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What are people doing with their math/physics degrees?

  1. Jan 27, 2015 #1
    Hi, I have bachelors in both math and physics and have been working in the I-banking field for 8+ years. I left science for financial reasons and after working hard for all these years, I accomplished what I initially set out to do, now I find myself at a crossroads. I want to pursue a graduate degree but fear that a. I can't cut it anymore b. I just won't get accepted. I graduated with a 3.1 gpa - fairly mediocre..

    What are people doing with their math/physics degrees? Has anyone sought out degrees in areas outside of the sciences after leaving academia for so long? Would you mind sharing your experiences? I am thinking about a post-graduate degree in economics but fear I won't get in due to my lower gpa. I suppose I may be setting my sights too high?
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  3. Jan 27, 2015 #2

    Quantum Defect

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    I have known a few people like you in my life. The folks that I have known have figured out ways of transitioning back into graduate degrees by taking graduate courses in the discipline that they are interested in. Maybe find a MS program that will take you, take classes, work hard, and boost your graduate GPA. When you have shown that you have the stuff to be competitive, look to move to a good school.

    The most successful student I knew who fit this bill was a guy who went to a selective liberal arts college for undergrad. He was not a serious student as an undergrad, and graduated with a not-so-great GPA (lower than yours, I think). After working for a while (ten years?) he decided that he wanted to do something more with his life. He entered an MS program at the school where I was teaching, and put his nose to the grindstone. After getting an MS (he may not have even got an MS...), he applied to PhD programs in the area that he was interested in, and got accepted at a number of good Programs. He finished this, did some post-docs, and he is now a professor at an R1 institution.

    If you are really serious about doing economics, you might try talking to faculty in programs that interest you. You are a much different person than you were 8+ years ago. They might actually like to get someone with your skill-set and experience into their program. I know that if I were an econ faculty member doing heavy-duty modeling, I would probably be much more interested in working with someone with the kind of mathematical chops that you have, compared with a new graduate with a BS in economics. If you hear a lot of "meh" from folks, you might consider the option above, taking some graduate courses from a reputable school, and racking up some impressive results that more accurately reflect the new you.
  4. Jan 29, 2015 #3
    I know a guy who got his degree in physics from cal-tech. He tried teaching for a bit and decided it wasn't for him.

    Something i guess changed his mind and he decided to work as a trader for Citi-bank. He mentioned to me once that stocks move similarly to the way in which heat fluctuates as defined in some physics equations.

    Long story short, he used the math he learned in physics, along with some of the equations to work for a banking firm, and now he pulls in between 1-10 million a year. ( I know a huge spread, but end of the year banking bonuses are like that lol )


    Edited to include: he ended up getting a Ph.D in physics, but this was to prove that your degree does have options.

    I like to think that physics is the language of the universe, and as long as you can speak it, all doors are open for you.
  5. Jan 29, 2015 #4
    One of my friends from math grad school worked for a hedge fund for while previously.

    My gpa was 3.4, and I got accepted to one place out of five. My understanding is that Economics people sort of worship math people like gods, so it's conceivable they'd be interested, even with 3.1 gpa, which is probably not that big of an issue if you can get good recommendation letters. Grad school can be really brutal, so you do have very good reason to be afraid.
  6. Mar 24, 2015 #5
    I'de do a lot for a career in banking right now... Got my masters degree in theoretical physics from a top 5 institution in the UK 3 years ago, designed a rather sophisticated model in the realm of stats mech for my undergraduate project and then went on to model extra dimensional black holes in C++ for my masters.

    Long story short, after 10 months of failed assessment centres with companies in all sorts of industries from oil to accountancy along with many failed technical interviews asking questions i'm pretty sure only people with years of experience in software development could answer, in fear of ending up on benefits I bit the bullet and landed a trainee manager position at McDonalds.....

    Basically in a similar situation wanting to go to grad school minus the 8 years of banking experience. Stuck in Mcdonalds for 3 years already so companies won't touch my CV with a barge pole and can't even get invited to PhD interviews because my CV is that laughable. The glamorous life of someone who decided to leave physics to pursue bigger and better things. :D Going from wrecking my brain over congruences of vector fields in 4-dimensional Lorentzian manifolds and QED scattering amplitudes to managing delinquents 6 days a week who struggle to spell their own name under pressure is rather demoralising, but hey, I can wrap a big mac in less than 10 seconds.
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2015
  7. Mar 25, 2015 #6


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    But then again, there is a difference between pursuing graduate studies in pure math and doing the same in economics.
  8. Mar 25, 2015 #7


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    First of all, I'm really sorry to hear that you have struggled to find a suitable position after finishing your masters degree in physics (I know this is in part a function of the especially poor economic situation in the UK at the moment). At the same time, it sounds to me like you have an extensive technical background, including programming/modelling using C++. Have you not tried applying for positions overseas (Canada, US, Australia, etc.)? People of your background are often sought after in various industries, and UK citizens don't in general have too much difficulty getting work visas in Canada at least.

    Second of all, you could take this opportunity while employed at McDonalds to retool/retrain yourself in areas of higher demand. You mentioned software development -- have you thought of teaching yourself new programming languages or working on open-source projects? When people talk about software experience, open-source projects that you can demonstrate can be presented as experience in lieu of actual work experience. Another idea would be to spend time teaching yourself statistics or machine learning methods and go into data science -- data science/data mining is in high demand in Canada & the US (and I believe the UK as well), and a few members of PF have done just that.

    Another option would be to pursue a second masters in fields like engineering, if that is possible/allowed in the UK educational system (I don't know what the demand for engineering is in the UK at the moment, so this may be something you need to assess).
  9. Mar 25, 2015 #8
    Firstly, I have made applications abroad with little to no success so my next goal has been to acquire a second masters degree in applied statistics. I wish to venture into data science or something similar with a reasonable level of competence that my theoretical physics degree did not give me. Unfortunately my first masters degree crippled my finances severely so even though I was accepted into applied stats at Oxford I could not afford to pursue it as I was declined for any scholarships. Basically I have been saving the better part of 20 grand for the last 3 years on a McDonalds employee salary.

    I would just like to take this thread and make it clear to any budding physicist who is in the position I once was that coming onto a forum like this seeing how many physics graduates ended up in successful banking careers etc. is not representative of reality for the most part, don't let the vocal minority convince you otherwise. A stellar education guarantees absolutely nothing, if you cannot outperform your competition in assessment centres/technical interviews for positions which some candidates spent their entire degrees preparing for specifically then you will not get a job. When someone tells you that you will be in demand because you "are very analytical & good at maths & (add x number of generic skills here)" its a complete fabrication and mountains of wishful thinking on their part.
  10. Mar 25, 2015 #9


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    Typically, at least in Canada (where I'm from), many Masters degrees pursued after extensive period of employment (or unemployment or underemployment) do not usually come attached with scholarships. You had said that your previous Masters in theoretical physics crippled your finances -- were you not offered any type of funding to pursue your original graduate study? I don't know how things work in the UK, but in most cases in Canada, Masters programs straight from undergrad are typically at least partially funded, otherwise one wouldn't be accepted.

    If you don't mind my asking, are you currently in debt, and how easily can you obtain student loans to pursue, say, a Masters in applied statistics at Oxford? (or any other school -- perhaps a degree through the Open University with its flexibility may be of assistance to you) Perhaps that might be an option for you to pursue, which along with the money you saved over the past 3 years could help.

    As to your other point, any degree program is only a starting point to a career, not an end in itself. An education is not a guarantor for a career, and indeed you need to spend time improving both your networking and your interview skills to be able to land that position you're looking for. Perhaps you should take your failed assessment centre/technical interviews as learning opportunities to better perform in future interviews? Are there no career counselling services available that you could use? Also, go to career fairs, use LinkedIn, talk to your old classmates, see industry articles, etc, do informational interviews with companies to find out more about the jobs available.

    As an aside, since you are from the UK, do you speak with a RP British accent (the standard British accent that is heard on BBC News)? Or do you have a regional accent (Scouse, Geordie, Cockney, Estuary English, Scots English, etc.)? I'm asking because I have heard in the past that the particular accent someone speaks can have an impact in how that person is perceived, and I'm wondering if this may play a factor in your lack of success in interviews.
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2015
  11. Mar 25, 2015 #10

    Well funding definitely works completely differently in the UK, very very few who get accepted into programs do get any sort of funding, for undergrad the majority takes out government funded student loans and then for masters we look to bank loans and family support for the most part. For my first masters I already acquired a bank loan and until that is payed off I cannot apply for another one, so to answer your question yes I am in debt, quite a significant amount of debt.

    Yes I agree with your final point and have tried to learn from failed attempts as anyone would, but I still do not seem to have the required knowledge to perform well, all the problems asked in technical interviews that I have been to are just so foreign to me having been so focused on physics problems for so long. Also doing everything you say in your last paragraph was fine during those first 10 months, but since working for McDonalds I have hardly even been invited to interviews let alone had the chance to fail them. But anyway it is what it is and I just have to keep trying but thought I would paint a fuller picture, the grass isn't always so green on the other side as a lot of people in this forum will have you think.

    In response to your aside, I was privately educated pre-university and so RP definitely rubbed off on me, also the University I attended you would be hard pressed to find someone who "didn't" express themselves in RP, I really don't believe this was a benefiting factor for me in the slightest.

    Also another snippet of information as to what may be the root cause of my problems, despite performing really rather well in theoretical physics at a top institution I tried out a reputable paid IQ test a while back out of curiosity and it turns out that this weighed in at a meagre 105, physics did not come to me naturally like many of my peers, I had to work rather hard and so I think the bottleneck in my success may simply be a lack of intelligence and this unfortunately cannot be fixed, it's a misnomer that studying physics makes you more intelligent/quick thinking, it just amplifies your knowledge of physics...
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2015
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