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Physics in banks -- Is it the right thing to go for?

  1. Jul 6, 2015 #1
    Dear readers:

    I would like to share my story with you, and I really appreciate your advice.

    I graduated last year from ETH Zürich as a PhD in physics. Now I'm doing a Postdoc in a group as my first step in a "science" career.

    The Problem:

    As much as I love research and enjoy doing science, I have two reason why this scares me and makes me wanna leave it:

    1- Funding: I hate begging for money. I find the situation in science is very insulting for bright-minded people. Scientists are being literally *used* in all these fellowship systems. Assuming I would become a professor, would I be doing science? Absolutely not! I would spend the rest of my life writing proposals to beg for money, while others do science. I'm probably being egoistic, but then what's the point of seeking something I like if I'm not?

    2- Competition: The funding problem comes with huge competition pressure that's not solely based on things that I can control. So, it's not that only my life will be spent on begging for money, but there's also a good chance I'll be a huge failure in science and in industry, where there's no going back if I fail in science.

    So this got me to think: Do I really want to stay in science? I love it, but I hate its bureaucracy... my initial answer is... unfortunately not!

    Possible solution: Is it really a solution?

    I enjoy programming and writing simulations (C/C++). I've done many, many programs and Monte-Carlo simulations of noise, physics, quantum mechanics and density matrix formalism simulations. I was always very good at program optimization. My programs are always competitive with the best available, performance wise. I would love to have a job in that field, as having my laptop on my lap with C++ code in my mind is the most I enjoy.
    Beside that, I have my own linux server that I run since about 2 years that I setup from scratch and manage through terminal, and multiple websites that I setup from scratch on the server with all the php programming knowledge and MySQL management required, in addition to that multiple cloud systems and links between my home computer and my server where I can access anything on my home computer with my mobile phone.

    Why am I saying all this? Just to state what kind of person I'm and what I enjoy doing!

    What are possible jobs for me? I found that banking jobs do Monte-Carlo simulations all the time. They call it risk management and econophysics (honestly I don't even know the difference, for now. The latter looks like a superset of the former. Is that right?).

    Are these the right thing for someone like me? How can I start in them? Do you recommend specific books for that for someone in my position who doesn't even know what the names mean?

    Are there other jobs that would provide the same opportunities.

    If you have any questions, please don't hesitate.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 6, 2015 #2
    This is amazing to me. You don't like begging for money, but you now want to go towards stealing money?

    The banking sector is the worst sector to work in in terms of healthy working environment and ethics. Everyone is crazy, obsessed, greedy, delusional and desperate.
    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/joris-luyendijk-banking-blog

    Anyway, for a normal company, you have no immediately applicable skills. Even for a bank, why would they not hire someone with a PhD that was all about doing MC in a financial context?

    While you can program, more likely than not you can't write shippable software like a software engineer can. And it would also be a waste of your talent.
     
  4. Jul 6, 2015 #3

    SteamKing

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    Science does not have a monopoly on bureaucracy. If you don't like bureaucracy in science, it is orders of magnitude worse in banking, because you must deal with the law and financial regulations in various countries where the bank does business.
     
  5. Jul 6, 2015 #4
    Academia and banking are not the only areas where a physicist can work. What about industry? There are many opportunities for physicists in all kinds of industries.

    Regarding the kind of banking analyses that you mentioned, I think that this would be too simple for you. The methodology is called Decision and Risk, and there are some good texts out on this. It involves Monte-Carlo simulations to evaluate alternative investments. The same type of methodology is also used in determining the probabilities that you will outlive your retirement savings, taking into account the many uncertainties that exist with regard to taxes, market fluctuations, inflation, etc. All the investment companies have this type of software available to their customers.

    Chet
     
  6. Jul 6, 2015 #5
    I was in your situation: PhD in physics, postdoc (an internship at IFD-ETHZ long before all that), then thinking: is this really what I want? So I tried a Marie-Curie project where I still had more or less the status and work of a post-doc, but I was in a more industrial research environment (programming computational physics stuff for the aerospace industry). I never went back to academia. There are many companies out there that really need somebody with a PhD in physics, although not all of them know it. In Switzerland you have of course CERN, but also ABB, Paul Scherrer Institute, etc. Banks also need smart people, I worked on MC codes and I know that some of my predecessors went into banking. But it's just one of many, many options. You could also consider working at a consultancy company. But keep in mind that each field has its own quirks and in every field, 'making a career' means more managing, less 'real work'.
     
  7. Jul 6, 2015 #6
    @bigfooted Thank you very much. Your message made me feel much better. Would you provide me some help on the personal level? Since you work at a very similar thing as I do, you would know what I need to do to get started, and what I need to focus on. I'd appreciate it a lot. Can I PM you?
     
  8. Jul 6, 2015 #7
    Don't forget the oil industry in the area of exploration, where remote sensing techniques such as seismic interpretation are big areas in finding oil and mapping out the subsurface geology.

    Chet
     
  9. Jul 6, 2015 #8

    e.bar.goum

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    I found this really helpful - the AIP has released a survey of people 10-years post PhD in non-academia environments in the US, and as part of the study, they asked for a description of their job. https://www.aip.org/sites/default/files/statistics/phd-plus-10/physprivsect-jobduties.pdf It's obviously a small sampling of what's out there, but it shows that there are a huge variety of actually interesting things you can do with a physics phd outside of academia. Banking included. :wink:
     
  10. Jul 7, 2015 #9

    StatGuy2000

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    Almeisan, what would you suggest the OP do instead, if he/she doesn't want to stay in academia?

    On a related note, what do you do for a living?
     
  11. Jul 7, 2015 #10
    I suggest he dig waterwells in Africa. The less people defrauding our society, the better.

    Either way, he should have thought about how to brand his PhD skills outside of academia. He has been in school for a long long time. Long enough to figure out how it is. We see people here everyday asking about if they should switch to engineering or if they can get a job with a BSc in physics only, when they get doubts about their research careers. If your dream isn't to do physics research, don't do a physics PhD.
    That said, you can do physics research in research institutions and industry. And yes, you can try to reinvent yourself as some MC or IT expert, but you aren't one automatically.


    Anyway, you are only going to be happy with your job in the financial sector if you are a psychopath (1 in 100 to 1 in 25, so maybe he will be).
    But when you are already have problems with morality within and bureaucratic nature of academia, there are not many sectors left. In the financial sector you will be required to be amoral, or you will be fired, and all the financial sector does is pump around money while balancing the real economy on the edge of Armageddon.
     
  12. Jul 7, 2015 #11
    There is less bureaucracy in most industry, and most companies hire specialists to deal with most of the bureaucracy so scientists and engineers can do real work.
     
  13. Jul 7, 2015 #12

    StatGuy2000

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    With all due respect, perhaps it would be more meaningful if you provide suggestions that are actually useful to the OP, rather than make snide remarks like the bolded quote above?

    I am an atheist, but there is a line in the New Testament which I love, where Jesus implores those who are about to cast judgement that "let those who are without sin be the one to cast the first stone." (I'm paraphrasing the quote here).

    So before you start judging the OP on the choices he/she has made, perhaps you should tell us whether you followed your own advice and thought about how you branded your PhD skills. Specifically, what do you do for a living?

    It's also worth keeping in mind that plenty of people have dreams of doing physics research, but are unable to do so because physics research positions are lacking -- have you never looked at ParticleGrl's posts here on PF?

    I would also mention that your views on the financial sector is awfully simplistic. Yes, there are amoral people (too many in that sector), but the financial sector is a vast industry with many different types of jobs and many different types of workers -- you shouldn't necessarily make sweeping generalizations where the facts don't necessarily warrant it.
     
  14. Jul 7, 2015 #13
    You are only responding to me, in an effort to protect the financial sector? At least I am responding to the OP, yes on my own terms. But at least I am addressing his issues. If he thinks the working environment inside a London or Frankfurt bank will be healthier than what he is in now, he mistaken.
     
  15. Jul 7, 2015 #14

    StatGuy2000

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    I am not protecting the financial sector, since I have no personal stake in doing so (I do not work for that sector). Certainly the financial sector doesn't need me to be their spokesperson. What I'm asking you to provide is practical, meaningful advice that could help the OP decide on a future career path, which is what he is asking us on PF for (OK, I checked the OP and he is male), and what others on this thread have provided. Presumably, you have some personal experience that can inform the OP on this matter, hence why I'm asking what you do for a living. Did you finish a PhD in physics? Did you transition into industry?
     
  16. Jul 7, 2015 #15
    You are only talking to me, but you have nothing to offer. Talk to the OP.
     
  17. Jul 7, 2015 #16
    Guys, I'm closing this thread. The is no place in Physics Forums for snide comments or insults. Please, in the future, refrain from such antics.

    Chet
     
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