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Russian Students Beat the Odds to Win Global FinTech Competition

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Three students from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) were crowned winners of the International Quant Championship, a global fintech competition.

Elena Tverdokhlebova, Karina Ashurbekova, and Tatiana Shpakova entered the competition alongside 11,000 other participants to test their ability to create robust trading strategies against some of the brightest minds in the world.

The final of the event was held in Singapore and saw Elena and Karina awarded the title (Tatiana was unable to get a visa in time for travel), narrowly beating competition from a team from China.

We caught up with the girls to talk about their success and what it means to be recognized as successful female scientists.

Firstly, congratulations on winning the competition. At what point did you begin to think you had a chance of winning?

Elena: Thanks! Honestly, I always try to think positively, so somewhere deep in my mind I believed from the very beginning. But you assume that other people are smarter than you and have more experience. Our primary goal was to be invited to the finals in Singapore. From the very beginning our discussion chat on Facebook was called ''Reading tea leaves to go to Singapore''.

I think we started to believe we could win after the second stage when we presented to the jury our three best strategies and received positive feedback about our approach.

Tatiana: When we started, our motivation was to have some fun and learn new stuff together. This was only our second competition, so we did not expect much.

Can you talk us through the various stages of the competition and what you had to do to be invited to the final stage in Singapore?

Karina: The competition was composed of three stages, each involving the development of stock trading strategies. 11,000 participants became 500 by the second stage and then 15 teams were invited to the third stage in Singapore, where they were invited to present their works and given the final assignment to build a portfolio, combining their strategies in one model in the best possible way.

Elena: At the end of July, we learned we were invited to Singapore to represent our university – MIPT –in a World Quant Championship. At that point things became serious. We started to spend all our free time creating strategies, trying them, adapting, discussing. Our chat was never silent. We are all busy the other two girls are at the final stage of our PhDs and I work full-time as a data scientist, so every night until 1-2 am we were creating strategies. It was fun! We are a fantastic team, and I was enjoying every moment of our collaboration.

When we arrived in Singapore, we were in third position in the competition. The goal of the first day was to create the best portfolio based on our pool of strategies considering transaction costs. We had four hours to complete the task, and that was very stressful, as we developed a really good and sophisticated idea, but we didn’t have enough time to implement it. So, we were in a rush, submitting our combo at the very last moment.

The day after, we had a presentation where we described everything we had learned during the competition, We also learned how our portfolio had performed and I remember that I was so shocked, that I was unable to see numbers, I just checked quickly that we didn’t have any minus signs in our stats, as that would have meant we lost money!

I hear only two of you were able to make it to the final stage. What impact did it have, losing a team member for the final stage. How did you deal with the situation?

Tatiana: Yes, I couldn’t go. It was a bit frustrating and I felt guilty for my team. However, we all felt we should definitely fight until the end and try to get the most from this competition.

Karina: Honestly, it was really shocking for us to find out at the last moment, before our departure to Singapore, that Tatiana was denied a visa. We proved we had a solid team though and this hardship gave us one more reason to prove that our team deserved to be first. We felt responsible for Tanya. We couldn’t let her down!

During our whole stay in Singapore as well as during our final assignment, Tanya was constantly on the other end of the phone giving advice and helping as much as possible.

How did you feel when you learned that you had won? What was your immediate reaction?

Elena: It was probably the best feeling in my life! Until the very last moment, it was unclear who would win. Our main competitor was a Chinese team as they were among the top teams from the very beginning of the competition. Once it was announced they had received the prize for finishing second, I was hit by a tsunami of emotions. I said to Karina: “We did it! We won!”

Karina: It was a groundbreaking moment, when I felt that tedious nights of work and studying finally paid off. I will never forget the moment we walked onto the stage holding hands together and feeling like stars.

Before the final ceremony, we already felt it was likely we’d get at least second place, but China’s strong team made us doubt we’d win. It was very nice to hear the congratulations and great appreciation for the work not only from members of the jury but from other teams’ participants too.

What are your plans for the future and how do you think this success may help you achieve your goals?

Elena: I definitely feel more confident now and think that I can learn anything if I’m motivated enough. After the competition we received several interesting job offers, so we just need to understand what is more interesting for us.

Karina: I guess this championship brought a significant change to my long-term career goals. After this experience, I’m considering switching to research trading investment strategies or portfolio optimization. But most importantly, this victory has boosted confidence in my abilities, and it inspired me to try getting a job and position I was afraid to think about before.

What do you feel your success shows about the level of ability among students at MIPT, and in Russia in general?

Tatiana: Students who have graduated from MIPT are well-known to be strong in STEM disciplines. Our example just justifies this rule. I do believe we received one of the best educations in the world.

Elena: I’m sure that MIPT is the best university in Russia. I completed my bachelor’s degree there, and I think those years gave me a solid base of knowledge and an incredible life experience. At MIPT, you’re always surrounded by extremely clever and inspiring people full of ideas how they can change the world.

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Written by Craig OCallaghan
As editor of TopUniversities.com, Craig oversees the site's editorial content and network of student contributors. He also plays a key editorial role in the publication of several guides and reports, including the QS Top Grad School Guide.

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