American Dream in Action

Today, I want to share with you the story of N., the man I love.

When N. was an undergrad in Russia, he learned from his prof about the fascinating field of quantitative finance that immediately attracted him. However, doing graduate studies in this field in Russia makes no sense. If you know anything about how the Russian economy works, you will realize why that is.

N. realized that what he needed to do was to apply to grad schools in the United States, the place where the world’s best quants were trained.

His English was pretty much non-existent at that time, though. Foreign language learning is in bizarrely bad shape in the FSU countries, which is why N. went to the UK to learn English. He is from a very modest family, so to finance his stay in the UK he had to work as:

– a seasonal worker in the fields;

– a busboy;

– cleaning offices at night;

– other low-paid menial jobs.

In the meanwhile, he worked hard on his English and eventually got it to a level that gained him acceptance to a very good PhD program in financial statistics in the US.

After N. successfully defended his doctoral dissertation, he found a great job as a quant in the financial sector. Everything was great for a few months, and then the global financial crisis hit. We all remember how fast companies in finance were closing down in those years. N.’s company was hit very heavily by the crisis, and since he was the last one to be hired, he was also the first one to be made redundant.

You have to remember, too, that N. is not a citizen of the US. In order to be employed, he needs a potential employer to demonstrate to the Department of Homeland Security that no employee with similar qualifications could be found among the US citizens and to sponsor him for a work visa. Many companies simply don’t have the right to hire foreign employees. Other companies don’t want the expense and the hassle, especially during a recession.

Of course, N. could have still found a job in a geographic area where companies that employ quants abound. At this point, however, another factor came into play. I got a tenure-track job in the St. Louis Metro area, and N. wanted to be with me.

As we all know, St. Louis is not a capital of finance. So N. set out to make himself attractive to this area’s employers. It took him two years of being unemployed, sending out resumes, and getting rejected.

In these two years, N. did the following things:

– published his research in a peer-reviewed journal in his field;

– received several certifications in SAS and C++;

– dramatically improved his programming skills;

– wrote a book for people in his field and self-published it. The book is selling and getting very positive reviews in a variety of countries;

– created a huge LinkedIn database of all potential employees in the area;

– created several projects that demonstrate how his quantitative skills can be applied to areas other than finance and placed them online;

– developed his own website, engaged in research projects, and placed them there;

– went over all of the courses he took in grad school to refresh his knowledge and put them on tape for future reference;

– recorded a video advertising his programming skills.

While he was unemployed, he worked more hours per week than I did at my full-time job. He had dozens of interviews and received hundreds of rejections. Whenever a potential employer got interested, N.’s lack of a work visa would come up and that interest would evaporate.

And then, one of the projects that N. had created and placed online attracted the attention of a company in St. Louis. They invited him to give a talk and were so impressed that they immediately offered him a contract with stunningly good terms of employment, a very high salary, and a great package of benefits. They also sponsored him for a work visa.

N. is starting his new job on Monday.

Today, he got news that his visa had been approved and he can start working. And you know what he is doing right now, at 9:30 pm on a Friday night? He is in the study, preparing himself for work. He asked his new employers for a list of readings he could do and is now going over them.

When I told N. I consider his story to be very inspirational and will post it on the blog, his response was, “But what’s so special about it? I just did what I had to do.”

That Scary, Scary Place

A conversation at the departmental meeting.

Chair: Our graduate instructor, a nice, quiet, religious fellow, was placed to live at this horrible place we all know. It’s a place where people drink, smoke, take drugs, organize rowdy beer-guzzling parties, and engage in really perverted sex. And they do it all the time!

Clarissa: I’m so sorry to interrupt but can anybody tell me where that place is located? I’ve been searching for it and have almost given up.

The place turned out to be the area of the student dorms.

The moral of the story: one’s person hell is another person’s paradise.

P.S. Before you get indignant, please look at the tag.

And That’s How Some Professors Write

“Students noted that those native speakers that were assigned were of variable quality and a degree of assigned-expectation was greatly needed.”

“Students expressed that professors’ individualized instruction when needed.”

And these are not random gaffes, either. I have in my hands a six-page document that is written in its entirety in this kind of language. And then I complain that students can’t write worth a shit. Well, what can I expect when tenured faculty members produce and disseminate this kind of writing?

I can’t tell you how often I receive professional communications that regale me with statements like “The student’s are expected to be effected by this changes.”

Work on your writing skills, people. Especially if you are in academia. Or if you really can’t improve, then at least delegate writing to those who are capable of creating a semi-literate phrase.

I’m not even an English-speaker and it hurts me to see the language mangled in this way by people for whom English is the only language they speak.

Can Anybody Explain to Me. . .

. . . why this short and fairly old post has been so popular in the past two weeks? There was a lot of melodrama when it was first published but after that there was a protracted lull in its popularity.

Now, however, it gets hundreds of hits every day and is among the most popular posts every single day. So who’s reading it so much and why? I don’t see any trackbacks to it, which makes this a complete mystery.