• A
  • A
  • A
  • ABC
  • ABC
  • ABC
  • А
  • А
  • А
  • А
  • А
Regular version of the site
ФКН

‘The Main Thing I learned at ICEF was how to Work Hard’

Taisiya Matrosova completed the ICEF Bachelor’s programme in 2016, receiving a First Class Honours degree from University of London and recently finished studies under Imperial College Business School’s Master’s programme in Finance. In the interview below, Taisya tells us about interesting coincidences, secrets for survival at Imperial College, and useful skills you get at ICEF that can be used in future studies.

‘The Main Thing I learned at ICEF was how to Work Hard’

Learning about Economics and Applying to ICEF

My future would be forever connected to economics after the 10th grade, when I took a class in the subject at a new school. This was my mother’s idea and I wasn’t against it. I really didn’t know much about economics before that, but I learned quite a lot and didn’t experience any problems. I think my mother chose this school thinking that I might go on to study at ICEF or HSE. This school was a lot like ICEF. There, we also studied under two programmes, Russian and British, and took exams of both countries. So, this school provided me with unique and high-quality preparation for my studies at ICEF. I got very well acquainted with economics and everything came out well for me.

When applying to universities, ICEF was my first-choice option. Nevertheless, I also applied to HSE’s Faculty of Economics, as well as the university’s joint Bachelor’s programme with the New Economic School. I also took entrance exams for MSU and MGIMO. At MSU, for example, I was admitted to a state-financed place at its economics faculty, but, in the end, I decided to go to ICEF. The main factor in this was that I received a 75% discount on studies based on my state exam results. I knew that this discount could be reduced while studying, but even in the worst case scenario, it could only decline to 60%. So, this gave me some confidence.

In regards to why I applied to ICEF BSc, I think it is more or less the same as for other people: it’s a double degree programme, it operates under international standards, it has a focus on self-study, it sets ambitious objectives, there’s an option to continue studies overseas, distinguished teachers, this list can be continued. Furthermore, I opted for ICEF because of the people: I couldn’t have known then, of course, but my classmates were the most capable and hardworking people and studying with them gave me a real impetus to develop myself. Overall, everything turned out as I wanted and I don’t regret my decision.

I have heard from many ICEF alumni and I can forever say the following: the main thing you learn at ICEF is how to work hard. Really work hard. I think if you compare the best students of economic faculties of other universities and the ‘average’ people at ICEF, our average learners are at a much higher level. This concerns not only the knowledge they acquire but also their attitude to work. We had both top and average students working hard 24/7! I think this says a lot. Of course, when we were students, we often envied our former classmates since their ‘student life’ seemed to be more active and fun. However, overall, our student life was no worse, and furthermore, we now are in a much more advantageous position in our lives. And this is the main thing.

How to Apply to Imperial College and ‘Survive’ There

When selecting a Master’s programme, I studied all institutions and programmes in detail. I looked at their websites, YouTube channels, and took part in webinars. This helped me to form up realistic expectations about my potential Master’s degree. So, this was fully justified. When applying for the programme, I had to record a self-recorded interview, which meant hooking up to the system and pressing the ‘start’ button.

After a question was posed, I had around 30 seconds to think, and then turn on the camera to give an answer for around 2-3 minutes. In total, there were around 7 questions and they were standard ‘motivation & fit’ questions: I explain why I wanted to study at Imperial, why I was interested in the programme, how my friends might describe me, etc. I remember the last thing was a roleplay whereby I was asked how I might invest 1,000 pounds. I didn’t expect this particular question and had to muddle through.

The MSc in Finance is considered, and deservedly so, one of the best Master’s programmes in finance. I still can’t completely comprehend how I actually became part of this whole fairytale. Despite the fact that ICEF was a great school, surviving at Imperial was not so easy. Studies were very intensive and I had to do job searches at the same time. I had a chance to talk to new classmates and visit various events. I also got to explore London. Nevertheless, all of my expectations were justified. I used to dream of attending LSE and was disappointed when they rejected my application. However, I am now quite happy that fate smiled upon me with Imperial. I think it was meant to happen.

Meetings, Internships and Inspiring Classmates

I think that there are three useful and important things in place at the MSc Finance programme. The first is one’s focus on career development, which can motivate us to progress further. For instance, every evening in September, we had meetings with business representatives. We saw presentations from bulge bracket banks and investment boutiques, whose representatives told us about their activities, what’s important to pay attention to, etc. These meetings were combined with sessions, where we could pose interesting questions to any of the speakers. Imperial even printed up business cards for us that we exchanged with the visitors. We later got connected through LinkedIn. I heard about cases where people found jobs, or, at least, secured an advantage for themselves on the job market thanks to these events (though I don’t know examples personally). To be honest, I saw this as a bit excessive, since most bankers would not remember one of 20 students who they just met, but I do understand now that this was at least a nice chance to pose some questions, which could later help me find solutions to difficult issues in my research. Furthermore, this is good practice at ‘small talk’, which isn’t that well developed in Russia. Europeans tend to do this much better. So, if you want to network in such an environment, one needs to learn this skill.

The second main thing is the applicability of the programme’s subjects in real life. We didn’t have any theoretical subjects (this is why I chose this programme), and from the very start, we learned how to assess options, build financial models and structure deals. We even had an applied thesis project. Actually, we could choose between an applied project and a research project. The second is the classic Russian thesis approach, whereby you chase down a regression and try to identify the connections between its given components.

However, the majority of students opted for the applied project, where they could assess a company, or develop a model for a financial deal (e.g., M&A projects). It was interesting in that we could study a real transaction (e.g., many students chose Kraft Heinz’s attempt to acquire Unilever), or think up their own. For instance, I modelled an imaginary leveraged buyout of the Burberry company. It was very interesting and difficult at the same time, since the model development stage presented several issues that weren’t clear for me and which I had to figure out on my own.

And finally, my classmates were a key motivational factor. We had many Europeans studying in the programme – French, Swiss, Italians, Germans, etc. There were students from Central Europe, Serbia and Croatia, for instance, as well as several people from the Middle East, two students from Africa, and one American and three British persons. There also were girls from Russia and Ukraine. And Chinese people made up around 25% of the programme’s participants.

Even though ICEF prepared us well for studies and life abroad, there still was a gulf between me and, for instance, the Europeans. Everybody was really motivated, ploughed through every day and even found the time for rest and relaxation. Everybody’s also been able to find jobs in the financial sector. They were also critical of what the teachers taught them and always posed questions. In the end, they received offers from the best banks and financial firms. Talking with them really opened my eyes about what the financial world is really like, its pitfalls and the kinds of people you might meet.

Key Points of the Programme: Teamwork and Case Studies

I should note one more interesting thing about the programme: there was basically no homework. There were, in fact, assignments, but all of them were presented as group projects. The teacher would divide us up into groups according to subject, or we could form our own groups with people from various financial programmes. The tasks were much more comprehensive than the usual Russian approach and worked not with assignments but with a business case. For instance, in the M&A course, we picked apart Cadbury’s acquisition of Kraft. With this case, we discussed its different aspects: we valued the deal, the maximum possible profit on this deal, figured out defensive strategic approaches with respect to the acquisition, as well as considered the possible ways of financing the deal.

I think this approach to learning has its advantages. Firstly, you learn how to build largescale models, from inception to completion, and not just focus on a single problem or only a part of such a model. Secondly, you learn about teambuilding. Even if we weren’t sure as to what we knew, we could apply ourselves accordingly. This was especially true when all of the members of my team were from various courses, so everybody had their own schedules and projects, and we didn’t really know each other and weren’t sure if we could trust each other to carry out a certain part of a project independently. Thirdly, working on real-life cases was extremely interesting. Who wouldn’t be interested in finding out that Kraft overpaid for Cadbury thanks to analyzing the deal. If those bankers had hired us, we could have prevented that!

What Do You Do Besides Studies?

I had never been to England before moving to London, but I’ve always loved the English language and the country’s history and traditions. The move itself was kind of magic for me. I am forever grateful to those who helped me fulfil my longstanding dreams (especially my mother!). In London, I was able to study every corner and always got to discover little interesting places that I might have previously missed. My favorite places in London were in the South Kensington region, which is where Imperial is located. This area is home to London’s best museums and beautiful wealthy areas, Kensington Gardens, which is where Prince William and Kate Middleton and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle now live.

Another thing I love about England is the Royal Family. By the way, I was in Windsor a few days before Harry and Megan’s wedding, which took place in May of last year. And the atmosphere there was amazing. I really like British people for their ability to maintain very old and even somewhat weird traditions, while also being one of the most advanced nations in the world.

Furthermore, I was able to travel around the whole of Britain, thanks to my friends (some of whom studied at ICEF), who had initiative and a desire to explore. We were in western and northern England, and we also went to Scotland and Wales. It was an unforgettable and amazing car trip, thanks to which I fell in love with the British countryside.

Career Plans

I am not considering an academic career for myself. At present, I am working in administrative consulting and trying to get immersed in this sphere. It’s already very clear to me that working extensively in consulting will expand my worldview and help me get to know the business as I will be working intensively.

It would be interesting to learn how companies and firms in various industries organise their internal processes. For instance, I was able to work on projects related to retail and the chemicals industry. On the one hand, I think I don’t have enough involvement in finance in my work, even though I got to study under one of the best finance programmes in the world. I can’t really say in which area I would like to build a career. It’s too early to say. But I guess we will see how things turn out with consulting.

Sofya Urmancheeva, for ICEF HSE