’s MPhil in Mathematical Finance degree.

Your reflections on the PhD – any highlights and lowlights?
The nature of research is that there is much uncertainty; you do not know at the beginning how things are going to turn out – a few months of hard work may be a dead end. It can also be a lonely and stressful process, but I had a great deal of support from AIFMRM, for which I am very grateful.

On the positive side, there are very exciting times when you do see the fruit of your work. Also, I can see how I have developed my skills and knowledge – I have learned a great deal about the field, how to present my work in public, write well, deal with academic literature properly – it is very rewarding.

How has AIFMRM helped you, apart from academic support?
AIFMRM’s strength is the way it is plugged-in to the network of the financial industry in South Africa and the international academic community. From a PhD perspective, there is a risk of coming isolated, but Prof Taylor actively works on global connections to mitigate this.

Any words of advice for current or future PhD students?
It is a significant investment of time and energy, so you need good reasons to make that investment. I am an academic at heart, so I was never hesitant!

Dr Michael Rose

What was the subject of your PhD?
My work is in an area called Economics of Science, more specifically collaboration networks in economic science.

What do you do now?
I am continuing my research as a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition, based in Munich.

Your reflections on the PhD – any highlights and lowlights?
Certainly, the highlight was the opportunity to travel internationally to academic conferences – I went to Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Atlanta. This was an amazing experience and very beneficial for my development and my career.

How has AIFMRM helped you, apart from academic support?
AIFMRM was tremendously helpful because it offered me a scholarship, travel funds and the freedom to pursue and learn what I wanted, and what I felt was most relevant. Many PhD students all over the world do not enjoy such opportunities.

Any words of advice for current or future PhD students?
Before starting a PhD, think about whether you want to stay in academia or not. If you want to stay in academia, choose a university that offers a well-known PhD programme, and that has a placement office or the kind of support that AIFMRM gives for links to global academia.

Dr Ralph Rudd

What was the subject of your PhD?
My PhD was in quantitative finance – quite technical as I am more of a programmer than an analyst. I extended a technique called recursive marginal quantisation to numerically solve stochastic differential equations, which allows one to improve the calibration of models for financial instruments.

What do you do now?
I was awarded a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship to allow me to stay on at AIFMRM and publish my PhD work – and my first paper was published in Quantitative Finance. I am also a senior lecturer at AIFMRM, teaching on the MPhil in Mathematical Finance and MCom in Risk Management of Financial Markets programmes. I spend 80% of my time at UCT and 20% of my time doing quantitative consulting – currently with Liberty Financial Solutions.

Your reflections on the PhD – any highlights and lowlights?
The absolute highlight was attending and presenting at international conferences. I went to New York, Sydney and Barcelona. This ties into how AIFMRM structures the support around the research that we do.

One difficulty was fitting in time for research as well as tutoring and other academic activities. At AIFMRM, we all contribute – which is very valuable, as it gives us more experience than other PhD students around the world – but you need to keep on track with your research.

How has AIFMRM helped you, apart from academic support?
Not enough credit is given to the support and admin staff at AIFMRM – they are amazing and help with everything, which takes a big burden off your shoulders.

Any words of advice for current or future PhD students?
Take time to celebrate the small wins, because, otherwise, you can spend four years worrying that you are not going to get it done.

Dr Mario Giuricich

What was the subject of your PhD?
My PhD was geared towards the insurance industry, modelling losses that stem from natural catastrophes, and how that affects the value of various instruments that depend on those losses. Basically, modelling the behaviour of insurance-linked securities.

What do you do now?
I am in London working at SCOR, the fifth largest reinsurer in the world. I am working in the catastrophe risk management team, doing work that is very much in line with my PhD.

Your reflections on the PhD – any highlights and lowlights?
A PhD grows you into a much more mature and confident person, and I am very grateful to all at AIFMRM for the opportunities they have given me, and the individual that they have crafted me to be. I have formed life-long friendships and solid working relationships with people all over the world, which is a wonderful support network going forward.

A lowlight – you are never sure if what you are doing is new or novel enough and whether it will be accepted by your colleagues.

How has AIFMRM helped you, apart from academic support?
The way AIFMRM taps into the international network sets them apart from any other academic department in South Africa. This is a unique selling point for pursuing a PhD at AIFMRM as opposed to anywhere else.

Any words of advice for current or future PhD students?
Have faith in yourself, value input from your supervisor, and just keep going!

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