Don't want a post-doc! Want a Porsche!
May 11, 2011 7:39 AM   Subscribe

Selling out successfully Few months away from finishing PhD, & no interest in staying in science. Can I use my fancy credentials to try and get a high-paying big-city job? Help me chart a course.

What I don't have: any knowledge of economics beyond the intro freshman econ sequence, or what can be gleaned from occasionally reading The Economist.
Any private-sector or non-science experience, or any really connections to call upon. I also don't have an advisor who I can discuss this with (he's not the sort who would undercut me post-graduation, but I'm not comfortable 'coming out' at this point).

What I will have: degrees in Physics & Computational/Theoretical Biology from top-tier (Ivy) schools. A way with words, the willingness to learn and adapt, the confidence to look respectable in a suit, and half a year (part time of course) to prepare. And maybe something of an overoptimistic sense of entitlement.

Where should I be looking? What should I be reading? What web sites / forums / blogs might be helpful? What else should I be doing to prepare? Which directions can I realistically pursue?

Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Just how far from "science" are you looking to get? Not doing physics/biology bench work? Well most jobs don't, so that's not going to be very hard. Not reading scientific or engineering documents? Harder, because that's your main skill set, but still doable, as lots of jobs don't require that. Not doing math? Could potentially be difficult, particularly as your credentials will suit you for many jobs which involve some kind of number crunching, and that's going to be your easiest way to branch out.

What kind of "high-paying big-city job" are you talking about here? With a Ph.D. in a technical discipline, you're a shoo-in for a Category A patent agent. Non-attorney patent agents can easily make $50,000-60,000, right off the bat. Add a law degree to that--and becoming a patent attorney is one of the only reasons you should even think of going to law school right now--and you're starting at $80,000 and going up from there. You're looking at another few years of school on the law school side, but being a patent attorney is one of the few things you can do to convince people to pay for your education. I'm assuming that your institution has a law school. If it does, contact their career services office and see if they can put you in touch with some IP firms and strike up a conversation that way.

But it's going to be difficult to get you into a finance firm without, you know, some kind of finance degree, unless you're looking to do quantitative investing. Hedge funds and other private equity outfits do hire people with physics backgrounds to do investment-related stuff, but the discipline took something of a black eye in the past few years, and deservedly so. I don't know how much of that kind of hiring is going on anymore.
posted by valkyryn at 8:05 AM on May 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

You have options other than quantitative finance, which you should look into, but QF is the part of banking where your PhD will be worth something, and where you can most easily get away with no formal economics background. And quant hiring is apparently back on.

My Life as a Quant is a great overview of an industry, accessible to someone with a non-economics background. It is ostensibly a professional autobiography, but it uses that approach to give, e.g. introductory passages on some quantitative economics problems and plenty of discussion of the professional culture of banking.

And if you decide to go for it, a PDF copy of Paul and Dominic's Guide to Quant Careers would be useful.
posted by caek at 8:09 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your PhD in a quantitative subject from an Ivy League university will get you snapped up by a hedge fund or investment bank in a matter of minutes. Head to (the home for all things quantitative finance-oriented) and have a look around. Learn the lingo, figure out the math that they use, start reading the forums, etc.

Then you want to read My Life as a Quant, referenced above.

What you don't need: a finance degree or a background in economics (though neither of those hurt).
posted by dfriedman at 8:24 AM on May 11, 2011 [5 favorites]

Management consulting firms definitely like people with Ivy League hard science PhDs, especially if they're confident, adaptable and strong communicators. Hiring has still not returned to pre-recession levels, but feels like it's beginning to get better, especially in health care and the life sciences.

The hours can be long (though usually not quite as bad as quantitative finance), the travel a grind, and the work sometimes morally ambiguous (though again maybe not as bad as QF). I think you'd be looking at starting at something in the range of $100K - $130K with those credentials.

The lack of background in economics will not be particularly disadvantageous; if there's a gap to fill I would look more in the direction of basic finance and management accounting - i.e., how to read a balance sheet and an income statement.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 8:37 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

R&D for a chemical / pharmacutical / cosmetic company?
posted by WeekendJen at 1:34 PM on May 11, 2011

Biggest hurdle in QF is the jargon. If you can handle PDEs, a multivariate modelling framework - say Bayesian inference - plus a bit of information theory and some optimisation you'll be more than fine.
posted by cromagnon at 4:58 PM on May 11, 2011

First, get yourself a summer internship with D.E. Shaw: You've done some time-series analysis, right? You might fit well in their Quant. dept. Be sure to read up on the background of the founder.

Or maybe an internship at Jane Street:

Second, ???

Three, profit.
posted by at at 6:24 PM on May 11, 2011

I have 2 physcis PhDs in the family, and they're both working in finance (one was an experimentalist, go figure!). I gather the crap isn't piled quite as high in that environment as in academia (I find that difficult to believe, but I've avoided academia).
posted by Goofyy at 6:21 AM on May 12, 2011

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