Physics to Economics?
February 11, 2007 7:16 PM   Subscribe

How best to get into Economics from Physics?

After getting a M.Sc. in Physics (in Southern Ontario, 1.5 yrs ago) I have realized that I have no passion for it. I am good at it, I enjoy problem solving and lab work, but do not care about research.

I am looking for a job (optics), but I have had little luck landing anything. Companies seem to be looking for much more programming skills than I have, and much less lab experience.

I am thinking of jumping ship and doing a Masters in Economics, but am at a loss of the ins and outs of how to make the move smoothly. Two years ago I remember seeing MA programs tailored to someone with graduate experience in hard science, but have been unable to find it since. Does anyone know of this program?

Would I be able to get into a regular MA without taking a lot of supplementary courses (at least until I am in the program)?

I figure I will need to brush up on my programming, and stats, but what economics courses/texts should I be looking into while I'm figuring this out?

Also any pointers to good info not explicitly asked for would be appreciated, thanks.
posted by dr. moot to Education (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I had a roommate in college do almost exactly that. Got a B.S. in Physics and then went straight into a Masters in Economics at the same school. He seemed not to have any difficulty making the transition; I think the only classes he had before starting it were general economics courses aimed at undergrads. I don't believe he did anything special to prepare for it.

As someone with an aerospace engineering degree (not like it's rocket science or anything...) who lived with physics majors throughout college, I can't imagine economics math being any more difficult than what you're used to.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:27 PM on February 11, 2007

Do you want to work in government, industry, academia, finance, or elsewhere?
posted by Kwantsar at 7:37 PM on February 11, 2007

If you're interested in the trading side of things a PHD in physics is a pretty decent starting place. I understand you have a Masters but if your interests are more to the theoretical with a strong mathematical bent you may want to explore this. As a side note this pays extremely well if you have the knack for it. Other pages related to this area here, here, and here. (Found by googling "computational finance", "mathematical finance", etc - there are probably tons more).
posted by true at 8:15 PM on February 11, 2007

man, if you want to go get a job directly, I think you're set. The world is full of quant jocks who didn't major in economics.

When I graduated college, finance companies were picking up engineers, math majors, physics majors by the bundle.

I know you're saying you want to go get an M.S., but if you just want to go straight into the workplace, I would say you've got a good shot.

For inspiration, read My Life as a Quant: reflections from Physics to Economics"
posted by unexpected at 9:51 PM on February 11, 2007

OP here with answers to questions:

-I would like to work in industry or government, with finance as a distant third.

-I'm an experimental atomic, molecular and optical physicist, going through the PhD though possible, would put me face to face with my disinterest in physics research.
posted by dr. moot at 10:04 PM on February 11, 2007

If you're looking to study further you might want to look at Financial Engineering, although that is less economics and more actively trading.
posted by PenDevil at 12:23 AM on February 12, 2007

Look at a grad-level Micro and Macro book. I'd recommend Nicholson's Microeconomic Theory and Barro's Macroeconomics. Also not a bad idea to pick up a copy of Econometric Analysis by Green--you'll need it at some point.

Overall, you'll be fine. Depending on the program, you might want to review matrix algebra if it has been awhile. I'm assuming your Calc is still fresh. The hardest part for most people starting in econ programs is the math. The lectures will largely assume that you aren't that familiar with the theory.
posted by jtfowl0 at 7:52 AM on February 12, 2007

Is it definitely economics that you want to get in to? Or more generally the business/finance area?

I'm a physicist, and, after 3-4 years postdoc, decided that research wasn't for me. Similar to you, I like the analytical side of things, but just wasn't that passionate about research, I wanted to do something more useful and practical.

Anyway, I've jumped careers, and am beginning next week as a Quantitative Analyst for a hedge fund in London. The UIUC page that true links to has pretty good advice on quant positions. Quant positions are probably the easiest way to go, they do look specifically for PhDs in Physics/Maths, and a lot of the general skills that you know will be useful. As I said though, this isn't Economics, but Finance.

Email me if I can help...
posted by Boobus Tuber at 8:41 AM on February 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Queen's (in Kingston, ON) has an MBA program geared towards scientists with a couple years of work experience. Not exactly the MA in economics you're looking for, but perhaps what you remember as a specialty business program for hard science folks.
posted by ThinkNut at 8:53 AM on February 12, 2007

Not exactly Economics, but a variety of graduate-level Finance programs would love to have you. The Masters in Finance that I am working on actually prefers math, physics, etc. to business majors.
posted by iurodivii at 2:53 PM on February 12, 2007

You should look into schools that have experts in Econophysics. Fascinating area.
posted by zaebiz at 3:42 PM on February 12, 2007 has one.
posted by zaebiz at 3:44 PM on February 12, 2007

(Sorry for the link screw up). Try here.
posted by zaebiz at 3:45 PM on February 12, 2007

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