Taking Stock of their Experience: Two Alumni Discuss How a Competition Prepared Them for Their Careers

A student discusses a project at a conference table

Brenden Rogers, left, details his team's report to visiting alumni just days before the beginning of the CFA Institute Research Competition. (Photo/Pat Pemberton)

Before they ever began their investment careers, Alexandra Joelson and Brenden Rogers had gained valuable experience analyzing company stock performances and preparing detailed reports through the CFA Institute Research Competition.

The annual challenge features thousands of competitors from universities worldwide. Each team performs an in-depth analysis of a single company, which tests their analytical skills, valuation modeling, report writing and presentation skills.

During the 2021-22 school year, Joelson and her team spent months researching PayPal’s stock outlook before performing a report that helped them advance to the America’s semifinals. The next year, Rogers and his team spent much of the academic year analyzing a company named Advanced Micro Devices, then crafted a report that advanced them to the global finals.

We asked Joelson and Rogers about their careers and how the challenge helped prepare them for their jobs.


What have you been up to since graduation?

Portrait of Alexandra Joelson

Alexandra Joelson

ALEXANDRA: I’m currently working for Vanguard in their Investment Management Development Program located in Malvern, Pennsylvania. This program is a two-year rotational program where I get the opportunity to rotate on four different teams within Vanguard’s Investment Management Group.

I completed my first rotation on the equities operational risk team in the Investment Management & Finance Risk department and am currently rotating on the ETF Capital Markets desk within the Equity Indexing Group. I am currently a CFA Level III candidate, passed the FINRA SIE exam, and completed the CFA Institute Foundation Certification. This rotational program has given me an incredible opportunity to explore my passions within finance and investment management before deciding what team I want to permanently launch on. The most interesting part of my job is being able to interact with portfolio managers and market makers on a daily basis while also being directly involved in risk management and the ETF creation and redemption process.

BRENDEN: I’m excited to be working in San Francisco as an Equity Research Associate at Jefferies, as part of the Communications Technology team. I currently spend my time researching Cisco, Motorola Solutions, and 16 other names within our sector. After completing Level II of the CFA this past fall, I have also gone on to pass the FINRA SIE, Series 67, and am now studying for the Series 87, which will allow me to start interacting with the many clients our team works with on a regular basis. Our team’s insights help these clients on the buy-side make more informed investment decisions. I’ve gotten the opportunity to spend time with many talented people on both the buy-side and sell-side and have appreciated working at a firm that allows me to learn from other experienced members of the finance industry. Each day, I leverage the financial modeling, writing, and communication skills that my professors and peers at Cal Poly helped me develop during my time in San Luis Obispo.


How did the CFA Investment Research Challenge help you?

Brenden Rogers poses for a portrait

Brenden Rogers

BRENDEN: The CFA Investment Research Challenge set me on a direct path to the sell-side, where my job directly reflects the type of work the competition sought to emulate. In many ways, I attribute my opportunity at Jefferies to the work my team and I did during the competition. After experiencing a high level of success in the competition, I was able to tangibly show that I was more than capable of the work ethic required to excel in the industry and develop thoughtful, differentiated insights about public companies. Of course, the work ethic and financial analysis weren’t the only takeaways. Effectively communicating is equally important, and being able to spend multiple months working on presentation skills during my last year at Cal Poly was a valuable asset as I entered the workforce. It’s often I think about, and draw from, the lessons I learned from this project and the people that helped me along the way.

ALEXANDRA: After participating in the CFA Institute Research Competition, I gained a newfound passion for equity valuation, investment management, and analyzing market dynamics. Immediately following the competition, I studied for and passed the CFA Level I exam. This competition inspired me to begin the CFA journey and taught me that I wanted to spend the rest of her life developing my career in a role where I could be close to capital markets. The work done during the few months the team spent working hard for this competition taught me how to be an effective leader/captain, the essentials of firm valuation, and how to create the necessary models to determine market impact and intrinsic value.  I feel significantly more confident working on the trading floor at Vanguard and couldn’t have done it without the experience I had in the CFA Institute Research Competition.


By supporting the Dean’s Excellence Fund, you can help students like Brenden and Alexandra maximize their Learn by Doing experience, which helps make them Day One ready to contribute to successful careers. 

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