Before I came to the United States, I'd never envisioned being caught up in a stock market mania that would drastically alter my career and completely change my life. I loved physics, which I had studied for many years, and assumed I would become a physics professor someday. I'd never had anything to do with the stock market.

The summer of 1998 was hot, even for Texas. I came to work for Texas A&M University in an equally “hot” field in the physics department: fiber optics and lasers. This was during the momentous expansion of the Internet and the telecommunication industry, and everything related to the technological boom was hot, everything related to fiber optics was hot!

By then, I already had my PhD in physics in the field of lasers and optics from Peking University. I was excited to be working in a field that seemed to hold unlimited potential, and I found that people like me were in strong demand. In less than two years I was recruited by a fiber optical communications company that would soon go public. Business was booming. The company had dramatically expanded its office space and hired hundreds of additional engineers. The benefit that most attracted people to work for this particular company was its stock option offering. I had no idea what stock options were—I just knew that they would be worth a lot of money!

Everyone was talking about stocks and stock options. It sounds like fun! And it can make me money! I need to buy stocks, I told myself. I need ...

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