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Marlena Szymczak
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Marlena Szymczak
University of Illinois at Chicago

There is no linear path to success, and no two people in a career walk a parallel line. No plan is guaranteed, and no career is pre-determined. I have always been a planner—my entire agenda is thought out in advance. The downfall of a plan; however, is its neglect for unanticipated opportunities.

In my first week as a summer intern, I was tasked with meeting every person in the office for coffee. I was not expecting this assignment and did not understand its purpose in the beginning. I am still an intern at Thomson Reuters ten months later, and I can say that this assignment has been one of my most valuable investments. Thomson Reuters gave me an opportunity to hone my relationship-building skills and to grow and maintain my network as a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago studying Finance and Business Analytics. I began to discover the trajectory I wanted my career to take, and I realized that derivatives intrigued me after I became involved with various student organizations such as the Finance and Investment Group and Portfolio Management Team.

My plan, though not guaranteed, is to gain exposure to the derivatives business; however, I must be proactive in finding opportunities to realize my goals. I do this by adjusting my educational plans and by leveraging my network. I am a part of the Business Scholars program at UIC. Incidentally, the Director of Derivatives and Customized Options at X-Change Financial Access spoke to our group. I decided to reach out to him and ask to shadow him since I did not know the options business. The complexity of the job fascinated me, and I realized challenges occur daily. I learn best by finding solutions and working with abstract ideas. The more I met with this mentor, the more I realized I wanted to enter this side of finance.

Since I was unable to take an Options course this semester at UIC, due to the limited number of spots available, I realized I must learn on my own time and find experienced resources. I decided to meet with Gib Bassett, the Department Head of Finance at UIC. Professor Basset and I connected instantly. I was invited to join his MBA class, as an undergraduate, titled “Chicago Exchanges”. In his class, a guest speaker—Chris Concannon—the President of the Chicago Board Options Exchange (Cboe) addressed us. Serendipitously, I had an interview scheduled with the Chief Compliance Officer of the Cboe the next day. I received an offer for an internship at Cboe Global Markets three days later.

To complement my interest in options and derivatives, I spoke with Professor Oleg Bondarenko about an opportunity in academic research. This effort would augment research on business communication I have planned to pursue with the support of Professor William Kohler. Professor Bondarenko focuses on options research and will mentor me throughout my second research journey. I hope to focus on the Cboe Volatility Index (VIX) along with an analysis of behavioral finance.

I believe in creating experiences and not wait for opportunities; however, the best opportunities often emerge when least expected. As a result, a career with the Chicago Board Options Exchange is what I envision. I am proactive, I have grit, and I will continue to engage organizations aligned with my goals. I became a student member of the Security Traders Association of Chicago (STAC) and have garnered a wealth of knowledge and support; I also joined Women in Listed Derivatives (WILD) where I met several individuals in the industry. As a member of the Options Sector of the Portfolio Management Team at UIC, I attended a seminar hosted by the Options Industry Council that reconfirmed my interest in options.

Although not guaranteed, I plan to enter the business that entices me. I will graduate from UIC in May of 2019 with a finance degree and hope to complete my MBA at the University of Chicago after a few years in the industry. Thanks to the support of mentors active in the derivatives business, professors, co-workers, and members of organizations such as STAC and WILD, I am excited to pursue this next chapter of my professional life. As a first-generation college student who never imagined working in Chicago, an opportunity to work in what is essentially the capital of the derivatives industry is invaluable, as is the support of the STAC Scholarship Fund.


4210 W Irving Rd, Chicago, IL 60641