Is it possible to do a Financial Math/Stats MSc as a CS Major?
October 25, 2020 1:25 PM   Subscribe

So, I'm considering some longshot applications. I'm a CS Major I didn't take as much math as stats majors or math majors. I took the usuals Calc, Linear Algebra, Stats, Probability, Operations Research and I guess you could say AI and Operating Systems involve a lot of math. I don't suppose this is common? I'm mainly looking at programs in Canada with universities that have strong research in mathematical finance and actuarial science.

In reality I want to do a career shift. I want out of Software Engineering. I like doing it on my personal time but I really detest a lot of things about software engineering. I hate the release schedules, ugly code, how "the business" often prefers doing a botched up job rather than a marvel of engjneering.

I also dislike the utterly anti-social environment that exists there and the lack of concern for others in other careers as well as the total insulation from everything that is unrelated to it.

Besides, I've never been someone that liked CS for CS's sake. I've alwayd envisioned it as a tool to be applied to the real world. In my case finance would be where I want to apply it.
posted by Tarsonis10 to Education (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm not in either of your fields, but I have been a nontraditional grad school applicant (both MS & PhD). The best answer is always to email the grad program you're interested in with a very brief description of your educational and professional history (hit the positives about why you want to enter finance, none of the negatives about why you want to leave SE), and ask if your background is compatible with the type of students they admit, or what additional coursework might make you a competitive applicant.

But — and it's a huge but — the big question for nontraditional applicants is why do you need to go to grad school to do what you want to do. It's an important question for your program, but as an MSc has both direct financial and opportunity costs, it's even more important for you. If you just want to do a career shift, you may not need to spend a few years in academia (or $$$ and years of nights doing coursework) to execute it.
posted by deludingmyself at 2:04 PM on October 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

As someone who studied CS in undergrad and then took some advanced stats classes in grad school (though my master's was not specifically in stats), my gut answer is yes this is definitely doable.

The real answer, though, is to look at the admissions requirements for the programs you're interested in. This program at UWaterloo requires "a four-year honours degree (or equivalent) in a quantitative discipline," so a CS degree would definitely qualify. This program at the University of Calgary on the other hand calls for "a bachelor's degree in mathematical finance or an undergraduate degree in a field related to mathematical finance, such as stochastic processes, probability, statistics, mathematics, economics or finance." (I don't know anything about either of these programs or their quality, I'm just presenting them as examples.)

If there's a program you're very interested in that doesn't say a CS degree is an acceptable prerequisite, it's still worth emailing the admissions office to ask -- it may be possible but you might have to take a few extra courses at the start of your program, for example.

And yes I agree with deludingmyself that it's worth thoroughly weighing the costs involved and investigating whether a master's degree is definitely necessary to do what you want to do. (It may be worth it, maybe not, but you definitely want to go into it fully informed.) Good luck!
posted by mekily at 2:05 PM on October 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: To be clear, it's not just to do a career shift. I mean that is part of it, but mostly it is because I don't envision myself learning these things on my own. Besides that, my interest is in mathematics as it is applied to a financial context. I figure going into one of these programs fixes these two things at once.

I also want to do research. I don't think I can do that outside an M.Sc. program.
posted by Tarsonis10 at 2:13 PM on October 25, 2020

Best answer: I suspect you will satisfy the formal requirements of most programs. In cases where you don't then you will probably be be able to talk/test your way in with good recommendations. One thing I would suggest is to take a look at the maths in An Introduction to Quantitative Finance. If you're completely lost then you may need to rethink. If it rings bells or makes sense then you'll probably be able to keep up.

I usually share the concern about the opportunity cost of graduate degrees, but in this case you can probably make a good case that you need one to make this career change.

I do want to flag this though:
I hate the release schedules, ugly code, how "the business" often prefers doing a botched up job rather than a marvel of engjneering
If you think these problems are less bad in financial engineering (at a bank or in academia) than they are in mainstream engineering at tech companies then I have some bad news for you.
posted by caek at 3:00 PM on October 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

If you are coming from a CS background - U of Waterloo has a long relationship (multiple decades) with Manulife leading to specialisation in actuarial studies, insurance and finance

Actuarial maths is designed to be a major barrier to entry in to the profession, but it does serve as a good gatekeeper - jokes about actuaries, "Someone who found accounting too exciting." etc. But it also has a strong dose of "engineer's disease", where as soon as the numbers start appearing, the assumption is that the solution is in the numbers.

And if you really enjoy mathematics - the emphasis on numbers can be a bit wearing. I made the mistake of describing financial statements as a vector matrix to a financial controller - I suspect I reverted to my maternal Slovenian at that point, for all the understanding he exhibited.
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 1:08 AM on October 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

Statistical and Actuarial Sciences at Western might fit your bill.

(I work at Western, but in Housing. I know nothing about the program other than one of my nephews having done a combination of engineering/actuarial degrees. He's doing well!)
posted by shoesfullofdust at 5:11 PM on October 26, 2020

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