Switching from Finance to Physics

daedalus
Posts: 3
Joined: Tue Mar 24, 2015 12:31 pm

Switching from Finance to Physics

Postby daedalus » Tue Mar 24, 2015 1:04 pm

Hello guys, new poster here.

Brief background: I am currently 25, with a B.S. in Business (Finance, Int'l Business, minor Econ), planning to re-enroll in a second bachelor’s degree in Physics & Math at my alma mater (big state school, top 40 physics) this fall. Originally went to school for Finance for reasons unrelated to my interests (family was recent immigrants, needed to help out & get a job after graduation to stay in the country, finance/business seemed to be the optimal track).

Now I’ve been out 4 years, working full time as an investment analyst and portfolio manager. I have a greencard, and feel like I finally have the resources and oppty to go back to school and do something that I have had a keen interest in since childhood. I have taken math up to and including diff eq and entry level physics classes in college/part-time, and have done a lot more online in edx, coursera and MIT opencourseware, and self-study with books like K&K mechanics, Griffith E&M, Feynman, etc. The B.S. should take me no more than 3 years to complete, and my end goal is to go to grad school afterwards and do full-time research.

I was hoping to get your guys’ input on several items:

1) How disadvantaged will I be vs traditional applicants when applying to competitive graduate programs? Is getting into a top 20 or top 10 a realistic goal (assuming competitive scores, research experience, letters, etc etc)? I have looked through most of the “Applicant profiles and admission results” threads so I am aware of the caliber of applicants that are able to get into such programs.
2) I am quite successful at what I am doing currently, but I still wish to leave it aside to focus on my long-term dreams and goals. How can I spin my experience and unique background in the context of applying to graduate schools, fellowships or trying to finagle profs for research projects? I will also have my CFA by the time of completion, which is a very rigorous series of 3 exams that each require about 250-350 hours of study time, and is the highest professional credential in my current field. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chartered_ ... al_Analyst). Will this be of any use to me in undergrad or when applying for PhD, as it speaks to my high level of work ethic and general aptitude?
3) Any other suggestions or help is greatly appreciated. I can elaborate on any part of the above if necessary.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to get some feedback :D

loser2winner
Posts: 15
Joined: Wed Jul 09, 2014 4:23 pm

Re: Switching from Finance to Physics

Postby loser2winner » Tue Mar 24, 2015 9:03 pm

CFA should have no effect in PhD application, unless you apply for PhD in finance.

physicsisphun
Posts: 15
Joined: Mon Oct 27, 2014 12:57 am

Re: Switching from Finance to Physics

Postby physicsisphun » Tue Mar 24, 2015 9:48 pm

I assume you have some knowledge of coding and modeling although I may just not understand what a financial analyst does. I'd say these skills will be the most important part of finance background. I agree that the CFA will not play a significant role, but it shouldn't hurt to mention. Also if your CFA prep helps you improve some of these skills you should include it in your CV personal statement. The most important thing to do is get research experience and do well in your courses. You only have 3 years to get research experience though so work hard on getting some both summers and try to work with a professor during the year. I'd recommend trying to do an REU as working at another institution is definitely a big plus as far as I can tell. Good luck.

daedalus
Posts: 3
Joined: Tue Mar 24, 2015 12:31 pm

Re: Switching from Finance to Physics

Postby daedalus » Wed Mar 25, 2015 9:24 am

Thanks for the replies.

I do have some coding experience although that was an auxiliary function of my job. Do you think it's feasible to try and get involved in research from the start? How would you suggest I initiate that? Should I start targeted cold-emailing professors now/in the summer to see if I can get on a project, or is there usually a process with more structure to those things?

TakeruK
Posts: 816
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Switching from Finance to Physics

Postby TakeruK » Wed Mar 25, 2015 11:13 am

I do not think you will be disadvantaged significantly at all.

You're only 25 now, so if you do a second bachelor's degree, you'll be between 28-30 by the time you finish. This is young enough that your age will make no difference--it's not like you will be applying to grad school in your late 30s. Also, if you have a BS in Physics, then it won't matter that you took a non-traditional path to get there. A degree in Physics is a degree in Physics.

As for research, it will be great that you have some coding experience (even if it's "auxiliary"). Many new physics undergrads have no experience at all and when I talk to professors, one of the most common things they say is "I wish my undergrad researchers knew more programming" or "I wish our department would require computer science classes for our physics majors" etc.

Yes, I think you should start looking for research opportunities as soon as possible. But "as soon as possible" might mean waiting until the end of your first year (or partway through your second year). This depends on what kind of school you go to -- at a highly research focussed institution, you can probably start research right away. At a bigger school, profs might prefer for you to have some physics courses under your belt first. When you start your Physics BS, be proactive! Talk to academic advisors and find out what your opportunities are. Also, make sure you are taking the right physics courses (some schools have different tracks for non-majors, majors and "honours" programs). Take the calculus-based physics courses if you can.

Finally, I actually think a CFA will make a big difference. The main reason is that you have a huge advantage over the current undergrads who are fresh out of high school with little real world experience. This might open up more opportunities for you and it might make professors more likely to take a risk in hiring/mentoring an undergraduate researcher. Having these extra opportunities can pay off later when it's time to apply to graduate programs and graduate fellowships.

Also, I know that top graduate schools tend to look for people who have demonstrated success. Of course, having your finance background and a CFA will not "make up" for other directly relevant things like your GPA, your Physics GRE scores and research experience, but it's also not like you spent your entire 20s doing something useless either. In my current top program, I noticed that a large fraction (perhaps 40% or so) of new students are not directly entering from an undergrad program. Many of us have Masters degrees and/or worked in other careers before coming here. Good luck!!

loser2winner
Posts: 15
Joined: Wed Jul 09, 2014 4:23 pm

Re: Switching from Finance to Physics

Postby loser2winner » Thu Mar 26, 2015 12:05 am

If you fail, can you go back to your industry? If not, I discourage you doing this. I believe you can evaluate this better than anyone here. Search "Physics PhD at 50, seeks non-traditional career options" on google. Some people have hard time going back. In this forum most people will say "go for it", mainly because they are successful themselves.
TakeruK wrote:Finally, I actually think a CFA will make a big difference. The main reason is that you have a huge advantage over the current undergrads who are fresh out of high school with little real world experience. This might open up more opportunities for you and it might make professors more likely to take a risk in hiring/mentoring an undergraduate researcher. Having these extra opportunities can pay off later when it's time to apply to graduate programs and graduate fellowships.

I don't think real world experience leads to a "huge advantage".

daedalus
Posts: 3
Joined: Tue Mar 24, 2015 12:31 pm

Re: Switching from Finance to Physics

Postby daedalus » Thu Mar 26, 2015 10:29 am

@loser2winner

Thanks for the feedback. While I am not setting out to fail or to half-ass this, going back into finance would be my fallback plan. Armed with a rigorous degree in math/physics, and industry experience + credentials, I should be able to get a decent price on my head in investment management, a quantitative hedge fund or wall street (god help me). Obviously, going back into finance would not be ideal, since my decision to leave is not an economic decision but a personal one. But I don't think I will be unemployable. I have talked about that possibility with several people in my industry, and they think it's doable. I will definitely be staying in touch and trying not to burn bridges.


@TakeruK

Thanks for your response and words of encouragement! My programming experience has mostly involved data manipulation & "scrubbing", automation of various processes/reports and building tools to support analytics and portfolio management. I've worked primarily with VBA, and to a lesser extent Java and Python. I will probably spend the remaining months before the fall semester starts on learning Mathematica/Matlab and Python. Do you have any specific advice or recommendations in this department? I've picked up a few books on computational physics and have started working through them.

Re: research, it sounds like I should start with talking to my academic advisor about the specific. I have a pretty good understanding of the research groups at my university, and the projects they're involved with. But like you said, it is a big state school so they may be reluctant to give me work right away.

With regards to the CFA, this is kind of what I was hoping to rely on. Much less on what I learned from the program, but more on my maturity, real-world experience and record of success & soft skills. I also imagine that submitting an RFP for a $100mil institutional account (and getting it) has some parallels to applying for research grants. So there are things I have learned/done that could carry over. Much less the actual investment work obviously, although I imagine that too could come in handy if I'm ever actually leading a project.

TakeruK
Posts: 816
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Switching from Finance to Physics

Postby TakeruK » Thu Mar 26, 2015 11:07 am

loser2winner wrote:I don't think real world experience leads to a "huge advantage".


Just to clarify, note that I said the "huge advantage" was during undergraduate years. I think someone who has already gone through the experience of a Bachelor's degree will have a much easier time going through the Physics BS degree compared to most 19 year old high school graduates. A lot of college/university is learning how to learn and I'm assuming since daedalus is a successful analyst, they learned how to learn properly. In addition, assuming their coursework is well done and they adapt from the Finance world to the physics world well, I think their experience and maturity might make them more likely to be picked for things like summer research positions etc.

Once daedalus gets to graduate school though, I don't think their background will make much of a difference. As I said above, a large fraction of incoming students have diverse and experienced backgrounds. However, I do believe that being 25 and having a previous BS and real life work experience will potentially give daedalus a huge advantage over 19 year olds with no work experience** in their undergraduate work. (**Note: Not saying that all other undergraduates will fit into this group but the majority of them will).




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