During the summer of 2020 we launched a series of conversations with alumni to hear their memories of Trinity and catch up on what they’ve done since leaving. Matt from ARDO spoke with Peter Cui (2004) and you can read his story below. You can find more stories here.
What was it that made you want to study Economics at Trinity?
I was very interested in macro-economics, in particular distribution of wealth, why some countries are poor, some countries are rich. I think that was probably because I was born in China and came to the UK very young. China was a lot less developed than it is now, so the contrast between mainland China and the UK was pretty big. I wanted to understand why that was the case, why countries develop, how countries develop, and how to help less developed countries.
Where did you live whilst at Trinity?
I started off in the Wolfson Building. Wolfson undergoing refurbishment in my second year so about half my year went to Burrell’s Field and the other half of my year had to go quite far out, close to Fitzwilliam College. I was in Burrell’s, opposite the playing fields.
My third year I was originally in the building above the Cambridge Union, but I switched my room one term in. My final two terms were in Whewell’s Court.
I particularly enjoyed living in Whewell’s Court because that was the biggest room that I had, it was a set with its own kitchenette and living room. When I moved to London my first flat was actually a little bit smaller than my room in Whewell’s, so I did look back on it with a lot of fondness as it was quite a few years before I moved into something bigger in London. I also enjoyed living in Burrell’s, as it was very quiet, and the gardens were very beautiful. It was a nice place to be studying and working.
Do you have a favourite part of College?
I really like Nevile’s Court, especially during exam term. There were a lot of times that I spent in the Library and I remember that the Chaplains used to provide doughnuts and squash for all of the students that were revising. They would come around 2-3pm, and in the 30 minutes beforehand you’d see everyone checking their watches and phones to see if it was time. In the grand scheme of things, it probably wasn’t a huge thing, but just having that nice break where you could have a doughnut, have some squash, and talk to someone else was really nice. That, on top of the location looking out onto the Backs, stood out the most for me.
Were you a part of any clubs or societies?
The one that took up most of my time was the Union. For the first two years, I would say 70% of my free time was spent at the Union, listening to debates and chatting to other members.
Any favourite memories?
For me, I think it was the overall environment. Meeting so many other people who were as passionate, as studious and have that intellectual curiosity was very important to me. The opportunity to discuss anything and everything is something that I miss quite a lot now that I’ve left University.
Is there anything that you wish you had known before starting at Trinity?
I underestimated the amount of work that University was going to be. With secondary school, if one had done all of the work that was set by the teacher, normally one would be able to do quite well. I think I underestimated the amount of work that was required beyond just the suggested readings and the work that had been set. To really get the most out of the course and do as well as I had hoped, I needed to go a little bit further.
Another thing, that is specific to Trinity, is that I didn’t fully understand the resources available to students at Trinity. For example, one great example was the Dunlevie Fund. It was only later that I found out some of the projects that my friends had been able to do with the support of the Dunlevie Fund. One of them had been able to use the fund to support them travelling to Singapore to take part in a world university debating competition.
I think, for students coming in, I would say really take time to understand all the funds and the prizes that are available to you. Those things I didn’t fully appreciate until halfway through my second year.
Could you talk us through your career to date?
My first job was in an investment bank. I had done an internship between my second and third years and at the end of that internship I was offered a job to start upon graduation. I was a bond trader and I’ve been doing that since I graduated.
It was slightly unfortunate in that the area that I choose to go into was mortgages and collateralised debt obligation, which was basically at the starting point of the financial crisis in 2007/08. It was a very interesting period but was probably a lot harder than it could’ve been had it been a different area. It was a very difficult time, most of my cohort and graduates found it very difficult to go into the work they wanted in 2008.
In 2006, I signed up to the desk and felt I had done really well to secure a place in the team. The team I joined was 55 globally in 2007, by the end of 2008 we were just 5 people. I was working every day from 7am until 11pm, which normally isn’t the case in trading, but there was so much to get through because colleagues had been let go. It really was a baptism of fire, as I hadn’t appreciated how difficult it was going to be. The first two years straight out of University was a pretty stressful time.
I’m in the same role now, but at a different bank.
I think with finance, it has been a very volatile period for the last decade. What I had planned out for my career, almost every other year the plan had to change. The environment had changed, the direction of the market and banking as a whole had changed. It was very important to be agile. There were a lot of things that perhaps in 2006 looked like they were going to happen but didn’t. Similarly, in 2013/14, it looked like it was a very good period for the industry, but then 2015 it was very difficult. There were a couple of times where I had to make changes and move to different firms. It’s a very volatile market. It has been a period where I have had to learn to adapt to changing circumstances.
Have you had any great role models or advice?
At one of the events organised by the Trinity Business and City Association, I met another alumnus who had graduated about ten years before me. He had been working in finance about 20 years already. One of the best pieces of advice I got from him was that “if you feel like things aren’t going well, don’t try and stick it out”. The idea of not being too invested and being able to consider new opportunities in a rational way, and not consider how much time I’ve already spent at a particular firm or in a particular role, has been very important.
How has Economics helped you through your career?
Having an understanding of the world economy to the level that I did was very important. Also, just being able to think in the way that I was taught to analyse problems has also been very important. So, whilst the knowledge is not necessarily as essential, the skills I had learnt as part of my degree were absolutely essential. Being able to analyse with others, think critically and react have always been very important in my career.
Is there an achievement that you are most proud of?
When I had first graduated, a family friend asked me to help mentor their daughter as she was applying to university. Being able to explain the process and mentor her through is one of the things that I’ve always been quite proud of. The application process itself has always been quite daunting for students, so for me seeing the result of that student’s application was quite pleasing.
When I joined the TBCA Committee, that was something that I wanted to try and support more – career advice and coaching.
What advice would you give to a current student?
I think it’s very difficult to see a way out. When we’re looking at future career choices or just getting through the next couple of terms, that can be pretty difficult. I think it’s very important to keep in touch with a tight group of friends who can support you through that process. I found that, when I had difficult periods through my studies, my friends always came through for me. Having those friendships, and being able to stay in touch, is really crucial.
Recorded in August 2020
If you want to get involved and share your story, please get in touch with Matt and Rachel at [email protected]