Princeton BCF alumnus Jonathan Choi’s career path has spanned a wide breadth of experiences within the realm of finance. He got his start at the New York Fed, where he worked for 2 years as a research analyst performing academic empirical asset pricing research. In 2014, he joined Princeton BCF in pursuit of an MFin, during which he TA’d for ORF 409: Introduction to the Monte Carlo Simulation and concentrated on a variety of PhD classes within the fields of statistics, econometrics, and machine learning.
While at Princeton, Choi also spent some time interning, first at Capula as a member of the USD fixed income RV trading team and then at AQR as a quantitative researcher specializing in systematic futures—an opportunity that expanded into a full-time position before eventually leading him back to Capula for his current role. For the past 2.5 years, Choi has been using both discretionary and systematic strategies in his trading work, focusing primarily on the SPX/VIX complex.
In this short interview, Lindsay Bracken, BCF’s Manager of Career Development, Alumni Relations, and Corporate Affiliates, talks to Choi about his career trajectory and the role that BCF played in shaping his future plans.
If you’re a Princeton BCF alumnus who’s reached a milestone in your career, we’d love to hear from you. Reach out to Bracken (firstname.lastname@example.org) to stay in touch and tell your story.
Bracken: You started your career as a research analyst at the New York Fed—how did that opportunity come about? Were you always planning to transition into institutional investing or did the shift occur more organically?
Choi: During my undergraduate years of college, I had done some academic research projects and completed graduate coursework in economics and mathematical finance, so I was initially interested in pursuing a PhD. The research analyst program at the NY Fed is a 2-year program designed to give analysts some experience in academic research before placing them into top PhD programs in economics or finance, so it seemed like a good fit at the time.
After working on academic asset pricing research for two years, I realized that I preferred the faster pace and more applied problems that the industry offered. I knew I wanted to do something in the quantitative trading space because it was a natural fit for both my skill set and my interest in approaching financial markets from a very data-driven and statistical framework. Coming into Princeton, my priority from the start was to pursue quantitative research or trading roles at hedge funds and proprietary trading firms.
Bracken: Why did you decide to go back to school in pursuit of a Master in Finance degree, and what about the program at BCF particularly appealed to you?
Choi: Once I decided I was not interested in pursuing a career in academia, I quickly ruled out doing a PhD. In undergrad, there were courses in statistical learning, asset pricing, and econometrics that I had never had the chance to take, so I felt that a master’s program would be a good opportunity to revisit these academic interests while facilitating a career transition to the industry.
What attracted me to the BCF was the small, diverse cohort that was admitted every year. I had classmates from all over the world—Namibia, Ecuador, Iran, Botswana, Mexico, etc.—and their career interests ranged from private equity to systematic trading. Some had a PhD or previous career experience, while others enrolled straight out of undergrad, but they all brought a unique perspective to the program. Reflecting back on my time at Princeton, it was the daily interaction with incredible peers that I valued most about my experience.
Unlike competing programs, which often have a very rigid curriculum, Princeton offered a flexibility that I also valued, as I was able to use courses from a variety of departments towards my degree. For example, I was able to use graduate coursework in probability theory, econometrics, and machine learning as my electives.
Bracken: Princeton BCF is proud of its robust and active alumni network in supporting students as they transition into full-time research and industry roles. Have you had any experiences with BCF alumni or peers that stand out as especially meaningful in helping to guide your career since your graduation in 2016?
Choi: I actually got my current role through a referral from a good friend who I knew through BCF. He let me know of an opening in an equity volatility trading team at Capula, and his referral went a long way in helping me get the position. Additionally, I was able to interview at a number of other hedge funds through good friends who I know from my BCF cohort, so I would say the alumni network has been an essential resource since graduation.
Bracken: What advice do you have for current Master in Finance students as they look toward the next step in their career?
Choi: I think a practical piece of advice is to remain cognizant of the job market even if you’re not actively looking. As you progress through your career, you’ll find that some of the most desirable roles in the industry are often not widely advertised and tend to open up in a rather idiosyncratic fashion. It is advantageous to put yourself in a position to evaluate these openings as they come onto the market. The BCF alumni network and your classmates in particular are an essential resource, as many of them will be working for top firms in the industry.