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Physics I'm a 3rd year student, should I consider a career in finance?

  1. Mar 15, 2017 #1
    I'm studying a 4 year physics degree, in the first 2 years my plan was to do a phd after but things have changed, I've done some research and I'm now thinking of changing my career path to finance, is it too late?

    has anyone had this experience before? I'd like to know stories of how people managed to change career paths so late into their degree. I dont have much knowledge in finance, but quantitative analysis sounds like something I would be more motivated to do.

    need some guidance please, can anyone recommend books to read or how to improve chances of becoming a quant? thanks
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 16, 2017 #2
    I think you need a PhD and allot of programming skill to become a quant..
  4. Mar 16, 2017 #3


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    With a bachelor's in physics you'll be unlikely to land a quant job (but there are other careers in finance where that is enough). If a quant career is something you're interested in pursuing, but PhD is not, get a master's in quantitative finance (MFE).
  5. Mar 16, 2017 #4
    thanks for the reply, what other careers in finance are there suitable for physics students?
  6. Mar 16, 2017 #5


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    I have heard negative things about MFE programs from many people that I know who is working in the industry. Please see the following post by former PF poster @twofish-quant back in 2010:


    I would tend to agree with the assessment made in the link above. If the OP has a bachelor's in physics and wish to pursue a career in finance (and looking into possible masters programs, and not willing to pursue a PhD in physics), he/she is better off getting a degree in applied math, statistics, computer science, operations research, finance, or an MBA.
  7. Mar 16, 2017 #6
    One thing I'd like to add is that the conversation around "working in finance" has changed dramatically in the past decade. If you go back a ways, it was all quant talk. There seemed to be a new thread every week here, and this was mirrored on other forums I frequent, such as actuarial forums.

    2008 and Dodd-Frank killed a lot of quant work. It's not gone, but many of the jobs that "quants" do now are very different - they're regulatory in nature, rather than more open business ventures. So when you go back to old threads, they aren't wrong, but they may be less relevant than today.

    Advice given today may not be very relevant tomorrow. If Dodd-Frank is repealed (probably won't happen, but could) you could see everything change yet again.

    So I would echo some other posters in saying that I wouldn't try to go to finance. I would try to build up valuable knowledge and skills that are useful in a wide range of careers, one of which could be finance. This may mean adjusting your educational goals, but it will likely pay off in the future.
  8. Mar 16, 2017 #7
  9. Mar 16, 2017 #8


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    / sarcasm.

    I think the OP meant to write "How?"
  10. Mar 17, 2017 #9


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    While I understand and fully support the notion of trying not to pigeonhole oneself, few companies hire on potential alone: you have to show you're capable of some basic tasks and that you're interested enough to have practiced what you should know are the questions that come up at interviews (to take a concrete example from tech: Big4 and whiteboards).

    It's supply and demand and a lopsided market: It is more often than not you who has to explain to the prospective employer why you want to work for them, not the other way around. It is also the case that a lot of people who would probably have been good never pass the CV screen just because of sheer volume.

    Physics is the ultimate major for the indecisive. You learn a bit of everything, but nothing in an in-depth way of direct use to the industry at large (there are a few niche industries which need physicists, but that's not where most get employed). To top that off with a Master's in another field that covers a a bit of everything I think is a mistake from the perspective of gaining employment. I think you'll be much more employable by focusing on the thing you want to work on, so getting a degree in e.g. machine learning or an MFE, depending on what it is that you want to do.

    As for the OP, not sure why you want to decide the industry rather than the role, but fair enough (i.e. why finance? - as others have noted). Many large financial companies are branding, or trying to, themselves as technology companies, and they do employ a lot of tech personnel, and on a related note, fintech is growing and in some areas challenging the incumbents. So tech is certainly something you could get into if you have an interest in programming. Some places might brand these positions as "quant dev". I'll leave it at that as I don't really know what types of things you might be interested in or what you think you're good at, but as a final note, if it's something non-technical that you'd prefer (like most roles in finance), then you should start working on getting internships etc.
  11. Mar 17, 2017 #10


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    I don't disagree with any of the specific points you raise above. What I was critiquing was the value of the MFE program to open doors for the type of quantitative analyst roles that the OP is presumably looking for. The issue is in pursuing a Master's degree that will provide the set of skills that will allow one to be employable in a wide range of industries, not just in a narrow subset of finance (which is what the MFE program typically is designed for). Hence my recommendation for programs like statistics, operations research, or computer science -- these programs provide skill sets that are highly marketable/employable, both within finance and elsewhere (especially in the current hot field of "data science"). The same could be said of programs like applied math.
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2017
  12. Mar 17, 2017 #11
    Good news! There's actually several areas of education that all provide (or at least encourage) these basic skills while at the same time educating their students (in the traditional sense of the word). When I talk to operations research grad students they typically have at least one programming language they have some comfort with and are often comfortable with several different software analytics packages. This is also true of many industrial engineering and statistics grad students. Comp Sci should go without saying (in their case the more common question from our end is whether they have the business acumen needed).

    When you say few companies hire on potential alone, I agree! It doesn't make sense to hire on any one thing alone. Instead, I think most companies hire on several things, and I think it is common for them to hire based heavily on potential.

    Strongly agree with this.
  13. Mar 17, 2017 #12


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    Again, I think we agree in that one should probably if possible not focus on just one thing to maximize the number roles one is a good fit for, but I think we disagree as to the utility of an MFE (or any highly specialized degree). If you're looking for a traditional quant job - derivatives pricing - at a good firm, you will not make it to an interview with a master's in say computer science: your CV will be dropped at screening (that said, the people who opted for that major would probably not even be interested in that types of jobs.) In this sense MFE absolutely does open doors (yet, whether the degree actually prepares you for the job, or for an interview, is questionable).

    Now, obviously, those might not be the jobs you had in mind when you said "quant" for the term has become completely meaningless as it is taken to describe many unrelated roles.
  14. Mar 20, 2017 #13
    Where are you getting this information? This was not my understanding at all.
  15. Mar 20, 2017 #14
    If your an undergraduate then the best route into finance is the 'traditional one' i.e. join the finance society, get good grades and extracurriculas, try and get an internship. This will also illuminate the various areas in finance. The topic of your degree does not have a large bearing on the finance careers available to you.
  16. Mar 20, 2017 #15


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    Note that what I am talking about here is traditional quant work, which is pretty much exactly what a typical MFE degree tries to cater to: stochastic calculus, PDEs and all that jazz for derivatives pricing. This is the stuff of banks and to a lesser extent, large quanty funds.

    What you will often see people discussing online are the buy side firms that code up algorithms, be they either HFT or trying to find and/or exploit some longer term statistical patterns. The required skillset and tools needed are quite different (to a typical sell side quant), and indeed many online have lamented that fresh MFEs don't interview, or perform, particularly well, and that they prioritize PhDs over them.
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2017
  17. Dec 15, 2017 #16
    It's not too late at all, I have a physics degree and I work in the quant industry in NYC. I suggest that you gain some programming experience and quant related knowledge using Quantopian or AlgoTerminal. The first is a free platform that is very popular and the second is a more professional solution for serious quants that want to keep their strategies a secret. Both are excellent. Check them out at www.Quantopian.com and www.AlgoTerminal.com

    I suggest that you start with Quantopian, since it's free and if you decide to build your own strategies and don't want to share them then pay for AlgoTerminal.com
    Also see if any of these firms accept interns, as an internship in either one would really help your resume.
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