Tristram Thomas

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BA 2009, Latin (Highest Honors) with a Minor in French
Market Fundamentals Analyst, Constellation Energy

I arrived at Carolina as a freshman interested in current events, politics and economics, media, and foreign languages.  However, whenever I took classes in these topics, I found them unsatisfying and could not imagine pursuing them as a full major.  Instead, I gravitated towards my Classics classes, which I had been using to fill general requirements.  Not only did I find these classes challenging and stimulating from the standpoint of intellectual rigor, but I found them fascinating in their own right.  Greek tragedy with Prof. Race, Roman History with Prof. Talbert, Latin literature across the spectrum: these were just some of the courses I loved.  By 2009, I graduated with a B.A. in Classics – Latin and a minor in French.  I also completed an undergraduate thesis with highest honors on Cicero and his strategies to preserve the Republic.

Upon graduation (remember, the economy had been losing 500,000 jobs/moth at that point), despite having a Latin degree, which I was told was useless on the job market, I was one of the few among my Carolina friends to have found a real job (not graduate school, not a fellowship, not an internship) as a Middle School Latin teacher and track coach in Louisiana.

After a few years of teaching, however, my desire to be more fully engaged with political and economic issues pulled at me.  I enrolled as a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) where I earned an M.A. in International Relations and International Economics with a concentration in Energy, Resources, and the Environment (ERE).  It was instantly clear my Classics education had prepared me exceptionally well for this interdisciplinary degree.  The abilities to digest large volumes of research, write policy papers succinctly and quickly, compute basic economic analysis, consider cultural and linguistic context, and gain subject matter expertise were all keys to success.  While my classmates struggled with basic reading, writing, and analysis, I could focus on improving my facility with numbers and knowledge of energy issues.  (Side note: As a requirement for my international relations coursework, I took a course focused solely on Thucydides.)

Since graduation from SAIS, I have worked as an analyst in a group called Market Fundamentals for Constellation Energy, a subsidiary of Exelon, which is one of the largest low-carbon electricity generators in the country.  Our group’s work focuses on forecasting wholesale power market dynamics and supporting the company’s strategies surrounding its assets.  Certainly, facility with numbers, the ability to present one’s findings, and understanding the context underpin our work; however, Excel, PowerPoint, and a good Google search can generally handle those issues.

The key factor to success (or failure) in our work is understanding the grey area.  In our data-obsessed age, the common misconception is that a clear, black-and-white answer rounded to the millionth decimal point will light the way.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Any forecast, any analysis is limited by what we do not know.  Understanding those limitations, making simplifying assumptions around them, and communicating that context to decision-makers is paramount.

Similarly, a war fought thousands of years ago is limited by the sources (written and forensic) available; it exists only in grey area.  Perhaps the same analytical rigor applied to that war will lead to rigor in another area of our life.  And who knows, maybe we’ll encounter a few pieces of wisdom or beautiful poetry along the way?

October 2017