Between classes, coursework, reading assignments, clubs, sports and part-time jobs, Amherst students don’t have much downtime. It’s hard to imagine how a group of students could devote weeks of their spare time to writing code and creating a trading algorithm just because it sounded like an interesting challenge. Yet this spring, four Amherst students did just that by participating in the University of Chicago Midwest Trading Competition. In its fourth year, the competition combines computer science and finance—a blend of two seemingly unrelated fields that is becoming essential to market success. The Amherst team traveled to Chicago for three days to compete, meet like-minded students and network with finance companies.

Leading up to the event, the team built algorithms and used quantitative finance in three real-world case studies. At the event, their algorithmic programs were set into action in a simulation of the real market using OptionsCity, a vendor-based software product commonly used by traders and market participants worldwide. The team saw how their algorithms performed against their competitors’. The Amherst team—three sophomores and a junior, with majors in math, history, computer science and film and media studies—placed second in one case study and sixth overall against 25 teams from the likes of Harvard and MIT.
The students also spent several hours visiting PEAK6, an investment firm helmed by Matt Hulsizer ’91 and Bradley Goldberg ’91. Launched in 1997, PEAK6 was one of the first to develop sophisticated technology that efficiently manages risk in the options market. Hulsizer and Goldberg funded the students’ travel. Because of that generosity, the students were able to concentrate on creating algorithms rather than worrying about expenses.

“Amherst teaches lifelong skills and pushes you to think and look at a problem from multiple angles. It was instrumental in my career trajectory, and it was exciting to meet some students and see that same love of learning and exploration at work,” says Hulsizer.

“I learned from my teammates and from our competition, but I also learned about career options in finance and how the industry is evolving to meet global market needs,” says Nicholas Marsh ’18.

Tobias Schwed ’18 adds, “It’s exciting to think of all the ways we can use data to inform our choices, and not just in the market. I love this work, and I’m excited to see what I can do with it at Amherst and beyond.”

Career Advice, On Location 

The Midwest Trading Competition wasn’t the only chance for off-campus, experiential learning this year. The Career Center organized four industry-specific career treks. During each, students traveled to a major U.S. city for employer site visits and meetings with alumni in the field. Each highly selective trek had 12 spots available, with all expenses paid by generous alumni or grant and College support. 

The treks are part of the “Amherst Careers In” programs—industry-specific initiatives providing personalized career advising and opportunities to meet alumni and potential employers. There are seven Careers In programs. Amherst’s strong alumni network sets them apart: This year, during treks and other travel events, more than 50 alumni invited students to workplace site visits. Well over 150 alumni met with students during discussion sessions and networking events. Alumni offered invaluable insights and advice, and students explored career “ecosystems”—the intersection of finance, technology and entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley, for example—and tested assumptions in a variety of workplaces.

A New Kind of Alumni Networking 

the Career Center has increased its advising and programming in response to both the job market and a new generation of students. Traditional alumni networks have been changing for decades, becoming wider, more transparent and more formal. Amherst is particularly interested in developing ways for minority and first-generation students to connect with alumni and graduate with significant professional and personal networks in place.

The Career Center’s Pathways program, launched in 2013, facilitates structured mentoring. This fall, it is expanding to offer alumni and students several ways to connect through ongoing formal mentorships, quick discovery conversations and job shadowing.

“The new program design will allow alumni and students to choose the level of time commitment that works for them,” says Career Center director Emily Griffen. “It will also give students additional ways to explore potential career interests and customize their learning,” and will make it easier for students to find alumni based on a host of criteria.

“The way Amherst students think is different from how a professional-school student is trained, and that’s incredibly beneficial,” adds the Career Center’s Stephanie Hockman. “Amherst teaches students to think broadly and globally, to be adaptive and creative, to be leaders. We help students explore their interests, gain practical skills, land their first job and leverage their education into the career they want.”