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Students of the French quant goddess are coming of age

Mention Nicole El Karoui in the presence of a quant, particularly a French-speaking one, and he or she is likely to fall into the kind of reverential silence usually reserved for Carla Bruni.

El Karoui teaches the Masters in Probability and Finance at the Ecole Polytechnique and University Paris-VI. In France, a Masters is known as a DEA. Such is El Karoui's fame that the course she teaches is commonly known as the DEA El Karoui.

El Karoui's course is nothing new. She began teaching the maths underpinning derivatives in 1989, and French banks have long made use of her students.

US banks are more recent converts. However, Goldman's London trading desks are said to have developed a particular taste for El Karoui alumni. "It's compulsory that DEA El Karoui students do an internship as part of the course," says one London quant recruiter. "This makes them very appealing compared to British MScs who may not have had any experience of the business."

Until now, however, recruiters say El Karoui's pupils have typically become practitioners rather than leaders.

"Traditionally, most of El Karoui's students have been lieutenants rather than officers," says Dominic Connor at P&D Quant Recruitment. "She doesn't turn out big names, she turns out very bright and very competent, technicians and probabilistic mathematicians."

This could be about to change. Connor says non-French banks only really discovered the joys of El Karoui DEAs within the past decade. As their hires come of age, they are coming to occupy senior positions in the industry, and breaking out of quantdom in the process. One example is Rachid Bouzouba, the El Karoui alumni who was promoted to co-head of global equities at Nomura earlier this week.

In 2006, Bouzouba told the Wall Street Journal that a DEA El Karoui, "is a shortcut because you don't need to train the person on the basics of derivatives."

In future, El Karoui's alumni may gain even greater cachet from a certain scarcity value: having worked in the industry for more than 40 years, the goddess of quants is due to retire soon. A while ago, she told us she was bowing out in three year's time; that was 2007.

AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • Qu
    Quant Trader
    21 March 2010

    The DEA Laure Elie Paris VII opened before El Karoui!
    The 2 most prestiguous masters in France are the Laure Elie & El Karoui well above any others DEA.
    Laure Elie get much more choice of lectures that you cannot find anywhere else like in Stat,EDP,IR,HighFrequency,EDSR,C++ in finance with world class Professors , with students from top schools like ENS,X,Mines,ECP,Ponts,Supelec

  • Re
    Researcher 100
    15 March 2010

    "derivatives world"? I think u know nothing about the research on derivatives..

  • St
    11 March 2010

    For all those who will miss Nicole El Karaoui, there is Helyette Geman who is now teaching in London (Birbeck), before in Paris at Dauphine University MSc # 203 & ESSEC business school; they are friends and together they impacted very much the derivatives world.

  • n/
    11 March 2010

    Could you please stop this, it is getting ridiculous. No doubt Ecole Polytechnique is a good place and no doubt this is a good postgraduate degree but there is a lot of ignorance on what science is or isn't and on what scientists do or don't. Desks have to decide whether they want scientists as quants or trained specialists as quants. Doing a PhD in theoretical physics/maths/engineering/computer science is not even in the same ballpark as a DEA in quant finance in terms of acquired skill set. Scientists might not know what a future is but it is irrelevant, lock them in a room for 1 month with Hull et al and that is all you need to begin with. It is the other skills that have been obtained over the years that matter.

  • Bo
    11 March 2010

    El Karoui alumni have a good command of probability theory applied to finance, but there are many other programs that offer similar (if not better to be honnest) courses...the real difference comes from the students themselves, many of whom have graduated from top French engineering schools and Ecoles Normales Supérieures...

    If the media prefer to remember El Karoui's name instead of the subtleties of the French educationnal system, let's not contradict them: long live El Karoui!

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