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Advice on Pursuing U.S. Finance Jobs For Students in the Duke MEM Program

By Daniel Egger – MEMP Executive in Residence & Director, Center of Quantitative Modeling


MEM students pursuing finance jobs in the U.S. can greatly improve their outcomes by taking some time to distinguish between the different types of roles that exist under the broad heading of “finance,” and focusing their efforts on those roles where success is most likely for them. Generalizing very broadly, finance industry jobs for University graduates fall into three main categories: Sell-side, Buy-side, and Information Technology Infrastructure.  Below, I discuss each Category, and why I think it is, or is not, a realistic target for MEM students’ job search.


1. Sell-Side

Sell-side jobs are those where the ultimate value of an employee to his or her employer is the ability to sell whatever product or service the bank or brokerage firm is currently offering. The key activities in these jobs are, first, developing personal relationships with clients and potential clients, and second, “pitching” these contacts on the sale of whatever the employer will make a profit on each day. For example, your firm may be selling a particular company’s stock or bond, selling a whole Company in a merger, selling a division of a larger company in an acquisition/divestiture, or promoting and selling a new financial product such as a complex derivative. Much of this pitching is done over the phone, so an effortless command of idiomatic English is essential.

Jobs in “investment banking” are essentially all sell-side. Even roles that might appear from their job title to be more analytical and objective, such as “equity analyst,” are actually sell-side jobs. An equity analyst at an investment bank or brokerage firm is creating written materials to give the firm’s sales people relevant ‘talking points’ with potential customers. Very often, the equity analyst will be writing about Companies the firm already represents, or wants to represent, in the sale of stock or bonds. The analyst role exists to support the firm’s sales efforts.

In my opinion, there are two main reasons MEM students do not get hired for sell-side jobs.

First, a skill for sell-side jobs that is most likely to lead to success is found in those who enjoy networking, and find it easy. These individuals are successful at sales because they are naturally suited to the work of building many personal trust relationships rapidly. Again generalizing broadly, Engineers by training and temperament tend to be more introspective, thoughtful, and analytical/judgmental. Engineers tend to focus more on the correct answer than the on making the other person feel right – a quality that may make them excellent engineers, but not obvious salespeople.

Second, the usual “funnel” for sell-side jobs does not provide easy access for MEM students. U.S. students begin preparing themselves to be hired in sell-side finance jobs by the time they are 18 or 19 years old, working in multiple summer internships as undergraduates, majoring in relevant and expected undergraduate subjects such as economics, and networking with classmates and alumni involved in finance. When evaluating resumes, employers put a lot of emphasis on competitiveness and extroverted leadership in non-academic activities, such as competitive athletics and fraternities/sororities. Most starting employees in sell-side roles at top-tier U.S. financial institutions are recruited directly as undergraduates out of a small number of elite, Ivy-League or similar institutions. There is a strongly standardized recruitment “funnel” and alternate paths into it are not welcomed. Recruiters generally resist even considering students who have not pursued the “pre-career” path described above.
There are exceptions, of course, and one or two MEM graduates each year are hired into U.S. sell-side/investment banking jobs – but these are generally students who are (a) strongly extroverted, (b) relentlessly ambitious, and (c) prepared to spend a year or more on their job search beyond MEM graduation.


2. Buy-Side

Buy-side financial institutions are those that manage other people’s money for a fee, and sometimes for a share of any profits. Many jobs in buy-side firms involve careful sifting and evaluation of the “sell-side” pitches making the rounds of Wall Street. Most well-run buy-side firms have their own in-house analysts, and do “due diligence,” or independent assessment, on all investment opportunities, including evaluating the performance of other money managers to whom they may delegate certain investment decisions. The best buy-side firms also pursue original investment strategies that they develop in-house, often through extensive data-analysis and back-testing of investment strategies. Buy-side organizations generally specialize in particular financial asset classes, investment time horizons, and money-making strategies. They have many different organizational structures, including pension funds, equity and bond mutual funds, venture capital funds, hedge funds, and trading operations that trade “for their own account” – meaning they aim to profit directly on trades that risk their own capital, rather than making money on commissions for executing others’ trades.

People with an engineering background are actually well-suited to succeed in many needed roles on the buy-side, and many graduates of Duke’s own Pratt School of Engineering work in, and have great career success in, this area. It is a much better “fit” for most engineers than the sell-side. [My own MEM course titled “Introduction to Computational Finance” focuses on buy-side analytical tasks, as well as the criteria used to evaluate and hire money managers]. However, there are still two big obstacles standing in the way of employment on the buy-side for MEM graduates.

First, much of the work of a money management firm involves raising the money to invest, which includes both direct solicitation of investors, and marketing the firm to intermediaries and other “gatekeepers,” such as wealth advisors. Fundraising never stops, nor does the work of managing ongoing relationships with investor-clients. Therefore, many of the jobs at buy-side institutions are actually sell-side roles. For example, someone running a money management firm will spend 80%+ of their time raising money, travelling constantly for face-to-face meetings with investors, potential investors, and clients around the country and around the world, “pitching” themselves and their firm as a superior place to invest, and to keep, one’s money. Thus money management is fundamentally a relationship-driven, selling-oriented business, the same as investment-banking, except the product being sold is oneself: one’s credibility, skill, and track record.  As explained above, by temperament, sales jobs rarely play to the natural strengths of MEM students.

My advice is that MEM students should determine at the outset whether an employment opportunity at a buy-side organization is in an inward-facing, analytical role – for example, performing due diligence on new investments, portfolio allocation and rebalancing, risk-management, or hedging – or is more an outward facing sell-side role – such as investor relations, financial reporting, or a trading role where one is expected to raise one’s own money to invest.

Second, just as with the recruitment “funnel” for sell-side institutions, buy-side institutions that are large enough to do on-campus recruiting have fixed procedures for who they will and will not interview and evaluate, and their focus is on the same pool of Ivy-League undergraduates, using the same criteria, as the sell-side firms. It is difficult for MEM students to get beyond the stage of sending in their resumes to an HR contact, or at most getting a brief phone interview.

However, engineering graduates with an MEM degree who do manage to get face-to-face interviews with practitioners of buy-side roles at buy-side firms tend to do well. This eventual success may be exactly because they are engineers – their thoughtfulness, work ethic, analytical and quantitative approach to problem solving, and evident mathematical and data-analysis skills make them in many ways better at buy-side jobs than candidates from the standard “funnel” or interviewing pool. Therefore, it is essential for MEM students who are determined to get hired in a buy-side job to get to know personally people working in the industry outside of the standard HR/interviewing process. The way that you will be hired is ultimately through mentorship by a successful individual at one of those firms; someone senior enough to have hiring authority and with whom you have developed a personal relationship. Pursuing a buy-side job with a U.S. firm is not easy for MEM graduates, and it is not recommended – but it is not impossible.

Note that the rigid interviewing “funnel” in the U.S for both sell-side and buy-side financial jobs is not at all similar to how MEM students may be hired for comparable jobs in their “home” countries – and in particular in rapidly emerging economic powers such as Brazil, India, and China. The process in many countries is much more fluid and less institutionalized – and there is much more rapid growth, which creates constant demand for new entry-level people. By U.S. standards these countries’ financial career paths are the “Wild West” – full of adventure, boundless opportunity, and risk. A determined individual with an MEM degree can begin a successful career in any area of finance in their home country more easily that they can in the U.S. Instead of being seen as someone with a “non-standard” degree for a finance career, that needs to be explained, you will be seen — more accurately — as someone who has technical training in your own country, combined with excellent English-language skills, exposure to U.S. culture and business practices, and the ambition and energy to obtain a business degree from a top U.S. institution.


3. Information Technology (IT) Infrastructure

Many MEM students have several years experience working as software developers or business analysts working on IT projects, and/or have a degree in Computer Science or Electrical Engineering and have also learned to program and/or to work with databases.   These students may have come to the MEM program in part to “escape” from being in a purely technical “coding” role, and so may be initially hesitant to consider jobs in Financial IT Infrastructure. However, five (5) points are worth considering:

First, most IT Infrastructure jobs for MEM graduates lead rapidly to promotion to team-leader and project manager positions. Financial firms are not hiring you to write code for more than a year or so – they need people who can understand both coding and the larger business aims of the organization, and have the “people-skills” to lead and manage team efforts that will involve dozens, or hundreds, of contributors located all over the world.

Second, the financial sector spends more money on IT products and services, both internally and externally, than any other industry. In every aspect of finance, from customer relationships and on-line marketing, to credit cards, to transaction processing and brokerage, to development of trading and trading floor technology, to data security, data-analysis and Big Data storage and processing, financial firms are making massive capital investments in order to remain competitive. Large budgets and competitive pressures create great career opportunities for those who have (or who can acquire quickly) the relevant skills to execute on big plans.

Third, it is a myth that over the long term, people in outward-facing roles at banks and other financial institutions will be paid more than IT infrastructure people in those same organizations. Senior managers – those who assume significant responsibility for large teams – are paid extremely well, because the special combination of skills needed – technical and management ability, combined with specialized vertical-market experience and expertise – is always in short supply. MEM students who go into IT Infrastructure for finance can and should aspire to be Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at a financial institution some day. The relative importance of the CTO, relative to other C-level positions, at banks and other financial institutions is continually rising. Over the long term, (the next ten to twenty years) sell-side and buy-side jobs will largely be phased out and replaced by intelligent computer systems. (See below, A Special Note on Algorithmic Execution and Trading).

Fourth, it is admittedly my personal opinion only, but in the long-term, a career designing and building useful things is much more satisfying work for engineers than a career buying and selling things designed and built by others – and this holds just as true in the financial sector as in other industries.  And job satisfaction is not irrelevant to pragmatic career planning – because people tend to be more motivated, thrive more, and rise faster, when doing work they fundamentally enjoy.

Fifth, MEM students who also have basic software and/or database competencies are hired in large numbers every year by top U.S. financial firms. The same firms that won’t interview MEM students who don’t fit in their “funnel” for sell-side and buy-side jobs use completely different people to recruit and interview for their Information Technology jobs – and those people have completely different criteria for evaluating and hiring students. For example, recruiters for IT jobs are much more likely to understand what it says about you that your graduated from Tsinghua or Peking University, or from an Indian IIT. And from the perspective of these interviewers, the MEM degree gives those who also have a relevant technical background a significant competitive edge in hiring over people who have only the technical background.

Therefore, my advice is to build on your technical background in seeking to work in the financial industry. Compete for those jobs where your unusual combination of skills is competitive differentiation and a big advantage, rather than something unusual that needs to be explained.

A common question I hear from MEM students is: “What if I have only limited software and coding experience? What do I need to know to be competitive for financial IT jobs? My Computer Science or Electrical Engineering, or similar degree does not necessarily mean I have much practical software development experience.”

My answer is that technology, including favored computer languages and tools used to build infrastructure, are changing so fast that the most important skill you can have is the ability and willingness to learn and apply new skills on your own rapidly and with confidence.  If you have never used C++, or Java, or R, or Perl, Python, or PHP, or worked with MySQL or other databases, or used tools like Hadoop – all of these things can be learned on your own using free online tutorials, posting on message boards to ask questions when you get stuck, etc. It is just a question of committing the time and energy to practicing. It is certainly easier than learning to work and write in English, if English is not your first language.  But if you have not learned these skills yet, and the prospect of learning them is not appealing to you – then I would recommend you pursue a different career path.  Over your career, specific computer languages and tools will become obsolete and be replaced – the only constant will be the need to master new knowledge.


A Special Note on Algorithmic Execution and Trading

Buying and selling financial assets such as stocks, bonds, and commodities, was once done by brokers gathered together on a physical trading floor. Computer networks made this structure obsolete, and now brokers around the world submit buy and sell orders to multiple exchanges electronically. However, a further level of automation is underway – where the trades themselves are executed algorithmically. Algorithmic execution is superior at balancing market risk and execution risk, and perhaps even more importantly, at obscuring the nature of the trade so that other market participants can’t exploit it. For example, if a mutual fund wants to sell a large block, such as 10 million shares, of a stock that has a normal daily volume of only a few million shares, offering the entire block at once will result in a very poor average price per share. Even just informing the market that the fund wants to sell that many shares over several days will lead to a much worse average price than if the intention of the seller can be kept secret. Computer algorithms break up the 10 million shares into random-seeming sized small lots, scatter their sale over a number of days and exchanges, and perhaps even include a number of buy orders to throw others off the track. Clients of algorithmic execution evaluate the performance of an algorithm by comparing the average price they got for the ten million shares to the last-traded price of the stock before they began selling. Obviously, if the process of selling the full 10 million shares takes too much time, the market price of the stock may in the mean time move down for reasons unrelated to the trade. This is “market risk.” If the selling process is too rapid, selling pressure will drive down the price even if other market participants do not know that the seller wants to sell 10 million shares. This is “execution risk.” Balancing these risks in a classic engineering optimization problem.

A further step in trading automation is when computers are programmed to identify opportunities to exploit small mispricings or arbitrage opportunities through very rapid placement of trades – much too fast for human intervention. The computer is authorized to place orders to buy and sell on its own volition. A very large part of all trading is now driven by one form or another of algorithmic-trading algorithm. One of the key features of successful algorithmic systems is very low latency for decision-making – the computer must be able to receive new data, analyze it, and place and cancel orders in a few thousandths of a second. [An MEM student team that I coach participates every year in a leading algorithmic trading competition, part of the Rotman International Trading Competition held in Toronto Canada annually]. Algorithmic execution and trading is of course just one aspect of financial industry Information Technology Infrastructure, but it is an area where an informed engineering perspective on software and hardware design, combined with basic knowledge of trading and markets, which can be obtained at the Duke MEM program, opens up career opportunities that in the long term will make many of the non-technical “sell-side” and “buy-side” jobs obsolete. The future of finance is with the technologists.

Entrepreneur Profile: Phanindra Sama, Redbus

By Aditya Prathipati, MEMP, ’14

During Diwali 2006, a young electronics engineer working for Texas Instruments in Bangalore, India, wanted to take a bus and go home to be with his family. Destiny did not let him go home. Instead it provoked him to create a business that let millions of Indians book ‘bus tickets’ online. Phanindra Sama created Redbus which is now one of the most successful ventures in India. Redbus was nominated one of the 50 most innovative companies in the world and was recently acquired by Naspers.



I recently had the privilege of conversing with Phani and it was definitely an enlightening experience. The following is a summary of the Q & A we had.

Q. If you had to ‘start-up’ again with a similar idea (like Redbus), would you be doing anything differently? What was a special learning you had during the growth of Redbus?

Phani had a couple of interesting things to share here. He stressed the importance of front end hiring. Generally, when it is a new business, people get so caught up and busy that they tend to give hiring less priority. But a good keen eye for the right people always pays off. It would also get you the A-team senior management in place faster and effectively.

Another lesson during the process of entrepreneurship has been about leadership. You can find a number of videos with Phani giving some insightful tips on leadership. One of the key things to note about leadership is knowing when to put your foot down and knowing when to be open to ideas. Good leaders strike a balance between kind heartedness and decisiveness.

Q. Being an electronics engineer, were you able to apply any of your skills from electronics in your company?

While Phani might not have been able to put exact electronics engineering material to work in Redbus, he definitely could identify some key transferable skills. Certain attributes like problem solving, getting to the depths of subjects to clearly understand the world around you, realizing the importance of sophisticated technology and simple concepts help you greatly in a business. Moreover, an aptitude for such learning would give you more confidence in yourself.

Q. I hear that you are thinking of turning into an investor. If you were investing in a new venture, what would you be looking for?

People. The team that initiates and executes the venture is the crux and soul of the start-up. Though a certain amount of diversity in the team is good for everyone, a team without the right chemistry will not be able to pivot success. Phani also reflected that this was one of the main reasons why they were not only able to survive but also be in a competitive position.

Q. A personal question. You have a reputation of being very humble and simple. How do you stay so grounded? What is your approach towards people?

To this question Phani laughed and said “I actually don’t know. I was told that I am humble and I even asked my wife about it. I guess I just am the way I am.”

In one of his interviews, Phani had mentioned why he leads a simple life. He says that if you lead a simple and natural life, irrespective of the turns your life takes, you will sustain yourself and not find it traumatic. “You should let life be unfair to you sometimes”

What a novel, profound thought!

MEMP Faculty Interview: Professor Theodore G. Ryan

Yitao Zhang (MEMP ‘ 12), Design Engineer for Viridi E-Mobility, Shares His Experience in the Automobile Industry

By Zihe Meng
Copy edited by Margaret Kuleshova

Yitao Zhang, MEMP '12
Yitao Zhang, MEMP ’12

Yitao did his undergraduate study at the University of Toronto, Canada, where he majored in mechanical engineering. After his bachelor’s degree, he strongly felt in need of interdisciplinary study of business and technology. The Master of Engineering Management Program at Duke became his first choice. He now works as a design engineer at Viridi E-Mobility Technology, a newly formed joint venture of Volvo and Geely dedicated to designing power train systems for hybrid vehicles.

“Hi, Yitao, this is Zihe. Thank you for taking the interview. Is now a good time to talk?”

“Sure, whenever you’re ready.”

“Great! I appreciate it. I know you attended your company’s annual party last night. How was it?”

“I had a lot of fun, thanks for asking.”

“I’m glad you enjoy your time at Viridi. Could you describe a typical day at your job as a design engineer?”

“Of course. The major part of my daily work concentrates on thermal management design of battery packs utilized by hybrid vehicles. To build a new-energy car, one of the most challenging tasks is battery design. One battery pack consists of thousands of small modules and parts, and it is extremely temperature-sensitive so we have to precisely control temperature, especially during charge and discharge. I run a lot of simulations of thermal and fluid dynamics using Cartia and FluEFD, trying to achieve efficient design. Our pilot production line will be tested in three months, so I also work with the production department using AutoCAD for layout planning.”

“Sounds intense. What skills do you think are the most valuable for this type of job?”

“There is no single skill that really dominates. First you have to be capable in terms of technical knowledge. In my job, for example, proficiency in mechanical engineering and related software is very important. But I also have to collaborate with electrical engineers and talk to suppliers. Soft skills such as communication and multi-tasking truly matter. They help you see things in multiple dimensions.”

Viridi E-Mobility
Viridi E-Mobility

“I believe many MEM students could relate to that. Are there any courses or electives that you found helpful for your role now? Would you like to give some advice to current students?”

“During my experience at Duke, core courses of MEM such as Marketing and Finance definitely helped me develop more business insight. With electives like Project Management I got the chance to present my work and my communication skills improved a lot. I took one elective from Economics called Intermediate Finance. It opened a door to the outside of technology and I learned about the financial market. It helped me understand my job in a different perspective such as the economic consequences of my work. My suggestion would be to explore new fields and broaden your horizon. Students can sit in classes outside of the MEM program. It really helps you see the bigger picture, especially when it comes to management.”

“That’s a good point. What about those challenges? How did you actually deal with them?”

“One of my biggest challenges was lack of experience. I came straight out of school and it could be overwhelming sometimes with so many things to learn and so many experienced people with which to work. When designing a vehicle, every little part ties together and it gives a lot of pressure. I’m glad that my company holds weekly training for us. In the one-hour session, colleagues will give presentations of their previous work, update current tasks and more importantly share their experiences. It is a good way to know others more, and to gain a clearer idea of what and how other departments are working. A new technology in one realm could be the inspiration for another. That’s what I love about it.”

“It’s very thoughtful for a company to do that. Some current students are struggling with which industry to step into. What brought you to the automobile industry in the first place?”

“To be honest, I also struggled with it once. I have tried investment banking and passed CFA Level I. I think it’s not hard to get into an industry, but it is hard to find out whether it fits. I did a one-year internship with Automation Tooling Systems, Inc. in Canada where I learned about cycle times, GD&T, and JIT production and got exposed to supply chain management. I found the year extremely helpful in identifying my passion. So I would encourage you to try whatever you find interesting, even if it turns out not so satisfying. It could still serve as your next inspiration.”

“That’s very impressive. How do you think such an interest would guide your career path in the near future?”

“I do love what I am doing now, building a new-energy car for the next generation. I’m a hands-on person. In the future, I would like to get closer to the production line as a calibration engineer or process engineer. It’s not going to be easy as front engineers require years of experience and deep insight in the industry.”

“Wonderful, and I wish you all the best. It was great talking to you, thanks again for your valuable input. I’m sure it will help a lot of students.”

“No problem. Glad I could help. Don’t hesitate to contact me again if you have further questions.”

“I really appreciate it. Thank you and have a great day!”





CDAR MEM Student Group – Achievements & Final words

By Naman Garg , MEM ’13 – CDAR Director Fall 13

Naman Garg, MEM '13
Naman Garg, MEM ’13

It is my immense pleasure and honor to write final words for activities performed by extremely talented and hardworking Career Development & Alumni Relations (CDAR) members during Fall 2013. We have worked on some amazing projects such as Internship Information sessions, Informational Interviewing, Workgroups, and the CDAR Fall 2013 Installment document. I am very hopeful that in Spring ‘14 CDAR will do more wonderful work under Osama’s leadership and Jenny Johnson and Ross Wade’s guidance.

When I joined Duke MEM program in Fall 2013, I was overwhelmed with the options and choices presented to me. Being an engineer with limited work experience, I had little idea of the professional path I wanted to follow. So I set on a quest to understand my career interests. I started by talking to a lot of people from diverse fields. This helped me to realize what I didn’t want to do in the future. Eventually I was able to figure out about my career interests.

I also learned that I was not alone in this struggle of choosing a career path. So, when I got the opportunity to work as CDAR’s director, I oversaw a highly motivated team that worked on projects aimed at helping MEM students make effective career choices. Informational Interviewing is one such project which will help students to know about day to day activities of various alumni working in diverse fields. We believe that it will definitely help students make  informed choices with respect to their careers.

Internship Information sessions, lunch with professors also registered highly positive feedback from students. All the transcripts of alumni interviews, internship information sessions, and feedback from other projects have been documented in the CDAR Fall 2013 Installment.

I am sure CDAR will have much more exciting and wonderful projects for MEM students this semester. I highly recommend students to go through the CDAR Fall 2013 Installment to learn about different projects and their outcomes. We believe this will definitely help students in their Jobs/Internship search.

Finally I would like to thank Margaret, Osama, Vaishnavi, Arjun, Ajay, Samkit, Anthony, Pranav, Swathy, Zihe, Tucker, & Kavitha for their excellent work. Jenny, Ross and Bridget for their valuable guidance and Maahir & Venos for constant support.

It was a great learning experience for me personally. I would like to welcome the future team and hope they will have as much fun and wonderful experiences from this forum.

Click here to read the CDAR report including informational interviews with alumni, discussions with MEM faculty, and more!

DUHatch: Don’t Wait – INNOVATE!

By: Aditya Murthy – MEng, ’14

Duke University has always been strongly committed to innovation and entrepreneurship. Being located in the Research Triangle area, there is no paucity of bright minds and path breaking ideas. All it needs is a resource to nurture these ideas and help them flourish. DUHatch is this resource.


Available to all Duke Students, our business incubator can do a lot more than providing you with a wonderful office space that you can run your idea from. It connects enterprising students having viable, innovative business ideas, with mentors from faculty and industry. It is an opportunity to give your new venture a launching platform.

Professor Jim Mundell, the Director of DUHatch, is a seasoned industry expert with executive level business experience in the medical device, semiconductor, thermoelectric, and electronic systems markets.  He most recently held the position of COO and Co-Founder at Nextreme Thermal Solutions, where he raised over $30M in venture and strategic partner funding before selling the company.  Professor Mundell has also held key executive positions at three other successful early stage companies such as Volumetrics Medical Imaging, Trivirix International, and CBA.  During Professor Mundell’s first 18 years he held senior executive positions with General Electric, Harris, SCI Systems, and CTS.  Professor Mundell has worked internationally in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan and Ireland. He holds an MBA from Purdue University’s Krannert Graduate School of Management and a BS in EET from Purdue University. Professor Mundell possesses a wealth of industry expertise and is a great person to talk to as your idea evolves from its nascent stages into a revenue generating business model.  He also teaches two business related courses in the MENG and MEM programs.

Along with our in-house expert, we can also put you in direct contact with experts from all areas of a business including legal, finance, accounting, marketing, sales, engineering, and manufacturing.  We call this our ‘Coaches-On-Call’ service.  At the start of every semester, we make a list of these experts available to all our teams. These are people with decades of experience behind them. They are willing to provide assistance with issues ranging from raising capital, intellectual property, and incorporating your company to general business and marketing strategy.  When a company is in its formative stages, money is invariably a major consideration. The opportunity to have an office space, lawyers willing to help you on a pro-bono basis, and experienced mentors to turn to for advice is invaluable.

A huge part of the success of any business is the ability to raise initial capital. To this effect, DUHatch presents the registered businesses with the unique opportunity to pitch their idea directly to potential angel investors and venture capitalist. The experience of standing in front of these investors is a huge reality check for many. It helps teams reassess their position and make the relevant modifications to their business plan in order to be able to deliver a stronger pitch the next time. At the same time, if your pitch manages to catch the guest angel or VC’s attention, you may have just found your seed funding!

DUHatch is also involved in the Summer Innovation Program. This program provides undergraduate and graduate students with the opportunity to receive hands-on exposure to entrepreneurship, business, and emerging technologies. It is an opportunity for teams to propel their existing start-ups into the next stage of operation. At the end of the Spring semester, a panel of judges is brought to pick one out of the various business ideas. This team is then given a stipend of $5000 to work on their idea over the course of the Summer break. Teams outside the center are also eligible and encouraged to participate, allowing for a wider range of ideas.

One of Duke’s biggest entrepreneur-centric events is the Duke Startup Challenge. Before the deadline of the 1st round, DUHatch conducts a critiquing session with Professor Mundell and a guest expert. This fall we were lucky to have Poornima Vijayashanker, also a serial entrepreneur, Professor at Duke, and founder/co-founder of BizeeBee, Femgineer, and Mint.com work with Professor Mundell. She was terrific.  This was a chance for teams to receive some validation as well as constructive criticism on their application before submitting it to the start-up challenge!

However, our biggest assets are the teams that are affiliated with the center. The myriad of bright ideas are what fuels the center. We house ideas related to Biomaterials, Hydraulic Fracking, E-Recycling, and Sports Apps to name a few. We currently have 7 participating teams: BioArt, Foam Finger, Refract, Deos LLC., Luxano Biomedical, Runner Over and Smart Metals. All these ideas have the potential to be ‘the next big thing’. We at DUHatch hope to help them realize their potential.

My role as the Student Manager of DUHatch entails communicating with the teams as well as our mentors. I work closely with the teams to understand what resources they will require and make them available to them. This includes providing them with contacts that might help them with a particular problem or scheduling a meeting with one of our coaches or Professor Mundell. My immediate goal, however, is to increase DUHatch’s visibility in the social media space. A future goal is to build University Relations with incubation centers in Silicon Valley, providing our teams with a route to bigger opportunities. This position is going to be an incredible learning curve for me and I intend to make the most of it!

Admitted Students Day

By Maahir Shah, MEM ’13


Admitted Students’ Day (ASD), held in the last week of March, gives applicants who have been granted admission into the MEM and MEng Programs an opportunity to experience the education, culture and network at Duke first-hand. While this event is predominantly attended by applicants who are already in the US, several international applicants attend this event as well. ASD 2013 in particular was attended by a diverse group of over 50 prospective students from Belgium, China, India, Pakistan, Panama, Puerto Rico, Russia and all over the US.

ASD is traditionally held on a Friday and since several attendees arrive in Durham the day before, our current students organize an informal gathering with them on Thursday night at a restaurant in downtown Durham. This gives the attendees an opportunity to experience some amazing local Durham culture and cuisine as well as get introduced to the diverse student body in the MEM and MEng Programs.

ASD kicks off the next day with an early morning check-in that is accompanied by some coffee and breakfast. At the check-in, students are handed out an agenda and several brochures which provide valuable information about the program such as descriptions of the courses offered, career options, contact information of the faculty and staff and much more. The prospective students are then ushered into an auditorium where they are given a warm welcome by the Directors of the programs. During this introduction and program overview, several attendees have testified that they truly saw the value proposition of joining the MEM and MEng Programs at Duke. This is then followed by a short sample class on Management and Business that is taught by one of our esteemed faculty members and is a mandatory course for students in the program.

After a short break, the prospective students are lead to one of our faculty halls where several tables are set up for one of the favorite sessions of our attendees – the lunch with faculty. During this session, prospective students are assigned lunch tables. Seated at each table is a member of our faculty or staff as well as a current student. This gives our attendees a distinct advantage of getting the viewpoint of a professor as well as a student who has experienced the program. During the session, each professor also gives a short introduction to all students about themselves, the course(s) they teach and the value proposition and industry relevance for students interested in the course. The session usually ends with a break out where attendees can network with faculty, staff and current students to learn more and ask specific questions which they have in mind.

Lunch with Faculty

Lunch is followed by three short but very important sessions. The first one is a short session on Housing where several current students brief prospective students about where most MEMP and MEng students tend to stay and how they can go about searching for and acquiring accommodation for their duration in the program. This session is particularly useful for international students and students who are not local to the area. One of the key indicators of the success of this session is that most attendees end up living in one or two of the apartment complexes that current students suggest. As a result, most students in the program live very close by which creates a good platform for social activities during their time in the program. This session is followed up by a session on Career Services. During this time, our Career Services Team which is dedicated to only students in the MEM and MEng Programs, give students a glimpse into the variety of resources they have available in order to look for jobs and internships. During this session, prospective students truly understand the value of the network and opportunity for professional, personal and career development that they have available at Duke University. The last in the series of these sessions is the Student Panel. A diverse panel of current students is gathered into the auditorium where prospective students can ask questions to the current students about anything they have in their mind. Traditionally, questions range from housing, courses, career opportunities, the network at Duke, social activities and much more. The session adds value to the ASD experience since our attendees get an opportunity to learn about the experiences of several current students who are currently in the program.

Up next is one of the other highlights of ASD – The Campus Tour. Duke has a large and beautiful campus and the campus tour is an opportunity for students to immerse themselves into the culture at Duke University. Prospective student are split into small groups where they can get to know each other. Each tour group is led by one or two current students. Attendees get the opportunity to visit several places on West Campus which is where MEMP and MEng students spend most of their time. Some of the places include the classrooms where classes are held such as CIEMAS, Hudson and Teer, Perkins and Bostock Library, the local West Campus Hangout – the Bryan Center, the Duke Chapel, Fuqua School of Business and The Law School where MEMP and MEng students can take classes and the legendary Cameron Indoor Basketball Stadium. Prospective students enjoy the tour which usually takes about an hour. However, this can be extended by the number of pictures that students tend to take on this tour.

As we approach the end of ASD, students are led to our Seminar Hall to experience a core requirement of the programs – Seminar. Every week, the program brings in an industry speaker to share some insights about their experiences in diverse industries and this relates to how the MEM and MEng Programs can position students to succeed and excel in their career. The seminar is usually followed by another great part of the programs – the Cultural Presentation. Every year, the MEM and MEng Programs have a diverse student body from over 20 countries of the world. Every Friday, after Seminar, a student from a particular country delivers a short and fun presentation about their culture. This creates an excellent platform for inter-cultural learning which is crucial in today’s business environment of diverse and global teams. The presentation is followed by food from that culture and short message from the Program Director thanking the prospective students for their attendance.

While it may seem that ASD has come to an end, current students do not call it quits so early on a Friday. Our current students offer to show attendees around Durham and organize a social event in Durham. Quite often, as it happened during ASD 2013, there is a Duke Basketball game on that Friday night. This gives prospective students an opportunity to experience Duke Basketball and meet with almost all current students in the program. Friday nights are an integral part of the social activities at Duke and this gives prospective students an opportunity to truly experience life as a Duke student.

With that, a fun-filled day comes to an end where we tell our prospective students that we look forward to seeing them in Fall when they accept their offers. And, for the most part, we see most of these students enter the program. ASD gives prospective students the unique opportunity to truly experience Duke as if they were an MEMP or MEng student. Several prospective students have personally testified how instrumental ASD was in helping them make their choice to accept their offer of admission from the MEM or MEng Program at Duke University. ASD has been a vital contributor in helping these students embark on and succeed in their journey as an MEMer or MEnger.


Creating A Guidebook for Chinese Students

By Bridget Fletcher, Assistant Director of Student Services

In my job I see lots of students adjust to life at Duke very quickly and also see large groups of students struggle with the adjustment and never quite get to the point of comfort.  In my experience, one of the groups that seems to have the toughest time acclimating is our Chinese population. This makes sense. The language and culture are different, but not different in the way that people from the UK say “lift” instead of elevator. Different in the sense that the concepts of things like success, happiness, and family mean fundamentally different things in China. I spent lots of time trying to figure out how to better help these students and decided that a little research was in order.

I did a lot of reading about China. I read about the history, the culture, the educational system, and pretty much anything I could get my hands on. I learned a lot. For example, I had no idea that math works differently in China. The way you talk about and explain numbers is completely unlike the way we do it in the US. (Some say this is why China is better at math than the US – go figure!) I also learned a lot about the educational system. The Gaokao (college entrance exam) is something so unparalleled in the level of importance it plays in a young Chinese students life, that it’s hard to find a comparable topic for discussion that would make sense to an American. Basically, China and the US operate in ways so vastly different that most people (and universities) have not really even attempted to talk about it. It’s hard to know where to begin, let alone what a reasonable outcome might be. I am generally fairly comfortable in the realm of uncomfortable and decided this issue was one I would like to tackle.

bridget book

I took what I knew through my experiences in working with Chinese students, what I had learned through my research, and decided to create a project that would allow me to better understand something that had not been thoroughly researched yet – the gap between Chinese student expectations about their experience in the US and the realities of their actual experiences.  After lots of interviews, a few trips to China, and several servings of xiao long bao, I had a decent idea of what might actually be helpful for our Chinese students – a book they could read before coming to the US. Something that would help them understand what to expect in terms of language barriers, new classroom expectations, and general cultural differences.

I created From Jiao Shi to Classroom to address these very issues and to give students some ideas for ways they might prepare for their trip to the US. Things like ways to practice critical thinking, which is something that would not be expected in a Chinese classroom. The book also includes tips for making it through the first few weeks of classes. For example, write down a few comments and questions ahead of time so you aren’t caught off guard if participation is expected. The book also covers a lot of general cultural differences to expect. Things like ordering in a restaurant, the American custom of hugging, and why “how’s it going?” isn’t really a question. (This was my favorite part to write because I experienced these cultural differences on the other side of the spectrum, while I was in China.) No book can ever really prepare you for cultural differences as vast as those between the US and China, but my hope is that From Jiao Shi to Classroom gives Chinese students preparing to come to the US a head start.

Visit iTunes to download From Jiao Shi to Classroom for free on your iPad

EducationUSA Fair in South America

By Erin Degerman, Admissions Officer

Dr. Brad Fox, Associate Dean and Executive Director of the Master of Engineering and Master of Engineering Management programs, and I travelled to South America September 2013 to promote the programs to South American students and universities.

We travelled with other university representatives to several stops along the EducationUSA Fair Circuit in South America.  EducationUSA is a part of the U.S. Department of State. Its mission is to advise “international students with accurate, comprehensive, and current information about how to apply to U.S. colleges and universities”. As part of fulfilling that mission, they host educational institutions to join in recruiting fairs.

Dr. Fox and I were able to join in 5 cities on the EducationUSA circuit.


To start off with, Dr. Fox and I went to São Paulo, in southeast Brazil. While there, we were able to meet with representatives from University of São Paulo (USP). We were warmly welcomed by Guilherme Santos Grise Serviço de Relações Internacionais Escola Politécnica da Universidade de São Paulo (USP) Prof. Dr. Marcio Lobo Netto Associate Professor Electronic Systems Engineering.

From Sao Paulo we travelled to Campinas to visit University of Campinas (UNICAMP)  visit recap where one of their alumni, Renato Mourao, attended for his undergraduate studies. We were hosted by Dr. Laura Ward and Peter Schulz from the School of Applied Sciences at UNICAMP Limeria nearby.

In meeting with representatives, we were able to better understand the education system in Brazil as well as explain our programs that we offer at Duke and how graduate engineering education in the United States is structured. We discussed how things specifically at Duke University are structured within Engineering. Both universities were gracious in hosting meetings with us and showed off Brazilian hospitality to us as their guests.

With EducationUSA we were able to speak to Brazilian students exploring their options for studying in the United States. Pictured is Dr. Fox explaining some of our material to an eager student. The Education Fairs were set up similar to Career Fairs and interested potential students went and visited booths of those institutions and programs.

Brad Fox


The second stop was in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Here we enjoyed meeting with the Fulbright commission in the city. The Fulbright Commission in Argentina explained to us about the opportunities that Argentine students have studying in the United States.

We met with interested students at the Education Fair. There was even a current Duke University undergraduate student studying abroad who volunteered at the Education Fair who introduced herself to us- Duke love everywhere you go!

Over the weekend we were fortunate to get to visit the Pink House and see the obelisk. It was great for us, since a tour is only offered on the weekend as the Pink House is still in use for governmental operations.


Then it was on to Lima, Peru. Unfortunately, it was a brief visit to such a beautiful and industrious country. We were hosted by Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP) and enjoyed speaking with interested students both there and at the fair itself. We even ran out of our brochures at the fair!

Peru has an abundance of unique fruits and vegetables; one of the unique drinks we were able to try was Chirimoya Cremolada and it was quite refreshing.


Our next stop was beautiful Santiago, Chile. Again, some of our current students offered help and advice to set up a university visit with Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile. We met with Dr. Mauricio Lopez, and Dr. Jorge Vera Andreo. In talking with them we were better able to understand the process for engineering education in Chile.

At the fair we were able to meet several interested students and tell them about engineering opportunities at Duke University. One student, Serjio Hinojosa, won a roundtrip flight in a drawing at the fair. He was convinced we were part of his good luck in winning- he is pictured with Dr. Fox.

The EducationUSA staff took the school representatives out to a Chilean restaurant that featured traditional folk songs and dancing. The Easter Island dance was quite a contrast to the mainland ones! The natural beauty of the city was wonderful snow capped mountains, gorgeous sunsets and was a sharp contrast to the modern, sleek city.


Our last stop was in Quito, Ecuador. We met with Dr. Cesar Zambrano and undergraduate students at Universidad de San Francisco as well as the scholarship granting organization, Secretaría Nacional de Educación Superior, Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación (SENESCYT). This scholarship organization provides funding for Ecuadorian students who want to study at universities in the United States and other countries.


In Ecuador we were able to meet up with Duke Law alumna, Johanna Roldan, who gave an informative tour around Quito. My favorite view was from the top of the mountain overlooking the city. We were less than 100 km from the Equator but didn’t get the chance to visit the monument.

We often stress to our students about the power of networking, and this trip to South America is no different. EducationUSA staff, current students, alumni from the MEM program, Duke alumni, and many others all made this recruiting trip possible. We hope that many more South American students will come and study at Duke University and enrich us with their perspectives.

Leadership Development Programs (LDP’s) – Paul Menson, ’12 provides tips and info

by Jenny Johnson, Assistant Director of Career Services

As a student, Paul Menson, MEMP ’12, was unsure of what he wanted to do professionally.  He was sure that he wanted the opportunity to contribute in his work and be developed by his company.  With this goal, Leadership Development Programs (LDPs) were a natural fit and immediately caught his attention when he entered the Master of Engineering Management Program at Duke.

Paul Menson
Paul Menson, MEM ’12


Leadership Development Programs are “growth systems that are full of support and opportunity for students” according to Menson.  After completing the MEM program in May 2012, Paul joined the Siemens Energy Graduate Program-Business Development LDP.  In September 2013, he returned to Duke to share his experiences, which have included domestic and international rotations, with current undergraduate and graduate students interested in pursuing LDPs.

“LDPs want professionals who can add benefit as quickly as possible in a rotation and can develop an understanding of the different cultures of the company. They are seeking the type of person who will say ‘I don’t know, but I will find out.’”  One such way that Paul has demonstrated this trait is knowing which questions to ask, and often asking the question, “what don’t I know to ask about __________?” He states that it is one of his favorite tools for learning more about people and also topics within a rotation.

Probably need to add something more here as a connector.

Continue reading to learn more about Paul’s thoughts on key aspects to consider when applying for leadership development programs and how to excel once in these programs.

Characteristics LDPs are Seeking in Candidates:

  1. Flexibility
  2. Quick Learner
  3. People person

What to Look For in an LDP:

  1. Stability: Does the LDP provide a dedicated mentor who is available to you?
  2. Rotations longer than 6 months: You can actively contribute to a company after you have been there 6 months and you want to be in a rotation longer so you can put your work into practice.
  3. Putting on the “Ritz”: Does the company provide opportunities for you to expand your network?

What LDPs Want from Hires in Their Program–Think About The Stakeholders:

  1. Contributing high potential talent (supervisors)
  2. To grow and develop a person (mentor/manager)
  3. A productive talent to keep long-term at the company (company overall)

Tips for Over Performing in an LDP

  1. Learn the art of conversation: Small talk is very important and a good way to begin a conversation with others in your company.  Find something you have in common.  Perhaps it is the company’s travel policy, or the latest product that has been released.
  2. Effectively prepare for meetings: (a) have a reason that you are asking for a meeting and make sure it is apparent; (b) identify a key question that you need to answer; (c) be aware of self-image (how you dress, talk, are perceived, etc).
  3. Networking: Talk to speakers, colleagues, etc. Don’t try to have a marathon conversation, but always try to talk to someone new.