What are the chances of becoming a Quantitative Analyst in the UK with a PhD in Electronic Engineering?
August 17, 2009 4:49 AM   Subscribe

What are my chances in becoming a Quantitative Analyst in UK, and if they are not too bleak, how to improve them? I realise this is a rather significant career path change, however, as I have been given to understand, many banks and financial institutions in UK do employ PhDs from a wide variety of backgrounds.

I am about to finish my PhD in Electronic Engineering (specifically, Optoelectronics - lasers, fibre optics, etc.) I have been doing in a British university. As much as I enjoy my subject, I do not plan to continue my career in academia.

To conclude, my question is not totally hypothetical. After googling a bit, I have compiled a brief list of what I have been exposed to, and what I believe banks/financial institutions might find of interest:
- chaos theory
- ordinary differential equations
- wrote a simulation of semiconductor laser dynamics in FORTRAN
- analysed gigabytes of data (not kidding!), both in time-domain and frequency-domain
- visualised the aforementioned data in numerous ways
- stared at the graphs and figures until the point when I wanted to rip my eyes out :)

Thanks in advance
posted by noztran to Work & Money (3 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Banker here, currently taking a sabbatical to pursue another Masters.

Since my first Masters is an MSc in Quantitative Finance, I guess I can put my Quant's hat on and speak briefly towards your goals.

Your degree is a good fit. In general we (folks sitting on a desk that is) find it easier to teach someone with strong maths the necessary finance than take an economics graduate, who may or may not have the maths necessary, and teach them finance. Great start.

In terms of the specifics you've raised I'll comment briefly on its applicability to your CV & marketability towards your goal :
  • chaos theory -- Yeh, every now and then you'll see some folks messing about with this. Don't expect broad interest but this won't hurt either. Downgrade on your CV.
  • ordinary differential equations -- Excellent. Used extensively in much of finance, should help you much as you take up Stochastic Calculus (if you've haven't already that is). Emphasize.
  • wrote a simulation of semiconductor laser dynamics in FORTRAN -- The simulation background is perfect. Downgrade the FORTRAN and don't be hurt if nobody cares. Do you know C#, Java, C++, C , in that order of preference? Also necessary is an SQL and an RDBMS of some sorts; Oracle would be fantastic, Sybase next. Finally, any scripting languages? Perl ideal, Python perhaps less so (and before any folks hop on me, this is front office analytics we're discussing).
  • analysed gigabytes of data (not kidding!), both in time-domain and frequency-domain
  • visualised the aforementioned data in numerous ways
  • stared at the graphs and figures until the point when I wanted to rip my eyes out :) All of these are great, fantastic actually. Whose analytics did you use for this exercise? If a package list it, otherwise if custom tools name them. If you helped design, implement, even better. But make sure you know how they work and what value they can add to the analysis exercise. Data is the killer in finance and this is excellent experience to emphasise.
Do you know the Office suite? Can you write VBA and hook it up to Excel spreadsheets? Hook the spreadsheet up to an external DLL? Create the DLL using a programming language such as C?

So many desks crank out analytics on VBA / Excel, you really need these skills so if you don't already have them acquire them. Same thing goes for Access. Nobody likes using it but we all do at some point. You'll have to either bring it to the job or learn it on the job, and banks won't want to pay for this education, so if you don't already know it learn it.

Now to set yourself apart from the masses, what finance knowledge / background do you have? Even stuff that you've acquired anecdotally would be helpful here. I maintain some resources you might find helpful towards this goal.

Finally, what is your time frame? Any prep work you can undertake to make yourself stand out from the crowd would be helpful.

For example, there are courses in London I'm familiar with, as short as ten weeks in length, that would give you a solid foundation to learning finance; as I'm professionally associated with at least one of them I can't link here but please MeMail if I can be of any help. There are, of course, longer term courses you could take ranging up to one year for a full Masters. Drop the dissertation requirement from a one year UK Masters programme and you'll exit with a PGDip which, with your background, will be very marketable.

Great time to enter the field. Banks are just picking up their hiring cycle in earnest. Don't let your lack of experience or knowledge of this field be a deterrent; nobody, and I mean absolutely NOBODY entered the world with this expertise.

And in fact the longer you study the markets the more you realise how little you really do know.

For me, that's 110% of the attraction.
posted by Mutant at 5:24 AM on August 17, 2009 [8 favorites]

There is an article in the August issue of IEEE Spectrum about the current state of the quants job market in the US.
posted by toftflin at 7:05 AM on August 17, 2009

Speaking more for statistical arbitrage type of work, there would be numerous Ph.D's, mostly in physics, mathematics, or engineering. You'd fit right in, my friend.

Learn how to use statistical applications like Matlab or R extremely well.

Many firms are still hiring. Speak to some good headhunters in the space that you are interested.

A very useful guide is Mark Joshi's On Becoming A Quant

Posting your story on wilmott.com's student forums would probably be beneficial.
posted by gushn at 11:21 AM on August 17, 2009

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