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Nearing PhD completion would appreciate advice on finance/consulting jobs

  1. Sep 8, 2011 #1
    Dear PF,

    I will be completing my PhD in Astronomy (specializing in cosmology) early next year, but I am unsure if I want to continue on with a post-doc. I have been looking into other career options lately, especially in finance and consulting. However, I haven't been able to find answers to many of my questions, so I thought I'd try my luck here.

    The first and foremost of my concerns is "brand" name, i.e. the school you are receiving your PhD from. While my graduate program is tier 1 in astronomy, it is tier 100 in virtually everything else (if you're big on the astronomy scene, you can probably already guess which school I am talking about). However, on most of the job ads I've seen, employers stress the importance of having a degree from a "top school". Does this mean I should actually go and do another degree, like an MFE, at a "top school"?

    Second, I have been in search of a venue where I can have my resume/CV evaluated in terms how suited I am to a financial or consulting career. Unfortunately, I recently had to leave my institution and move all the way across the country due to my adviser hopping schools, so I don't have access to a career services office. I tried e-mailing my CV to my school's career services people, but just received a generic reply pointing me to various corners of their website. Does anyone here know of a good place where I can receive some feedback?

    Lastly, most of my programming experience has been in C and Python. However, I have noticed that many of these quant jobs prefer C++ or Java. I have some experience in C++, but I don't think it's at anywhere near the levels they are looking for. Is C++ really essential? Or can C/Python serve as a fair substitute?

    Thanks in advance for reading and for any advice you may have to offer.

    ~A confused guinea pig
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 8, 2011 #2
    Most of the ads you see aren't from employers. They are from headhunters. For US schools for physics/astronomy Ph.D.'s, the term "top school" is a meaningless marketing term, and you should ignore it. (Note that this is not true for schools outside the US, for MBA's, or finance Ph.D.'s).

    Also don't get an MFE. You will be paying several tens of thousands of dollars to get a job that you would have gotten anyway.

    Once I clean out my mailbox, I can take a look. If you have a physics Ph.D. then you are suited for a financial career. The one big catch is that you have to be willing to move to New York City, London, or some Asian financial center.

    You will have to be willing to program in C++, but it's not absolutely essential that you sell yourself as an expert in the language. It will help, but it's won't kill you if you can do C++ basics. The reason that C++ is mentioned is that it's assumed that if you can do C++, you can do anything else.

    The things that I would suggest you learn as a crash course are 1) learn the very basic of OOP (i.e. what is a class and a virtual function) 2) templates (i.e. look at the boost::math library) and 3) the standard template library. In particularly, learn the different characteristics of STL functions.
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2011
  4. Sep 8, 2011 #3
    Hi GuineaPig,

    re consulting business:

    If want to get into consulting, you might want to enter a trainee programme offered by a consulting company - I would check out the web sites of consulting companies you are interested in. (I am assuming you are interested in management consulting, but the same would be true for IT consulting also).

    Sometimes these companies advertise their jobs to students - related events are called 'career days' or similar in my country. Students have a chance to talk to potential employers or they are invited to an assessment center.

    As for 'top school' etc.: Consulting companies are looking for outstanding individuals, so called 'high performers'. Having mastered difficult subjects, good grades and also 'top school' provides evidence that you are a high performer. In my opinion the school as such is not THE criterion. In an interview you will be asked questions like the following: What was your greatest achievement? Could you describe how you solved a difficult problem and overcome obstacles? Also your achievement outside of the academic environment might be interesting. If you spent some months in Africa to work to build wells in a small village might as well help you to stand out from the crowd of applicants. Try to find some specific trade-mark that might distinguish you from others.

    Good luck!
     
  5. Sep 8, 2011 #4
    One thing that may help you is to narrow down your terminology some. The vast majority of jobs in finance have no use for a physics PhD – it might even be a hindrance. Other designations, such as CFA, carry more weight. You probably don’t want most of those jobs, anyways.

    However, there are small, specific areas of finance that may be interested in hiring you. You may already be aware of which ones you’re looking for, but your post doesn’t make the distinction. Narrowing your focus can help tremendously.
     
  6. Sep 8, 2011 #5
    Hi twofish-quant,

    Thanks for your explanations and advice!

    Thank you very^{\infty} much for offering to take a look at my CV. What is the best way for me to get it to you?
     
  7. Sep 8, 2011 #6
    Hi elkement,

    Thank you for your advice on consulting!

    I have applied to these but keep getting rejected. That is why I am really looking for someone who can review my resume, lol...I honestly didn't think it was that horrible, but I guess it just doesn't stand out in a crowd. It's true as you said, it's best to have an achievement that seems very unique, but I don't think I have one...

    Yes, I have been to a couple of these sessions but I am always too shy to go talk to people! Lol...it is definitely something I need to work on.

    Thanks!
     
  8. Sep 8, 2011 #7
    Hi Locrian,

    Thanks for your suggestion. In terms of finance, I have been looking at quant jobs, hence the last question on C++ vs C/Python. I think some firms hire people from quantitative advanced degrees, but usually that means physics, math, or CS and the like. Astronomy uses a similar skill set, but from what I understand, it is regarded differently in society, so that is something I'm a bit concerned about.
     
  9. Sep 8, 2011 #8
    One thing here is that business consulting and Wall Street finance are totally different worlds, and business consulting is much, much more brand sensitive than Wall Street finance. There are historical and marketing reasons for this.

    Business consulting is a very brand sensitive field, so saying "we only hire people from schools X, Y, and Z" is part of the marketing, whereas this is much less true on Wall Street. Also if you look at the history of Wall Street, a good number of people started shining shoes right after they got off the boat so in most places there is a healthy disrespect for "book learning."

    One of the good things about Wall Street is that by and large the managers in research heavy areas are science/engineering Ph.D.'s rather than MBA's, and the hiring decisions are made by geeks. In my current job, we started talking about numerical relativity, and when the interviewer (who happen to be a manager) asked me to describe the equations for doing some basic numerical relativity, I mentioned one famous paper on the topic Van Riper (1979) and described the equations. He pointed out that I had mixed up alpha and beta in the Van Riper equations. At that point I knew I wasn't talking to an MBA.

    One thing I do like about Wall Street finance is that there is much less of a glass ceiling than in other fields. I know of several senior managers where I work astrophysics Ph.D.'s, and being able to see someone with your background in positions of power makes you feel better than if you are in a situation where everyone above you has an MBA and you don't.
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2011
  10. Sep 8, 2011 #9
    Thanks again for all your thoughts! Do you have any recommendations as to job search techniques? Should I just spam resumes...? I have heard that is pretty inefficient, lol...but unfortunately, I, like many nerds, are a bit fail at networking.
     
  11. Sep 8, 2011 #10
    There are different types of spamming. If you send your resumes to random finance companies, you'll likely get nowhere, but you should get on the standard websites that I mentioned and spam your resumes to headhunters. By putting up an ad, that's "permission to be spammed." One thing to note is that once they have your resume in their database, they'll start spamming you.

    One thing that you should be aware of is that HH's are salesman, and you'll find everything from wonderful to dishonest and crooked.
     
  12. Sep 8, 2011 #11
    Lol, that sounds delightful, thanks for all your help =)
     
  13. Sep 8, 2011 #12
    Also one thing that you should be aware of is that the market is in bad shape right now. Everything was going decent this year until the budget crisis hit, and things sort of fell apart. The good/bad thing about the field is that things can change quickly.

    The other thing is that most hiring takes place early in the year, especially in March/April.
     
  14. Sep 8, 2011 #13
    That's really useful to know, thanks again!!
     
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