Many people would shy away from regularly running one- hour sessions on Friday afternoons, for students to tune in, ask questions, and have their say, but not Dr Lurion De Mello from the MQBS Department of Applied Finance. Here, he discusses what he put in place – and why!
I wanted to encourage all students in our finance courses to participate in the QILT Student Experience Survey (SES) so I decided to try getting my students motivated and excited about the survey by using a similar approach to an ‘Ask Me Anything’ (AMA) chat forum I had on Reddit in August 2020. Along with offering access to a panel of their lecturers and professors, and the opportunity to ask any question they wanted, students were also made aware of the importance of completing the SES, (and not to mention, the many prizes on offer by the survey organisers for submitting the survey!).
From this first session, these evolved into a regular event, offering students the opportunity to pass time in lockdown by chatting in a relaxed casual atmosphere with peers that they had not yet been able to meet in person on campus. It also provided a great opportunity to get to know the diverse and specialised research avenues pursued in the Department of Applied Finance, using virtual meeting platforms and discovering ways to make better use of the learning management system iLearn.
These Ask Us Anything sessions have taken the flexibility offered by online learning a step further by bringing staff and students together in a forum where they can chat and discuss a very broad range of finance topics. As finance is a domain that is constantly changing and currently impacted by the pandemic, it was time to create a space where ideas, questions and discussion can continue for a beneficial student experience. And as most of us are stuck at home not only our students, but many staff have enjoyed these Friday sessions with a form of connection to look forward to at the end of each week. Ask Us Anything not only builds up students’ financial knowledge and networking skills, but during this time it has uplifted staff moral and benefited mental wellbeing all rolled into one. The sessions have also teased out key societal issues that students are passionate about and provided a platform to voice their opinions and get feedback from academics and their peers.
Launched on a Friday in August, the first Ask Us Anything session targeted Applied Finance’s first core unit (AFIN1002) with a panel that included Mr Hamid Yahyaei (Guest Lecturer and ex- Hedge Fund and RBA Senior Analyst) and Mr Damian Bridge (Sessional Lecturer and Director at Bridge Consulting). The first 15 mins was allocated to confirming completion of the SES after which the floor was opened for any questions. This resulted in a very engaging conversation, ranging from the panellists’ career choices, the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) program, house prices, renewable energy, critical minerals supply, special purpose acquisition companies (SPAC) in the Australian market, skills required to enter the portfolio management industry, risk of interest rate rises in the future, and how one would stand out when pursuing a career in funds management. The topic of house prices took the stand with in-depth discussion of the growing inequality between asset holders in Australia and whether the government incentives provided to first homeowners worked against the wealth accumulation currently taking place in the market.
The next two sessions brought from the Department of Applied Finance Dr. Keith Woodward, Dr Veronica Smith, and Dr Guy Schofield’s knowledge and experience onto the panels. Here, students raised questions to be considered around thoughts on inflation, the impact of the U.S. Federal reserve’s (FED) quantitative easing measures, how the FED and MIT are working on Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC), and whether the government should be doing more to keep Fintech in Australia. There was also discussion of the importance of data analytics for finance-related fields and how one could upskill themselves in this area, even if they had not formally chosen this as a degree at Macquarie. Finally, there were also questions around the Charted Financial Analyst (CFA), Certified Practicing Accountants (CPA) and the Chartered Accounting (CA) qualification, with students keen to know what would make them stand out to potential employers.
To date, there have been nine amazing sessions involving fifteen academics within Applied Finance. The sessions have grown to include members from every finance student cohort, including undergraduate through to Masters of Banking and Finance, and more recently, higher degree research students. Even our students currently overseas joined in from Singapore, Cambodia, and Mexico. This type of forum proved to be a great way for students to practice their enterprise skills and think critically on matters important to the community, nationally and internationally. And the students weren’t the only ones learning new things; I also learnt from other academics and their areas of expertise!
The feedback from students has been very positive:
I found these sessions to be highly valuable, especially during lockdown as they provided a very convenient platform to break up study at the end of the week by getting to know different staff, students, their perspectives, and their experiences. The range of discussions related to finance and industry provided guidance on becoming a competitive candidate. The panellists guided us towards effective further research and ultimately emphasised and gave examples on how to invest into our own skillsets. Mr Trent Alleyne, first year, Bachelor of Economics and Bachelor of Applied Finance
The finance industry is constantly changing, and I think it is easy to get overwhelmed to keep up with trends and events. The Ask Us Anything Sessions has given me the opportunity to hear from experienced professionals about different areas ranging from energy and mining all the way to cryptos and blockchain technology. I highly encourage students to come along as it is a great opportunity to know your peers and the MQBS faculty! Mr Matthew Rapacon, second year, Bachelor of Applied Finance.
So why stop here? I decided to centre the remaining sessions around specialised subject areas of Finance, and so with Professors Tom Smith and Elizabeth Sheedy, Associate Professors Abhay Singh, Sean Foley, Drs Grace Lepone, Cynthia Cai, Rui Xue, Zahra Boghei Ghomi, and Lindesay Brine, Director of Postgraduate Applied Finance, we discussed the following:
- Fintech, Digital Finance, Blockchain and Cryptocurrencies
- Transition to a Low Carbon Economy
- Market Intelligence from Business Analytics
- Climate Finance and Sustainability
- The Oath, Corporate Culture, Regulation and Banking
Our last four sessions drew in academics from the Department of Actuarial Studies and Business Analytics and the Department of Economics, including Professor Stefan Trueck, Associate Professor Hume Winzar, Dr Rohan Best, along with Cris Parker from The Ethics Centre. As you can see, the list of possibilities for topics and for participants just keeps growing!
I’d be really happy to talk to anyone who wants to set up something like this for their own students or in their own department.
Or even better – let’s collaborate on some cross-disciplinary Ask Us Anything sessions!
Thanks to the following contributors: Lurion De Mello, Trent Alleyne, Matthew Rapacon, Alison Petto-Hamilton and Karina Luzia. Image credits: Alison Petto-Hamilton (banner) and digital world photo by Natanael Ginting.