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Physics Physics and Wall Street?

  1. Nov 29, 2011 #1
    I have been contact by numerous people asking if a degree in Physics is useful on Wall Street. A lot of people have the miss-conception that you need a Finance degree.

    I know people with a communication degree and they are Senior and Executives on Wall Street. At the end of the day...

    1. You need an internship on Wall Street and you are in.

    However, the saying is also true: "It is who you know that puts you ahead of what you know in most cases".
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 29, 2011 #2
    There is a strong demand for theoretical physics Ph.D.'s on Wall Street.

    But then there is the question of how you get the internship.

    Sure, but you can always meet new people. One reason I post as much as I do is that I don't think it's healthy for society if a few people to get into a small group and hire each other, so one thing that I try to do is to spread information as much as possible so that it's easy for people to meet people. So if you have a Ph.D. in physics, I can tell you who you have to talk to and where you can meet them.

    Also most of the jobs that are of interest to people in this forum are technical. So what you know matters a lot.
  4. Nov 29, 2011 #3
    but it seems like wall street demands a phD from TOP TIER UNIVERSITIES
    I don't know if this is true though
  5. Nov 29, 2011 #4

    How about experimental physics Ph.D's (who can program). Is there less demand for experimental than theoretical?
  6. Nov 29, 2011 #5
    That's a marketing term that means nothing. For physics Ph.D.'s in the US, no one cares what school you got your Ph.D. from. (Things are different for non-US situations and for non-physics Ph.D. situations).

    One thing that people don't mention is that people from "big name Ph.D. schools" generally don't apply for finance jobs. Since finance is considered a "second choice" if you can get a post-doc and a tenured faculty position, you don't apply for Wall Street. So with respect to physics Ph.D.'s, most people in Wall Street come from the "big public schools" (i.e. UTexas, UCLA, UIUC, UC Berkeley).
  7. Nov 29, 2011 #6
    If you can code, no one is going to care.

    One word that you want to avoid in your resume is the word "theoretical." "Theoretical" has a bad connotation in industry. You want the words "applied" and "computational."
  8. Nov 30, 2011 #7
    twofish-quant, how do wall street see canadian university (waterloo, toronto, mcgill, ubc) phds? are they as good as the big public schools that you listed?
  9. Nov 30, 2011 #8


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    You need to think about how recruitment works from the recruiting organization's point of view. Some basic facts are (1) selecting people costs money and (2) the error bounds on the selection process are large.

    Therefore, what you want to do as a recruiter is get a number of applications to match the number of vacancies, and dissuade the potential failures from applying at all.

    The only thing worse than having 100 acceptable candidates for 10 posts is having 200 acceptable candidates. It's very tempting to apply the joke criterion of just throwing 150 of the applications in the bin, on the grounds that you don't want to recruit people who are unlucky. Whatever you do, you are going to spend a lot of time and money making 190 perfectly competent people feel bad. That doesn't benefit anybody.

    But if circulating half-truths like "we are only interested in Ph.D's from top tier universities" gets you the about the right number of the right sort of people, you win. It doesn't matter if the applications are from the top tier universities, or just from people who ignore half-truths. As a recruiter, if the smaller number of candidates who apply are good enough, you win either way.
  10. Nov 30, 2011 #9
    One thing about physics Ph.d's is that there are so few of us, that no one really cares about the differences between different groups of Ph.D.'s. In the case of recruiters, most of them have close to zero technical knowledge, so if you are a physics Ph.D., from their point of view you are Stephen Hawking or Albert Einstein.

    For technical hiring, the school that you go to doesn't make much difference as to how employers see you. The big difference that it makes is the social networks/career services that will get you to the interview table in the first place. Banks will recruit at certain schools, but this is a function of "convenience" than "quality." Think "Toys R'US". You could buy the same toy from someone at the side of the road, but then you have no clue which road to go to, but if you go to Toy R'US, then you have nice sales people that will help you find what you are looking for.

    Schools are "Brains R'US". If you are lucky enough to be in a school that tries to "sell" you, that helps a lot.
  11. Nov 30, 2011 #10
    One good thing about having physics Ph.D.'s is that there are very few physics Ph.D.'s. At any given moment I doubt that there are more than a few hundred physics Ph.D.'s that are willing to be hired for a Wall Street position. If you instead on having a Harvard physics Ph.D., you are doomed, since I doubt that there are any more than a five Harvard physics Ph.D.'s that are on the market, and they'll demand a premium that isn't worth it.

    I don't know about the market now, but one thing that I liked about the market a few years ago, was that it was obvious that people wanted me. There is this cartoon in which people blink and dollar signs start appearing in their eyes, and that was what happened when I was talking to a recruiter. Even when I got the feeling that the recruiter was lying to me, it still felt good because it meant that I was important enough to be lied to. No one has ever tried to con me into taking a fake post-doc job.

    I think a lot of it is that among the people that the recruiters deal with are not Ph.D. jobs. The vast majority of jobs in finance (98+%) do not require a Ph.d., and the vast majority of people applying for jobs in finance (98+%) do not have a Ph.d. The non-Ph.D. jobs *are* highly brand sensitive. If you have an MBA from Harvard or Princeton you have a good shot at a position at an IB. If you have one from University of Phoenix, you don't, because they can get all of the people they need from Harvard or Princeton.

    The other thing about non-technical jobs is that they don't require technical skills. If they job involves coding C++, then someone from Harvard that can't code C++ is useless. Most finance jobs don't require technical skills and involve shuffling papers. At which point if you are hiring people to shuffle papers, you want Harvard paper shufflers because it's something you can brag about to your clients.
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