By Ayushi Dhar
I first came to the United States just over five years ago without a clear vision of a major and career. In that cloud of confusion, the one thing I was adamant about was charting my own path and taking ownership of my education. I took advantage of the diverse courses being offered at the University of Washington and studied history, chemistry, computer science, informatics, and business, before finding my passion for economics.
I was introduced to the CFRM program as a senior in college, and what started out as an informational meeting to discuss potential research opportunities, soon turned into a prospective graduate school option. I still remember meeting Tim Leung in his office and being excited about a department that combined my interests in technology and finance. What attracted me most to the department was the wide array of career opportunities that a CFRM degree provided. It was important that the program I choose equip me with transferable skills that are applicable in different industries. Due to the variety of courses being offered by the department, my decision of what I wanted to study became apparent.
The summer before starting school, I looked forward to learning about financial instruments, improving my technical skills, and meeting new people from my cohort. Little did I realize my excitement was not going to be enough. The first course of this program was focused on options and derivatives and I felt like I had walked into the wrong class. Since then, I spent a lot of time as a graduate student tackling my imposter syndrome.
Coming from an economics background, I was not familiar with all the mathematical and financial concepts being taught in my classes. I mistook my unfamiliarity with the subject as a measure of my abilities. I was nervous before starting assignments because I had convinced myself that I did not have the knowledge to understand the questions, much less solve them. I was consumed with so much self-doubt that I questioned if I was ready for graduate school, if the program was the right fit for me, and if I would be able to maintain the minimum GPA that is required to stay in the program. To add to the existing academic struggles, each quarter presented a new set of challenges. In the fall I got a severe sprain very close to finals week, forcing me to be on bed rest. I had to miss most of my classes and limped my way to the exam hall. During the last few weeks of the winter quarter, the pandemic spread to the United States which continued to worsen in the spring, with courses shifting entirely to online platforms. The concerns were not restricted to my education; I also worried about my future in this country and the health of my family and loved ones.
The bright side of all this anxiety about academics was the friends I made in the department. All of these people were smart in their own ways, but what I admired the most about them was their styles of learning. They also showed patience and understanding, while helping me realize I was not alone in my struggles. Studying was no longer a solo mission; it was a gathering with food, good conversations, and occasionally an adorable canine friend. At the same time, all the workshops that the department held, to coach us on networking, email etiquette, cover letters, and resumes, empowered me to invest more effort into my career. My professors also played a major role in my success throughout graduate school. In spite of the challenging curriculum, they ensured their teaching style and pace made it possible for students of all abilities and backgrounds to grasp complicated concepts.
The entire experience of graduate school, as grueling as it was, showed me my potential. I worked hard every day and understood the value of asking for help. I asked as many questions as it took to understand what was being taught. To this day, I grapple with the feeling of imposter syndrome, but I am trying to alter my perspective on how to approach challenges. I am finishing one year of graduate school and currently interning as a Data Scientist at Amazon, bringing my rollercoaster ride almost to an end.
Even though my internship is remote, I am learning new technologies and time series models, while having a great summer. I am grateful to be a part of the CFRM program and excited to leverage the skills I have learned as I commence my career.