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Choosing Phd Program

I always thought that you should do what you find the most interesting. A PhD is a long process and a life decision. If you don't do something you like you might have trouble getting all the way through.

Money is a different story and if it isn't meant to be, no matter what you do you will never get it.
If you have a PhD and can code, it doesn't matter what exactly your PhD topic was in. Just go and have fun and make sure you have technical skills on the other end of it.
You'll choose an advisor based on your interest, the availability of funding, and how well you think that person can guide you in the area you want to work in.


what's hot in finance now won't be by the time you finish your phd.

and, to make big bucks, you'll probably need a better reason/drive/ambition than just wanting big bucks.
Huh. That sound true, "what's hot in finance now won't be by the time you finish your PhD".

Well, how about you try to think about what the world will likely want in 5Y. See what the macro-economists are saying. Like for example, if in 2008 someone was thinking "Ok, there is a global financial crisis. The underlying cause is so fundamental that it's not going to go away. Banks will be hesistant to give loans. There will be super-paranoia of default. Also things might get so bad that some countries are going to be so in debt that people are going to find it ridiculous to still have a currency linked to them. So maybe I will work on credit default swaps and other credit derivatives, or maybe bond pricing or bond hedging or any bond-related derivatives, or quantitative risk management."

That is the idea: You read the general consensus of the economists. You then think about what kind of economic climate that entails. You then think about what specialization would be useful in that economic climate.
US vs Europe for PhD depends on what you are looking for.

In the US a PhD will entail about 2 years of course work plus 2-4 years of research (total is 4-6 years depending on what your PhD is in and how productive you are). European PhDs usually skip the course work and have you solely focus on research so you're looking at it taking 3-4 years (not true of all European PhD programs, some do require course work).

From what I've seen, funding is overall better in the US. Especially if you get into a top finance PhD program.

Also should consider where you want to get a job afterwards. Academic or industry, if you want to work in the US it makes more sense to go to a university in the US. Same logic applies to Europe.