Graduate diaries: from architecture to research analyst

Melanie Miao, who studied an MPhil in architecture and urban design at Cambridge, describes how she came to work as a research analyst for an investment firm

At the start of my undergraduate degree, I thought I wanted to be an architect. But, after studying architecture for 7 years, I ended up instead working as a research analyst in an investment management firm called Ruffer. In this blog post, I wanted to share with you my unconventional route to working in finance and why I ended up here.

Why investment research and how did I get there?

My MPhil degree in architecture and urban design was strangely a bit of a catalyst to my career change. Whilst I was studying architecture I spent a lot of time researching the political, social and economic context of urban regeneration in China. The more research I did, the more I realised this was something I enjoyed doing. Investment research seemed similar to what I had done in my degree, but with more variety.

After my degree I worked in a law firm as a portfolio analyst, getting a grounding in financial analysis. However, the most useful preparation for my current role was in fact speaking to friends and acquaintances in the investment industry. This helped me to understand what being a research analyst was all about.

All interviews are ultimately a learning process and keeping this in mind helped to take some of the pressure off

Interviewing for a role is always nerve-wracking, especially if it’s in an industry you’re not familiar with – but what helped me was to remember that the interview wasn’t just for Ruffer to pick the right employee, it was also for me to pick the right company. All interviews are ultimately a learning process and keeping this in mind helped to take some of the pressure off.

What is the investment industry like and what has been surprising?

I had always imagined the industry to be similar to its portrayal in the 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street. What’s surprised me most is that it’s nothing like this at all! Our Founder started Ruffer in 1994 because he believed that private clients were being poorly served by the investment industry. He wanted to provide a service, and performance, that put the client first. Ruffer’s aim is to make steady returns, regardless of whether the market is up or down. We focus on keeping our clients and their money safe. This safety-first approach is ingrained within the business. It creates a collaborative culture where everyone is trying to do the right thing for our clients. For example from a research perspective, this means that each investment idea is rigorously debated to make sure it fits with this approach.

being in a safe learning environment, where no question is a stupid question has really helped

What is it like working there without a finance background?

As a graduate research trainee, I spend most of my time researching companies. I look into things such as their structure, governance and their position within their industry. I then work with the team to analyse this information to determine if we think they could be a good investment or not. For someone who barely touched a calculator in 7 years and had a limited knowledge of financial markets, being in a safe learning environment, where no question is a stupid question has really helped. It has definitely been a challenge, but keeping an open mind and having a basic foundation in maths have both proved very useful.

If I were to give my younger self any advice in one sentence…

Don’t worry if you feel like you don’t know enough, as curiosity is a valued asset in itself.

Considering a career change? Learn about our careers support for alumni on our website

Ruffer LLP is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

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