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Got a job as a quant, want to get back to physics

  1. Nov 9, 2014 #1
    Hi all,

    I was doing HEP-EXP in a US institution, got MSc and started Phd. However in the middle of it I decided that job prospects weren't good as far as tenure track positions are concerned and I found a job as a quantitative analyst in a hedge fund. I work there for the past 18 months.

    But I'm still interested in physics and Computational Astrophysics seems very attractive at the moment. I am not a rich guy, hence what I do defines my standard of living.

    So, do you find the risk of going back to physics high? I understand that many guys try to do the opposite; going from physocs to finance.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 9, 2014 #2

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    Why do you think computational astrophysics is more likely to have available tenure track positions?

    Also, why do you think you can get back into a PhD program? Unless you took a leave of absence from your first one, you have a big black mark: they accepted you, and you left. All future schools will ask "he quit before; why won't he quit again?"
  4. Nov 9, 2014 #3
    I was under the impression that it has better prospects than HEPTH & HEPEXP. I guess is more suitable for me since I have coded a lot of stuff in my job; also one of my bachelors is in Software Engineering.

    Yes, it was not a leave of absence. It was more like quitting on financial grounds.

    In any case it may seems a financial suicide to leave now from a possibly lucrative profession and going back. However I am looking to ways of somehow doing something more relevant to physics than finance.

    Any kind of jobs that combine software skills and physics besides PhDs? Scientific software for example?
  5. Nov 9, 2014 #4

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    The basic mathematics is that a professor graduates 10 students in his career, only one of whom is necessary to replace him. For a growing field the odds may be a little better (although guessing which fields will be growing a decade later when one starts one's faculty search is not easy) and for a shrinking field a little worse, but that's how things work out.

    Scientific software is a tough business to get into. Anyone can make the same argument that you did, and they do. So every subfield has a lot of applicants. At the same time, the number of people who understand the domain science and understand programming (not just "coded a lot of stuff") is low.
  6. Nov 10, 2014 #5


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    Would you say that the OP is better off staying in finance, then?
  7. Nov 10, 2014 #6
    The thread I created might be considered ..impulsive, I know. I reviewed many threads here in PF and some blogs. The position numbers are like 1/200, 1/100, 0.45% etc.

    It defines us as a species the fact that from 7 bn people, 2 bn cannot have access to drinkable water, that money is the driving force behind politics/wars/education and that tenure track, or whatever they're called, HEPTH positions yearly are less than 50 on the planet.

    Adding the absolute fundamentals, i.e. HEPTH/EXP, astro and cosmology, how many people on the planet deal with origins?

    It is not the 'system' or some abstract entity. We created it. If it doesn't bring money, don't do it.

    Physics is like the ultimate cheating lover. You fall in love once, then you pay the price of not being able to be with her for lifetime.

    And now let's go back to S&P index and check today's moods. Use PDEs for derivatives pricing and not for wave eqs.
  8. Nov 10, 2014 #7

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    That's not for me to say. The best I can do is to point at the odds, and to give my best opinion on whether his plan to beat them is likely to work.
  9. Nov 11, 2014 #8
    I remember this article about a theoretical physicist who went into finance and then back into physics:

    How easy has the transition back to research been?
    I told my employers at Barclays Capital that I wanted to go back to physics and they offered me the possibility of working part-time, which was a great deal for me: I’d get to pursue what I was interested in without having to rely on getting funding.
  10. Nov 14, 2014 #9
    the article quoted by elkement, it's in UK. now, take anything I say with a grain of salt, but my impression is that in UK, as much as they are obsessed with money as anyone else in finance, they are not americans. what I mean, is I believe that finance people in UK may be slightly more understanding thatn americans if you tell them you want to work part time. My impression of americans is that, as a general cultural trait, they are workhaolics. for example, europe has stronger labor laws where the mandatory minimum yearly vacation is about a month (this may vary depending on the country). in US there's no equivalent law and many employers give a few days per year.
    Of course, some americans may be very understanding and supportive.

    Another thing, to take such a step depends greatly on how amazing are you going to be as a researcher. that guy in the article is good enough apparently to do very well, win at least one award and end up on a news article. If you are gonna be that good, almost anything you do will get you success. so, of course the question is, how can you know without trying in advance. well...it may sound strange that I say this as someone who has training in science (I have a PhD in physics), but I think that if you're really calm in yourself you can make the right decision using your common sense and your intuition/calm feeling. perhaps you do know, in your inner calm self, whether your decision is right to stay in finance or return into research.

    it is well known that it's very hard to get into a research position, and they are not so well paid, so basically for several years you're giving up on financial things. but, how hard it is also depends a lot on how good you are at networking and getting along with/impress your supervisor. now money does not bring happiness but it can help have a nicer place to live, better food, and so on. also consider that very rarely a job is the perfect thing you wanted. don't fall into the trap that you're not 100% satisfied and quit, to then find out that your PhD and subsequent hard to get postdoc is not 100% satisfying either. I for example, quite loved my PhD, but I disliked my postdocs as I did not get along with the different rules that I found stifling compared to my original laboratory. not all is great in scientific research...

    to answer my question, yes, the risk is definitely very high, but even with a 0.01% chance, if 10000 people try, one will succeed.
  11. Nov 14, 2014 #10


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    Please post the research results that support this, I do not find this to be true.


    This would show you to be wrong, in my experience, one week of vacation is earned after 6 months, 2 weeks after one year. Of course this varies, but this is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the US.

    In other words, please do not post unless you know what you are talking about.
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2014
  12. Nov 14, 2014 #11


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    Well, anything is going to be better than HEP-EXP.

    I personally think that physicists should hire more scientific programmers. They're not as cheap as a PhD student, but man, a good scientific programmer is awesome.
  13. Nov 14, 2014 #12

    I work in the US, and I know several people who work in the US. I have 5 days of vacation in a year, and I've been working here for 1.5 years. Everyone else in the firm I work also has the same deal. I know many more REAL people (in different professions to mine) who have 1 week of vacation in the states.

    so the REAL FACTS I personally witness support my statement, while you quote just STATISTICS AVERAGES from an interested party. ALSO, what I said about labor laws in europe vs US is eminently valid. It is perfectly LEGAL in US for employers to offer just 5 days per year, like in my personal case. While it is NOT LEGAL to do so in my home country in europe.

    because of the seemingly condescending and seemingly generally not very polite tone of your message, I considered to just ignore you, but tone is not always clear from written text and I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt that you were just trying to contribute politely to the discussion and I misunderstood.
  14. Nov 14, 2014 #13
    I went back to look at the table you cite, and (apart the fact that it's from 1996) it runs contrary to what you say. the table says that the average after 1 year is 8 days. only after 15-20 years does it reach 2 weeks. in my home country, 1 month is standard. so, your table actually supports my statements more than it supports yours.
  15. Nov 14, 2014 #14
    Well, your 5 days isn't typical, it's very unusual.

    And I don't think the two of you are reading the BLS table the same way.
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2014
  16. Nov 15, 2014 #15
    Kind reminder: I think that this is not the issue here, in this thread :-)

    I should thank you all for your time and insights.

    Very busy quant week, ended in midnight yesterday..
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