Alumni profile - Vijay Modaher
On A-level results day I was shocked to see that I had missed my entry grades by one. Fortunately, I was still offered a place and I ended up completing a degree that was two grades higher than my A-levels, which just goes to show that A-levels are your ticket to university, but not necessarily a reflection of your true ability.
(Mathematics MSci, 2015)
Why did you study an integrated master’s in mathematics at Queen Mary? Did you have a particular career path in mind?
Maths was the subject I found the most enjoyable at school and I was unsure what career path I wanted to take so I applied for BSc Mathematics at Queen Mary as I had heard that a maths degree opens a lot of doors and I wanted to follow where my interests were. However, on A-level results day I was shocked to see that I had missed my Queen Mary entry grades by one, achieving ABC instead of ABB. Fortunately, Queen Mary still offered me my place. After achieving a 1st class in my first year at Queen Mary, I was offered to switch to the integrated master’s course and decided to go for it. Looking back, I ended up completing a degree that was two grades higher than my A-level grades, which just goes to show that A-levels are your ticket to university, but not necessarily a reflection of your true ability.
What modules did you like learning about and was there anything that surprised you in your studies?
I really enjoyed Dynamics of Physical Systems, Relativity, Complex Analysis and Chaos and Fractals. In fact, I enjoyed Relativity so much that I decided to write my final year project on the subject. I was really surprised by the wide range of routes available and never would have imagined that I could study subjects like Relativity and Cryptography as part of a maths degree considering I didn’t study physics beyond GCSE!
Research methods in Mathematical Sciences and Mathematical Writing are two other modules I must mention as not only did they help me with my degree, they taught me invaluable skills in presenting and writing that I still use to this day in my career.
Were there any academics that had a strong influence on shaping your time and studies here?
There were so many great lecturers at Queen Mary, but a few stand out in particular. Professor Tavakol and Dr Valiente-Kroon sparked my interest in Relativity and Dr Valiente-Kroon actually supervised my final year project. I was truly inspired by Dr Valiente-Kroon’s academic background as he chose to study a PhD at Queen Mary over the University of Cambridge and told me: “It doesn’t matter where you go to study, it is what you study that matters”. Professor Whitty is another lecturer who stands out as he had a great communication style and always made lectures entertaining and interesting.
I was really surprised by the wide range of routes available and never would have imagined that I could study subjects like Relativity and Cryptography as part of a maths degree considering I didn’t study physics beyond GCSE!
Can you describe your career path up to date and touch on your current role as a Credit Risk Models Analyst at Close Brothers?
After taking some time off after graduation and the inevitable job hunting, I managed to secure a place on the FDM Graduate Scheme in a consulting role in May 2016. While working as a consultant I worked for HSBC in Canary Wharf, The Home Office, and Close Brothers in project support and project management office roles. My role at Close Brothers was initially meant to be for three months but they were pleased with my work and extended my contract by moving me internally onto another project. This new project was risk related and I was pleased as this was an area of great interest to me. I worked at Close Brothers for another year supporting a Credit Risk Modelling project but after building up a good relationship with the team, they eventually found out that I had a Master's in Mathematics and mentioned that I should be working for them in their modelling team instead. In May 2019 I secured a permanent role in the Credit Risk Modelling team and have been working there and enjoying this role ever since.
My career journey was not smooth by any means but I am proud of where I am today and I can trace the origins of my success back to Queen Mary. After university I still had no idea what I wanted to do, and I struggled with job hunting despite getting a first-class degree. However, one of my lecturers from Queen Mary gave me very good piece of advice on graduation day; he said that it's good to get started with work to transition to working life and the routine of it, and to take time to figure out what you want to do next as you won't really know until you start working. This is one of the reasons I was drawn to FDM group as their consulting graduate scheme allowed you to work for a wide range of clients across many different sectors which I knew would give me the opportunity to experience different working environments. After my placements at HSBC I wasn’t keen on the banking environment and after the Home Office I was sure I wanted to remain in the public sector, but in an analytical role. I didn't know the exact analytical role I was interested in, so I began studying Python in my spare time to upskill. Then after completing my Home Office placement and returning to FDM, a placement in Banking came up with Close Brothers and I decided to go for it. During my role in their credit risk modelling team the Python study paid off and they were impressed by my initiative. Overall, I put my role at Close Brothers down to hard work, keeping an open mind and a bit of good fortune.
How did your degree prepare you for your current job role? Which aspects of your degree are relevant to your current job?
I mainly use statistics and probability in my role, specifically hypothesis testing, linear and logistic regression, and time series. These weren’t my favourite subjects at university as they were quite different from the pure maths and relativity which I specialised in. But I've found in the real world working in this field involves coding which helps a lot with these subjects. My role is a nice mix of technical coding and engagement with the business and projects team and the Validation and Audit teams.
How diverse is the industry that you work in and what do you think needs to be done to increase diversity and inclusion in your industry?
Working in the modelling team at Close Brothers has been the most diverse team I have been a part of to date in terms of gender and nationality. Working in this team is a real privilege and it is really refreshing. In terms of increasing diversity and inclusion in the industry as a whole, more companies should conduct blind recruitment where candidates’ names are completely removed from CV’s and application forms and the candidates are assessed purely on their skills alone.
What are your career plans for the future? Are you looking to expand your skill set in anything?
I am looking to progress in Credit Risk Modelling, and I plan to eventually work up to Manager or Senior Manager level. I am currently looking to continue expanding my coding knowledge with further training in SAS and Python and complete the Financial Risk Management (FRM) certification.
More companies should conduct blind recruitment where candidates’ names are completely removed from CV’s and application forms and the candidates are assessed purely on their skills alone.
This month is Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month and its goal is to increase public understanding of and appreciation for mathematics and statistics. Based on your own studies and career, what do you think is interesting about mathematics?
My main interest in mathematics stems from the fact that it is everywhere in our lives, it is the true universal language of the universe that can describe all aspects of our real world with such a level of precision. A mathematician is also responsible for inventing the modern computer which has now gone on to revolutionise the world.
What advice would you give to a prospective student considering the course you studied and Queen Mary? And who might be considering the same career as you?
Queen Mary is a great university and the only campus university in London, the support provided is second to none. You also have access to the wider university of London resources as well as the modules offered by other London universities. If you are interested in a modelling career after your degree then I would recommend learning some coding whether it be SAS, SQL, Python or R. You do not need to be an expert but you need to be proficient enough to land your first role and then you will receive further training on the job. Then you should be able to adapt these skills and learn any coding language. When I was at Queen Mary the School of Mathematical Sciences ran an optional R training course at lunch and looking back, I wish I had taken this course as it would have really benefited me in my subsequent career journey. Fortunately, I have been able to learn some SQL, R and SAS in the roles I have done so far.
I would also recommend studying some finance modules to learn more about credit risk and the wider banking industry. I believe there are some advanced probability models and statistics modules offered by the School of Mathematical Sciences that would help with this. Finally, I would recommend getting an internship in your second year if you can (I know they are very competitive), and starting your job applications in your final year so that it doesn’t come as a complete shock when applying for jobs and attending interviews after you graduate – lean on the Careers service for support with all of this. Even if you are not successful in securing an internship or job before you graduate, you will be in a stronger position when you start your job search full time.
What is the most valuable thing you have learned in your career to date?
Don’t expect the journey to be smooth as it takes time to figure out what career is right for you. I would recommend trying a few jobs after you graduate to see what you enjoy. You can do a lot of research into a job, but you won’t know what it is like day to day until you actually start doing it.
When you do start working for the first time it will take a good 6 months to 1 year to learn your job and to do it well, so don’t be too harsh on yourself if you find things difficult to begin with. Finally, keep chasing where you want to take your career, even if you are unsure of how to get there. Make this known to your managers as they will be able to support you and guide you on how to get there, or alternatively, use LinkedIn as a network to find a mentor in the same industry as you but at a higher level of seniority and learn from their journey.
Were you a member of any societies or volunteering groups during your time at Queen Mary? If so which and what did you gain from them?
I was a Peer-Assisted Study Support (PASS) mentor during my fourth year which I enjoyed a lot; not only did it give me an insight into what it might be like to work in the teaching industry, it also gave me a lot of confidence and helped improve my communication and team work skills. I further enjoyed the feeling I got that I was giving something back to Queen Mary through mentoring.
I tried a few sporting societies over the years at Queen Mary including badminton, kung fu and fencing, as well as the maths society. They all had great socials and the variety of societies offered at Queen Mary was very refreshing – there was almost too much choice!
I would recommend trying a few jobs after you graduate to see what you enjoy. You can do a lot of research into a job, but you won’t know what it is like day to day until you actually start doing it.
What was special about your time at Queen Mary? Do any particular moments stand out?
Winning PASS mentor of the year was a personal highlight in my final year which I still value as much as my degree. But I would also say the people that I met over my 4-year journey were just fantastic, this includes supportive staff and lifelong friends that I met along the way. Everyone at Queen Mary had a real sense of community and pride and wiliness to help one another which made studying there so much more enjoyable.
This profile was conducted by Alumni Engagement Officer, Nicole Brownfield. If you would like to get in touch with Vijay or engage him in your work, please contact Nicole at firstname.lastname@example.org.