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That time has come

  1. Apr 23, 2014 #1
    So I'm at the end of first year undergraduate, and I've got to make some tough choices. Normally, people say you'll know what you want by the end of first year, but that couldn't be more counter in my case. Prior to university, I had naive aspirations to become a theoretical physicist (at the time, high energy theory, yes typical :tongue2:), however it seems I may not be passionate enough for physics. Over the past many months, reading through forum posts I've come upon the rather blatant realization that there are simply no (more precisely a minuscule amount of) jobs in theoretical physics. I have to thank physics forums for illuminating this viewpoint. Also thank-you for destroying my dreams!!! :rofl: Take the last part with a grain of salt.

    I feel a recent inclination towards becoming a quant, and going on to graduate school to study mathematical finance (for money, employment prospects, the stock market stimulates me, and its mathy (not a real word, huh), so in other words it suits me).
    So here is the issue. I love physics, no question. I was very successful in my first year mechanics, and e & m courses. However, I feel physics, although infinitely interesting, would amount to a waste of time if one chooses not to pursue graduate studies. The situation for graduate school and the phd route just seems to risky, lacks payoff,…. The excuses probably demonstrate my lack of over-arching passion, the passion I believe one should have to pursue physics at such an advanced level. :cry:

    So I took up computer science. And then I took up statistics/probability. So it boils down to this. Three choices: Physics, Computer Science, Statistics. I'll happily satisfy a double major program, so I need to choose two of the above three options.
    So what do you guys think ?
    Have any others been down a similar path ? And advice in selecting 2 of the three possible options ?
    Or any recommendations?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 23, 2014 #2
    Hi, I'm not an expert but have been faced similar circumstances (I am a couple of years ahead of you). I don't know which 2 of the 3 you should pick but I would say that this decision is not going set your future career path in stone. Pick two you think you'd enjoy the most and see how they go. Try and get summer placements throughout your degree so you can get a taste for certain jobs. After these couple of years you will be better informed and can then pick a Masters more relevant to your aspirations (keep getting good grades so you can get a scholarship for your MSc).

    Good luck.
  4. Apr 23, 2014 #3


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    I'm obviously bias towards Statistics :).

    On a serious note though. I think picking a major and then choosing a career is a backwards way of doing this whole process. While everyone likes to say, "oh i'm too young to know what I want to do!", I think that's just nonsense. You need to envision what kind of work you want to do. Sometimes it helps to know what kind of job you don't want to do! For example, I didn't want to spend a lot of time dealing with physics so engineering was out for me. I didn't want to deal with customers or balance sheets, so a lot of business jobs left. I didn't want to travel a lot! Adding with the fact that I enjoyed programming, mathematics, and finance, pushed me towards my 'dream' job of doing models for a financial company. (Which ironically ended up eating my soul and I left to work in bioinformatics...). Anyway, the point is once I found what kind of job I would like to do, I began to look at what common majors lead to those jobs and what people did to get an entry level job. Therefore, I ended up with a double major in mathematics and English! (English...yea, had something to do with my inability to write well :p).
  5. Apr 23, 2014 #4


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    It's really tough to recommend which field would be best to land a quant job because there are several different types of quant jobs. Whether you need to be a financial expert or not depends on which job you'll be doing. Expertise in designing algorithms might be the most beneficial thing, or being trained in magnetohydrodynamics might give you the skills a particular firm is looking for. There are no books for the kind of stuff they're doing there, otherwise they wouldn't need quants.

    From what I've seen of a lot of mathematical finance curriculum, it is basically physics (or at least comprised of the major math fields used in physics, like calculus and linear algebra).

    Have you read this thread?
  6. Apr 24, 2014 #5
    Looks like you are making a pragmatic decision. Having struggled to find employment with my physics degrees, I am not surprisingly biased against physics for employment. From my perspective of being in school for the better part of a decade, having tried for any STEM career for over two years and seeing my classmates struggle too - I think that CS would be the most employable now and in the near future. Focus on that and add stats for a second degree would be my choice (for employment, I still love physics most as a subject).

    I think graduate school should still be considered, and it looks like you will.
  7. Apr 24, 2014 #6
    Why not try mechanical or electrical engineering? Both are very physics based and one is based on mechanics while the other is based on E&M
  8. Apr 24, 2014 #7
    Thanks, for the link. But I've always had one question. Why do people always say that physics is a preferred (maybe to strong a word) major for quantitative finance? I understand that some of the PDE's overlap between the two disciplines, but I still would think that mathematics or statistics would be more strongly correlated. Although, I assume people make such a statement with respect to non-quantitative fields.
  9. Apr 24, 2014 #8
    I think I'm more interested in probability theory, stochastic processes (and so with applications to information theory, game theory, stochastic calculus, Q.M, and other cool things), and it would be cool to study measure theory as well. With that said, do you think its still a good investment to major in stats. for the probability parts. I haven't really done statistics beyond my physics labs, and I find it for the most part to be only slightly interesting.

    Edit: I also love the counter-intuitiveness of probability.
  10. Apr 24, 2014 #9
    Yeah much of what I'm thinking. Hypothetical question: Would you still have majored in physics given what you know now ? Would you have possibly thrown in a second major to increase employability prospects ?
    And if I decide to discontinue physics, then most likely I'll try to take a real analysis course (since I'll need it for probability), and from there try to take an applied math course on Q.M. to keep some perspective on physics (even though its more math than anything else).
  11. Apr 24, 2014 #10


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    To simply major in statistics for the probability is generally not a good idea. Typically, a degree focused on statistics will have one course dedicated to probability theory and maybe one additional one (maybe not). Most of the degree will be on multivariate regression, experiment design (just look around the stat form and you'll see this issue come up a lot), modeling diagnostics, and using the appropriate statistical test. Also, if your program is smart, they'll force you to learn SAS/R and have at least one class that deals with statistical computing. While probability forms a lot of the underlying theory in statistics, you'll only notice it in a subtle way the more deeper you get into statistical techniques.

    However, after the undergraduate level, you may choose to do heavily theoretical statistics which includes a good dose of advance probability. Another possible advance path could be operational research. A field that mixes statistics, optimization and combinatorics. Also in certain aspects knowing computer science and or physics will give you a heads up over other people who just know the mathematics in this field.
  12. Apr 24, 2014 #11
    I dont usually like to entertain hypothetical of the past, I dont think its healthy for me. But I certainly would not have majored in physics. I would have been financially better off if I bought a house I couldn't afford like my peers. Then I could at least be a homeowner in debt rather than a renter in debt like I am now.

    I never wanted to make a lot of money. And unlike many on this forum, I actually mean it. 30-40k with health insurance would be great. I'm not sure what major I could have done to get that. Probably some kind of engineering.
  13. Apr 24, 2014 #12


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    Physics is not particularly preferred. Physicists are historically associated with the profession. Paul Wilmott, the "smartest quant in the world" did a B.S. in math and a PhD in fluid mechanics. The idea of having a PhD means potentially that you're an expert in your field and have experience working independently in an area that isn't well documented. Also, the types of trading that quants deal with today rely heavily on math skills. That's why you see quantitative finance drawing in PhDs in math, computer science, engineering, physics, statistics, etc.

    If you actually plan on being a quant, I'd say a PhD in applied mathematics is a good way to go. I don't think any physicists that are quants now said when they were first starting out "I'm going to get my PhD in physics so I can become a quant." I think physicists have ended up there due to displacement, or the idea of making lots and lots of money, or both.
  14. Apr 25, 2014 #13
    Thanks for the responses esuna, ModusPwnd, MarneMath. They were informative.
  15. Apr 26, 2014 #14


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    Solid reply.

    I find this to be a universal answer to a great many questions on this site....lol.
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