Physicist gone into finance...now regretting a bit

Hi guys,

Don't know if you remember one of my old posts where i explained my condition. Anyway last year i was at a non target studying physics(1st year of bsc) in italy, but got interested in finance and contemplated to move to a target: i was admitted to the target school of my country. So now i just wanted to give you an update about my situation and ask once again your opinions.
Last year, i finished my physics finals at the (very) non target school and got all A+ (my gpa was about 29.0 /30 ), but still decided to switch to the finance major at the target school. The problem is that now i find it extremely boring and i'm not challenged by the courses at all. The problem with this bachelor is that it's mostly about corporate finance, management, ecc, and not about markets / financial maths, ecc. And these subjects are 90% about memorization, and i really miss the computational / math stuff. So now i don't really know what to do, because on one side i know this school is top continental europe target , msc finance is top notch (it's MUCH easier to be admitted as an internal student) and places really well into ivy leagues' masters (few ugrads went to princeton, mit, NYU, ecc). I really believed "vanilla" investment banking would have suited me, but now i'm questioning this and thinking that maybe quant finance would be better.
Anyway basically i can see only 3 choices:
1) suck it up and stick with this bsc, try to get into IB and if necessary continue with master in finance here.
2) finish this bsc and then get a data science / computational finance master in usa, to switch to amore computational side of finance
3) go back to my non target school and finish my physics bsc (classes started 3 weeks ago and i'm confident i'm still in time to catch up with the material). Realistically this school isn't famous enough to get into some good quant finance master in the US, but few grads went on to UK for their masters, so i could work out something like:
bsc physcs (non target) + msc (conversion) economics in strong UK uni + msc quant finance USA
Really confident in your advices

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Comments (14)

Nov 10, 2017 - 4:31am

Quant finance is way, way, way more interesting. A lot of early development of the field was done by physicists. The math can get really interesting, and there's genuine quantitative research going on at a lot of shops.

(I was a physics major at a top school with high grades. I did investment banking at a top bank and hated it deeply. I'm back in markets now and I'm so much happier.)

Nov 10, 2017 - 4:38am

Oh, interesting. I'd be really happy to hear your advice given my particular circumstance then. I like programming /maths quite a lot and i find accounting in particular pretty boring, the point is that when i started uni i didn't know about target schools (we don't have this prestige factor with colleges in italy, and even if i was a top student at my high school i never really considered to move abroad to a better uni (this is by far my biggest regret)) so i enrolled in a local uni for a physics bsc with the intention to do a financial maths master later on. During the first year i came across this and other finance related sites and found out this infos about different "levels" of schools, so transferred to a better uni but in a finance program thinking it'd have been more quantitative. Now i don't really know what to do, because i'm sure that having a top undegrad is almost a prerequisite to get into top masters in usa.Regarding the 3 options i posted in the first thread, wich one would you advice me to follow?

Best Response
Nov 10, 2017 - 6:28am

All of the discussions of target schools and networking is much, much, much more relevant for the corporate finance-ish and M&A roles you see. If you find accounting boring, there's a high chance you'll dislike those roles. There are some people who are exceptions, of course. If you like current affairs over M&A news, then markets is probably a better place for you anyway. I found the work in banking mind-numbing, and the hours and working conditions destroyed my health, which made it hard to do my job. I had also interned in S&T as a student and loved many aspects of the role, and was actually quite good at it - but due to personal circumstance I couldn't accept the offer to go back.

I can't give you advice on Masters programs in the US because I haven't felt the need for it (I had a large range of markets based roles open after my undergrad). If I go back for anything, it will likely be a PhD.

What I will say is a lot of the quant teams that I've seen have a pretty high number of PhDs, and some funds are proud of this (and they'll boast that their quant research team are all PhD qualified). I've also seen PhDs (including in physics and engineering) become heads of investment strategy for major funds. Would you consider a PhD in physics or mathematical finance?

Nov 10, 2017 - 6:46am

Thank you for your answer. Honestly i'd like to avoid the phd route, especially because even if i like physics, i'd like to make the switch right after my bsc since while the bsc is a good base wich also gives you a broad skillset and a good knowledge of physics, a master is something much more specialised, and a phd even more. And i'm also genuinely interested in quant finance so i'd enjoy learning it right after my bachelor. A phd in math finance would be another story but i don't know how hard they are to get in given a background in physics from a school wich is reputed in my country but not so much elsewhere.
About S&T, honestly is exactly where i'd like to be but i see it as a much harder route since this school isn't a target while the one where i started the finance bsc is a strong target but for IBD. So i'm basically facing this dilemma: go for physics at non target hoping to get a strong msc and hopefully a role in S&T, research or quant analytics (but with lower chances due to the fact that i actually have to be admitted to those masters wich seem to be filled with just math whizards from asia or india from reputed unis) or just stick with a vanilla finance major from a target and hope to self study math and cs with the foundations i have from my 1st year of physics and maybe do an MFE leveraging the brand of my uni (even if i'd have actually less technical competencies, it seems like the brand of the uni matters a lot to american admission commitees) or an msc in data science in usa and try to get an hybrid role like ER or structuring.

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Nov 12, 2017 - 10:54pm

If you are at a higher ranked school. Can you not do a physics major at the new higher ranked school? I would assume their physics program is better than where you came from. To me it sounds like you transferred from somewhere like Penn State and are now at somewhere like Brown. The latter of which likely has a better physics program anyway. Complete the phsyics degree (of perhaps engineering if current school is better in engineering than physics). Then tack on a bunch of econ classes which you will probably like better than accounting type courses.

I would definitely not go for a phd in physics if you want to work in a trading rule. It seems like a very long-winded path to get where you want to go.

Nov 13, 2017 - 2:50am

Thanks for the answer! Well, the point is that in Italy it's not like US. You are admitted to the program, not the school. The school i was last year was a comprehensive school, which had a good physics curriculum (e.g. is the school attendend by Fermi, Marconi, Amaldi, and all the other famous italian physicists of the last centuries) but the one in which i'm now is a business school, where you can onyl study finance or business or econ. Actually they have started a double degree with econ and computer science that 'd have been more than happy to attend, but as i said i wasn't admitted to it, but only to the econ+finance double degree. I thought i'd have enjoyed finance classes, but i realized that i prefer more quant stuff, but if it's for a long term benefit i can stick with this. The point is that i'd like to work in S&T, and in general i find markets much more interesting since i don't really enjoy the corporate stuff. My dream job would be somthing quantitative about markets or maybe risk.
My only options are to continue here and self study math, and then shoot for a good msc which can be taylored in a more quanty way (e.g. the school sends a few kids to princeton and mit every year), or to go back and then shoot for a quantitative finance msc or an applied math one, in usa or in the uk.
Yes, the Phd doesn't look that great to me too, i don't have such a patience. I might do a Phd in Finance though, that would be another story since i'd be getting nearer the field i want to end in, but only if it was from a top school.
What would you do if you were me? Honestly i'm not really comfortable with the idea of going back to a non target school, even if i enjoyed the courses more.

Nov 16, 2017 - 6:02pm

I read in one of your posts that you've been into trading for a long time, so i was wondering, is it going to be automated as everyone seems to say? By your insider pov, does it look like S&T is gearing towards automation / machine learning?
And if you don't mind, i have another question. I heard a lot of people dreaming about an early retirement through a job in investment banking, but then i read that you made 1mm+ several years and you were a trader so in the category of those who are more likely to make the big bucks from the beginning, but you still haven't been able to retire. So i ask you: is this thing about early retirement just a myth? Have you ever met someone who actually retired early in this industry?
Thanks again for your asnwers!

Nov 10, 2017 - 10:06am

Yes, i know. I like computational finance (at least to the extent i know it) much more because i love programming and i quite like maths too. I also find statistics interesting so a data science role in a fund / bank would be nice too (this is why i was thinking about equity research). But i was questioning whether it's a path worth trying given it seems much more difficult to pursue it than the traditional IB road. So basically the question may be summed to this equation, keeping in mind that my first priority is to have a job with good career prospects and pay:

A) do something i enjoy much less, but wich pays a lot and where i have a much higher chance to break in. (let's say 30% probability to succeed)

B) try to follow a path wich brings to a job i would enjoy much more, but with a higher risk of going nowhere (maybe 5% probability to accomplish it)

The thing i still can't cope with is the fact that if you don't come from a top undergrad you can't get into best graduate programs despite you gmat / gre.

Nov 18, 2017 - 11:43am

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