Advice on Choosing a Graduate Field of Study

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Advice on Choosing a Graduate Field of Study

#1  Postby Sonoran Lion » Aug 04, 2011 5:28 am

I have a bit of a dilemma with choosing what field I should earn my graduate degree in. Both physics and economics interest me, though I have done a lot more studying in economics than I have in physics. I am thinking about talking to professors in both departments to gain a better understanding of what studying at the graduate level in their respective fields would entail. What I need help with is what questions to ask and how should I approach this problem. I've already started to record my ideas in order to come up with a plan of action, but I thought it would be a good idea to get input from others as I go along.

One of my ideas is to take a class or two in physics and see how I respond to the material (I have already taken more than half a dozen classes in economics). This will also give me an opportunity to speak with a professor from the physics department face to face.
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Re: Advice on Choosing a Graduate Field of Study

#2  Postby Ihavenofingerprints » Aug 04, 2011 5:34 am

What do you want? A better job, or a more interesting career? Or a bit of both?

Surely there are more jobs for an economics graduate than a physics graduate. But there are probably much more interesting jobs available in the field of physics.

But i'm sure if you are really good at both, you'll end up in an interesting job either way.
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Re: Advice on Choosing a Graduate Field of Study

#3  Postby Sonoran Lion » Aug 04, 2011 5:42 am

That is something to take into consideration. I would lean more toward an interesting career than a better job as long as the job enables me to pay for a decent level of living (my bills are paid, a decent car, maybe a nice TV or something). The type of jobs available for graduates in both fields will be something I need to look into. Thanks for your input...:grin:
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Re: Advice on Choosing a Graduate Field of Study

#4  Postby Mononoke » Aug 04, 2011 5:44 am

actually you can apply for a econ related job after going to grad school in physics. Firstly, it's not like you ever get to apply anything you learn in grad school while in an industry related job. Secondly, and more importantly, employers don't really look for technical skills when employing people. They mostly look for your ability to apply yourself to a task & analytic skills.
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Re: Advice on Choosing a Graduate Field of Study

#5  Postby Sonoran Lion » Aug 04, 2011 5:52 am

Mononoke wrote:actually you can apply for a econ related job after going to grad school in physics. Firstly, it's not like you ever get to apply anything you learn in grad school while in an industry related job. Secondly, and more importantly, employers don't really look for technical skills when employing people. They mostly look for your ability to apply yourself to a task & analytic skills.



I will take that into consideration, thank you. Though I wonder if certain employers, maybe depending upon the industry, expect you to have a certain level of knowledge in the field you got your degree in.
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Re: Advice on Choosing a Graduate Field of Study

#6  Postby Mononoke » Aug 04, 2011 6:14 am

Sonoran Lion wrote:
Mononoke wrote:actually you can apply for a econ related job after going to grad school in physics. Firstly, it's not like you ever get to apply anything you learn in grad school while in an industry related job. Secondly, and more importantly, employers don't really look for technical skills when employing people. They mostly look for your ability to apply yourself to a task & analytic skills.



I will take that into consideration, thank you. Though I wonder if certain employers, maybe depending upon the industry, expect you to have a certain level of knowledge in the field you got your degree in.


One thing I can tell for certain is that you can get into finance & Banking sector with a science background.
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Re: Advice on Choosing a Graduate Field of Study

#7  Postby inkaStepa » Aug 04, 2011 4:47 pm

Buisnesses are always looking for people who can solve problems...so it would make sense that engineers and scientists are often being employed in various seemly unrelated feilds. I used to think the type of degree you get dictates your work compeltely, but that seems not to be the case.
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Re: Advice on Choosing a Graduate Field of Study

#8  Postby Sonoran Lion » Aug 05, 2011 9:14 pm

Mononoke wrote:
Sonoran Lion wrote:
Mononoke wrote:actually you can apply for a econ related job after going to grad school in physics. Firstly, it's not like you ever get to apply anything you learn in grad school while in an industry related job. Secondly, and more importantly, employers don't really look for technical skills when employing people. They mostly look for your ability to apply yourself to a task & analytic skills.



I will take that into consideration, thank you. Though I wonder if certain employers, maybe depending upon the industry, expect you to have a certain level of knowledge in the field you got your degree in.


One thing I can tell for certain is that you can get into finance & Banking sector with a science background.


I have noticed that, too.


inkaStepa wrote:Buisnesses are always looking for people who can solve problems...so it would make sense that engineers and scientists are often being employed in various seemly unrelated feilds. I used to think the type of degree you get dictates your work compeltely, but that seems not to be the case.


I agree. I know someone that has a degree in chemistry but ended up working as a network administrator.
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Re: Advice on Choosing a Graduate Field of Study

#9  Postby Jef » Aug 05, 2011 9:40 pm

If you want to work in a specific job or sector it pays to do some research. For example, although my GF has a first class degree in economics she has not had much luck in getting a job in the financial sector. She has had to apply for a masters with much more of a focus on the pragmatic business application of economics in order to gain the practical skills employers are specifying in job vacancies. My advice would therefore be to research the software and skill sets specified by potential employers in your chosen field before fixing on any particular course.

However, no matter which postgrad course you do it will improve your employability, regardless that the sector for which you are trained may not be the sector you are employed within. I can say with confidence that even though my academic qualifications are of little direct relevance to my current employment I would not have been interviewed for the position had I not had those qualifications.
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Re: Advice on Choosing a Graduate Field of Study

#10  Postby snowman » Aug 05, 2011 10:18 pm

Well, physicist have one large advantage over all other graduats. They can work in every field. They can work in science, in physics, engineering, informatics, management or politics. As physicist you learn analytic thinking which is a basic feature wanted in most jobs.
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Re: Advice on Choosing a Graduate Field of Study

#11  Postby Darwinsbulldog » Aug 06, 2011 2:22 am

I am doing a post-grad course in education at the moment, and one unit involves supervision of Masters/PhD candidates. It makes official what we all know by anecdote- 80% of PGR degrees fail because of supervisor problems. [Only 20% caused by the candidate]. In other words, the supervisor is the main thing to worry about. Get a shit supervisor, and you are pushing shit up hill. Or I should say, the supervisor must not only be competent, but committed and you have to have an excellent working relationship. It is no good placing priority on your dream project because no one might be interested-it is not too much of a conflation to say that many PhDs end up doing what their school and supervisor wants them to do, which may only be tangential to what the student wants. They have the funding bucks, so that is how it goes. There are exceptions of course. If the student is clever, he/she can frame the question in a way acceptable to funding bodies. This is of course, what the post-doc has to do for the rest of their lives. I may be exaggerating the situation a bit, but not by much.
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Re: Advice on Choosing a Graduate Field of Study

#12  Postby Sonoran Lion » Aug 08, 2011 7:25 am

Jef wrote:If you want to work in a specific job or sector it pays to do some research. For example, although my GF has a first class degree in economics she has not had much luck in getting a job in the financial sector. She has had to apply for a masters with much more of a focus on the pragmatic business application of economics in order to gain the practical skills employers are specifying in job vacancies. My advice would therefore be to research the software and skill sets specified by potential employers in your chosen field before fixing on any particular course.


I am planning to give myself a year to do research before I make my decision, so hopefully I am able to gain the knowledge I need by this time next year. I know that I am interested in doing research as a profession.

My job search after getting my degree in May hasn't gone well, either. One job recruiter told me I would have a hard time due to unemployment (there are more people with more experience plus a degree competing with me for jobs), only having an undergraduate degree (as he has been interviewing people who just obtained their Masters), and having little professional experience outside of school projects.

However, no matter which postgrad course you do it will improve your employability, regardless that the sector for which you are trained may not be the sector you are employed within. I can say with confidence that even though my academic qualifications are of little direct relevance to my current employment I would not have been interviewed for the position had I not had those qualifications.


That is something to consider as I have been given advice to receive a graduate degree for the purposes of being more desirable to employers. Thank you for the advice.


snowman wrote:Well, physicist have one large advantage over all other graduats. They can work in every field. They can work in science, in physics, engineering, informatics, management or politics. As physicist you learn analytic thinking which is a basic feature wanted in most jobs.


Thank you, I will take that into consideration.


Darwinsbulldog wrote:I am doing a post-grad course in education at the moment, and one unit involves supervision of Masters/PhD candidates. It makes official what we all know by anecdote- 80% of PGR degrees fail because of supervisor problems. [Only 20% caused by the candidate]. In other words, the supervisor is the main thing to worry about. Get a shit supervisor, and you are pushing shit up hill. Or I should say, the supervisor must not only be competent, but committed and you have to have an excellent working relationship. It is no good placing priority on your dream project because no one might be interested-it is not too much of a conflation to say that many PhDs end up doing what their school and supervisor wants them to do, which may only be tangential to what the student wants. They have the funding bucks, so that is how it goes. There are exceptions of course. If the student is clever, he/she can frame the question in a way acceptable to funding bodies. This is of course, what the post-doc has to do for the rest of their lives. I may be exaggerating the situation a bit, but not by much.


Thank you, I know very little of what experience to expect as a graduate student. Would you recommend talking to graduate students in a program before entering that program to get an idea of what the culture is like and who would make a decent supervisor?
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Re: Advice on Choosing a Graduate Field of Study

#13  Postby Darwinsbulldog » Aug 08, 2011 1:13 pm

Sonoran Lion wrote-

Thank you, I know very little of what experience to expect as a graduate student. Would you recommend talking to graduate students in a program before entering that program to get an idea of what the culture is like and who would make a decent supervisor?

Yup, talk your box off. It is not wasted time. It is better to spend a few months in coffee shops and pubs, and getting into the grad students confidence so that they tell you things. With very few exceptions, a PhD will take at least three years, probably four. That is if you have honours already. If not, then you do a Masters and then convert. So it is worth spending a considerable amount of time writing to potential supervisors and schools, and trawling around getting the gossip.

I am not sure if this is universal, but at my uni the school gets PhD funding for 4 years, not 3. They will try and get to to finish in 3. This helps them balance the books because they lose money from drop-outs.

Schools are also getting obsessed with rubrics [performance criteria] for grad degrees. You have to do a progress report every six months. Lots of hoops like that, or at least more than the old days. It might differ depending on what country or uni you go to.
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Re: Advice on Choosing a Graduate Field of Study

#14  Postby VictorTheSixth » Aug 09, 2011 6:13 pm

If I may weigh in, get the degree in physics. Many of the Quantitative Analysts I've met have been physics majors. These are the people who craft the trading algorithms that earn companies millions of dollars. A Quant's paycheck is upwards in the six-figure range when end of the year bonus is counted. That is if you don't want to go into the sciences themselves.

I'm a bit prejudice just to warn you seeing as how I tend to have a dismal view of the Economic Theory and Degree holders overall.

Quite frankly too, if you want a job in the Financial Industry, you need to have a degree in Computer Science, Mathematics, Physics, Electrical Engineering, or something along those lines. I'm in the Financial Field myself, I should know. Economics, Business, and other such degrees are holding less and less weight. I knew someone with their Masters in Economics who regularly attended conference about The Market and made friends with people in various Hedge Funds, Investment Banks, and Firms. In three years she had not had a single job offer and struggled to get an interview. I hold a BS in Computer Science with a concentration in Financial Modeling (creating large elaborate frameworks through which you can trade stocks, bonds, futures, etc.). In the four months after graduating I had 7 interviews, 3 of them with big name firms. Need I say more? :P
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Re: Advice on Choosing a Graduate Field of Study

#15  Postby Sonoran Lion » Aug 10, 2011 7:41 am

Darwinsbulldog wrote:Sonoran Lion wrote-

Thank you, I know very little of what experience to expect as a graduate student. Would you recommend talking to graduate students in a program before entering that program to get an idea of what the culture is like and who would make a decent supervisor?

Yup, talk your box off. It is not wasted time. It is better to spend a few months in coffee shops and pubs, and getting into the grad students confidence so that they tell you things. With very few exceptions, a PhD will take at least three years, probably four. That is if you have honours already. If not, then you do a Masters and then convert. So it is worth spending a considerable amount of time writing to potential supervisors and schools, and trawling around getting the gossip.

I am not sure if this is universal, but at my uni the school gets PhD funding for 4 years, not 3. They will try and get to to finish in 3. This helps them balance the books because they lose money from drop-outs.

Schools are also getting obsessed with rubrics [performance criteria] for grad degrees. You have to do a progress report every six months. Lots of hoops like that, or at least more than the old days. It might differ depending on what country or uni you go to.


Thank you, I will make sure to ask grad students about things such as progress reports at their respective programs. I think many schools give out email addresses for their grad students. I'm sure there will be some that don't mind talking to a prospective student.


VictorTheSixth wrote:If I may weigh in, get the degree in physics. Many of the Quantitative Analysts I've met have been physics majors. These are the people who craft the trading algorithms that earn companies millions of dollars. A Quant's paycheck is upwards in the six-figure range when end of the year bonus is counted. That is if you don't want to go into the sciences themselves.

I'm a bit prejudice just to warn you seeing as how I tend to have a dismal view of the Economic Theory and Degree holders overall.

Quite frankly too, if you want a job in the Financial Industry, you need to have a degree in Computer Science, Mathematics, Physics, Electrical Engineering, or something along those lines. I'm in the Financial Field myself, I should know. Economics, Business, and other such degrees are holding less and less weight. I knew someone with their Masters in Economics who regularly attended conference about The Market and made friends with people in various Hedge Funds, Investment Banks, and Firms. In three years she had not had a single job offer and struggled to get an interview. I hold a BS in Computer Science with a concentration in Financial Modeling (creating large elaborate frameworks through which you can trade stocks, bonds, futures, etc.). In the four months after graduating I had 7 interviews, 3 of them with big name firms. Need I say more? :P


Thank you for your insight into the financial field. I suppose if I decide to go to graduate school to study physics that I could also minor in economics (I've noticed some programs give you the option to minor in them at the graduate level). What strengths were the interviewers looking for that interviewed you?
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Re: Advice on Choosing a Graduate Field of Study

#16  Postby VictorTheSixth » Aug 10, 2011 1:57 pm

Sonoran Lion wrote:
VictorTheSixth wrote:If I may weigh in, get the degree in physics. Many of the Quantitative Analysts I've met have been physics majors. These are the people who craft the trading algorithms that earn companies millions of dollars. A Quant's paycheck is upwards in the six-figure range when end of the year bonus is counted. That is if you don't want to go into the sciences themselves.

I'm a bit prejudice just to warn you seeing as how I tend to have a dismal view of the Economic Theory and Degree holders overall.

Quite frankly too, if you want a job in the Financial Industry, you need to have a degree in Computer Science, Mathematics, Physics, Electrical Engineering, or something along those lines. I'm in the Financial Field myself, I should know. Economics, Business, and other such degrees are holding less and less weight. I knew someone with their Masters in Economics who regularly attended conference about The Market and made friends with people in various Hedge Funds, Investment Banks, and Firms. In three years she had not had a single job offer and struggled to get an interview. I hold a BS in Computer Science with a concentration in Financial Modeling (creating large elaborate frameworks through which you can trade stocks, bonds, futures, etc.). In the four months after graduating I had 7 interviews, 3 of them with big name firms. Need I say more? :P


Thank you for your insight into the financial field. I suppose if I decide to go to graduate school to study physics that I could also minor in economics (I've noticed some programs give you the option to minor in them at the graduate level). What strengths were the interviewers looking for that interviewed you?


Well Sonoran, I'm a Financial Modeler or Financial Software Architect, so the strengths they were looking for in me would be different than the ones they'd look for in you.

For you:

* Strong Math ability
* Knowledge of the Market
* Knowledge of Black-Scholes Algorithms
* Knowledge of Technical Analysis
* Familiarity with High-Frequency Trading (it's a computer scientist's area primarily, but we need algorithms to program)

Having read Black Swan by Nassim Taleb (a fellow atheist) is a good starting point as well seeing as how his algorithms have come more into vogue in recent history (not the "Let's make money everyday" ones, but the "Let's lose a few thousand a day and then one day make tens of millions of dollars" strategy).

Also, Statistical Analysis plays as important of a role, if not more important than Calculus.
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Re: Advice on Choosing a Graduate Field of Study

#17  Postby Sonoran Lion » Aug 10, 2011 10:28 pm

VictorTheSixth wrote:
Sonoran Lion wrote:
VictorTheSixth wrote:If I may weigh in, get the degree in physics. Many of the Quantitative Analysts I've met have been physics majors. These are the people who craft the trading algorithms that earn companies millions of dollars. A Quant's paycheck is upwards in the six-figure range when end of the year bonus is counted. That is if you don't want to go into the sciences themselves.

I'm a bit prejudice just to warn you seeing as how I tend to have a dismal view of the Economic Theory and Degree holders overall.

Quite frankly too, if you want a job in the Financial Industry, you need to have a degree in Computer Science, Mathematics, Physics, Electrical Engineering, or something along those lines. I'm in the Financial Field myself, I should know. Economics, Business, and other such degrees are holding less and less weight. I knew someone with their Masters in Economics who regularly attended conference about The Market and made friends with people in various Hedge Funds, Investment Banks, and Firms. In three years she had not had a single job offer and struggled to get an interview. I hold a BS in Computer Science with a concentration in Financial Modeling (creating large elaborate frameworks through which you can trade stocks, bonds, futures, etc.). In the four months after graduating I had 7 interviews, 3 of them with big name firms. Need I say more? :P


Thank you for your insight into the financial field. I suppose if I decide to go to graduate school to study physics that I could also minor in economics (I've noticed some programs give you the option to minor in them at the graduate level). What strengths were the interviewers looking for that interviewed you?


Well Sonoran, I'm a Financial Modeler or Financial Software Architect, so the strengths they were looking for in me would be different than the ones they'd look for in you.

For you:

* Strong Math ability
* Knowledge of the Market
* Knowledge of Black-Scholes Algorithms
* Knowledge of Technical Analysis
* Familiarity with High-Frequency Trading (it's a computer scientist's area primarily, but we need algorithms to program)

Having read Black Swan by Nassim Taleb (a fellow atheist) is a good starting point as well seeing as how his algorithms have come more into vogue in recent history (not the "Let's make money everyday" ones, but the "Let's lose a few thousand a day and then one day make tens of millions of dollars" strategy).

Also, Statistical Analysis plays as important of a role, if not more important than Calculus.



I will look into Black-Scholes Algorithms and Nassim Taleb's book. Thank you for your help.
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Re: Advice on Choosing a Graduate Field of Study

#18  Postby VictorTheSixth » Aug 11, 2011 2:42 am

Not a problem. Just to warn you, Taleb and Black-Scholes have two *RADICALLY* different ideas of trading. Black-Scholes lost several billion dollars and had to be bailed out, while Taleb every now and then attends NYU classes so he sit there and tell the Black-Scholes professors that they're wrong about everything in life and shout quit their jobs or take up more rewarding careers like driving limos/taxis :P.

Also, the two of them are a bit of mortal enemies. There is one person left of the Black-Scholes group named Merton. He's so far the world's leading "expert". Taleb has been quoted as saying "In a more civilized world, natural selection would have taken care of men like Merton long ago". Enough said there :lol:
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Re: Advice on Choosing a Graduate Field of Study

#19  Postby Sonoran Lion » Aug 12, 2011 10:31 am

VictorTheSixth wrote:Not a problem. Just to warn you, Taleb and Black-Scholes have two *RADICALLY* different ideas of trading. Black-Scholes lost several billion dollars and had to be bailed out, while Taleb every now and then attends NYU classes so he sit there and tell the Black-Scholes professors that they're wrong about everything in life and shout quit their jobs or take up more rewarding careers like driving limos/taxis :P.

Also, the two of them are a bit of mortal enemies. There is one person left of the Black-Scholes group named Merton. He's so far the world's leading "expert". Taleb has been quoted as saying "In a more civilized world, natural selection would have taken care of men like Merton long ago". Enough said there :lol:


Haha, sounds like an interesting feud. :grin:
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Re: Advice on Choosing a Graduate Field of Study

#20  Postby VictorTheSixth » Aug 12, 2011 4:53 pm

All feuds when giants of the Stock Market collide are very interesting indeed... albeit those who have supremely successful (Soros, Buffet, etc.) tend not to be engaged in attacks for very long. Minus the occasional Right-Wing smear campaign (Buffet and Soros both being Libeals and agnostic/atheist respectively). Yes, you'll find a great deal of the legends of The Market are Atheists of some sort and either vote Liberal or Libertarian.

By the way Sonoran, if you're interested in the Quantitative Analysis field, read: The Logical Trader

I know someone who has done well in this field that swears by it and consider it to be the most influential book he's ever read. I find it very good on the Quantitative Analysis end, but it tends not to be the best for the Financial Modeling end. There's a single book I could recommend to you for the Financial Modeling, but without a firm grasp of Computer Science it would be very hard for you to get revelations from it. You'd have an understanding as to how a system is put together, but you wouldn't understand how to create one or the minute details.

Also, keep in mind Taleb's strategies do fail, he just doesn't advertise when they do. I know someone who studied under him. The man is infamously arrogant. For someone on Wall Street to gain a reputation for arrogance... that certainly says something! :lol:.

That said, Taleb's strategies are essentially the opposite of the ones you'll find in The Logical Trader. Where The Logical Trader tends to take an approach involving trend following, Taleb believes you should go opposite the trend (he has his own system that you can somewhat decipher if you analyze the book hard enough; keyword being somewhat).

Also, to make a point to you Sonoran: Both Taleb and the author of The Logical Trader feel that Ivy-leaguers and others like them should be purged from Wall Street all together. They have a firm anti-Academic stance, feeling that a great deal of trading is scientific inquiry and that the biggest key to success (something that George Soros always harps on) is being able to recognize when you're wrong, admit it, and learn from it. Black-Scholes take a much different view on this, which probably is due in no small part to the fact that their entire team was made up of Yale Graduates :P.


If you have anymore questions, feel free to ask me. I'll admit I'm relatively new to the field, but I've had the benefits of one hell of an education. I've been lucky enough to study under one of George Soros's students and one of Taleb's students. This combine with my opportunity to study under one of the original Financial Modelers has given me quite an interesting and unique outlook on this entire field in general.
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