"I was not planning to enroll in a Master's degree. I did it anyway, and it changed everything."
Before joining Minerva, Ramshreyas Rao (Ram) worked as a software consultant in the social sector, building monitoring systems aimed at gathering data for large-scale projects in India. Because the purpose of the data collection was to make information-driven decisions, Ram quickly became fascinated by decision-making and data science. When he first heard of Minerva, it immediately struck him how the Master of Science in Decision Analysis (MDA) program was designed to teach essential skills for carrying out tasks in the intersection of those two fields.
"It is not only such a good combination of application-orientedness but also a higher level of analysis and a heavy dose of meta-analysis where you are thinking about how you approach the problem."
Throughout the program, Ram realized that quantitative finance was a field he was deeply passionate about as he discovered a fascinating space in cryptocurrency to make use of decision-making tools.
"I feel like the course not only gave me a set of skills to apply to some subject area but also a perspective on what I want to do in life."
Halfway through the program, Ram was able to put the tools he had already gained from classes and start a new job, working as a research analyst at Messari, a leading market intelligence product provider that drives high-conviction participation in the crypto economy.
Given his fascination with quantitative finance, Ram decided to personalize his learnings by customizing projects he was working on as part of the MDA program to be centered on financial engineering. He chose to focus his Master's thesis on a perpetual swap, a cryptocurrency protocol inspired by the work of the Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Robert Shiller. Since the protocol takes a complex system approach driven by the actions of traders, the market, and stocks, in order to price things that are either illiquid or difficult to trade, Ram decided to model the entire system, create a simulation, and reproduce some of the market behaviors—having gained the tools needed to create it through Minerva’s classes.
"By the time I graduated, I was able to build up a portfolio of my work in crypto, write a thesis centered on crypto-investigation, and get a job in the quantitative finance field."
One of Ram's favorite aspects of Minerva's MDA program was the willingness to abandon hundreds of years of tradition and take a modern approach to education.
"It is crazy that we have so many years of education research and it is not applied to the way education is delivered. The world has changed completely, but how we educate others has not changed at all."
Another aspect of Minerva's curriculum that particularly intrigued Ram was the flipped classroom model, where the purpose of in-class time is to practice rather than introduce the material. Ram found Minerva’s use of Big Questions—broad discussion topics used as a way to familiarize students with the context for their exploration—especially beneficial while working in the social sector. Moreover, understanding the difference between content and skills, the transfer of the applicability of those skills across various regimes of content, as well as the diversity of students and faculty, distinguishes Minerva, according to Ram, from traditional institutions.
"What you gain from Minerva is exposure to those fascinating people . . . Getting to meet individuals from all over the world and debating together over complex ideas gives you an appreciation for the fact that there is a much wider range of points of view on any subject."
After defending his thesis, Ram started his career as a quantitative analyst in the Zurich-based crypto ETF (investment fund traded on stock exchanges) provider company, which uses those funds to enable the trade of cryptocurrencies in a regular stock exchange. Ram’s work focuses on building the tools that allow the construction of ETPs (exchange-traded products) through detailed quantitative analysis, in terms of both monitoring and performance.
In the future, Ram plans to utilize the skills he acquired at Minerva to continue to develop as a quantitative analyst in the finance industry and apply them to the social problems he used to work with in the past. He points out that those two fields can learn much from each other, especially when it comes to uncertainty, which is at the heart of all problems the world is facing nowadays.
“There are two things one can rely on. One of them is reason, but it cannot produce anything unless it is given the second one—data. However, we will not necessarily come to the right conclusions if it is bad data. Leaders, especially nowadays, do not have a choice but to rely on the analysis of this data to make decisions.”