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Current mathematical finance student seek help for further education advise

Hi, all.

This is Hao. Let me briefly introduce myself.
I am currently a Msc mathematical finance student studying at university of Exeter in the UK. I graduated from university of plymouth with first class degree in finance. First class degree is equivalent 3.7 GPA in the US according to some UK top schools' conversion scheme. Hopefully I will receive a distinction for my master degree which is also a first class for master's degree.
Please check out the following link for modules I am currently taking on so you know what I am studying now.

Programme structure - University of Exeter

I decided to do further education specially in quantitative finance, since I figured out my strength and interest lies on finance, mathematics and computer programming etc. , because I have been working and playing with computers since I was little and I concerned I have some talent and persistent interest in it.
I am thinking of doing a PhD in finance in the US, preferably a topic involving quantitative finance research. But I am really struggling of finding a topic. I don't want to be an academia, but I really think the research skills possessed by PhD students is very valuable for my future career, because I will eventually go back to China. Perhaps you know, financial market isn't really developed or starting to develop yet. My Chinese friends always argued that the finance knowledge acquired overseas is not applicable in China. However, I think they are stupid and I believe nothing comes free so you need to be creative. This is the main driver of why I want to do a PhD in finance and to acquire those research skills consider from another thread arguing a PhD will not really improve your career perspective. Second route, I am thinking of doing a MFE course in the US.

My question is below,
First, consider my academic achievements. What are the odds of my application if I applied to those good MFE programmes recommended in this forum? and to a finance or quantitative finance PhD application? I really need objective view from you because I am not confident on my achievements since I am not graduated from top uni.

Second, what is the hot area in quantitative finance? any journals? I want to read them to establish my PhD topic.

Last, most importantly please comment on every aspect you think will help. I am open to anything, it doesn't need to be for the above 2 questions.

I hope Andy could comment on my thread because I think he really knew many of these educational stuff.

Merry Christmas to everybody.
 
What are the odds of my application if I applied to those good MFE programmes recommended in this forum? and to a finance or quantitative finance PhD application? I really need objective view from you because I am not confident on my achievements since I am not graduated from top uni.

Your grades are good enough, but you will need to take the GRE and do very well to get into top MFE or PhD programs. A MFE is basically the US equivalent to what you are currently studying so I don't see much value-added by doing a MFE.

Letters of recommendation will also be important.

Second, what is the hot area in quantitative finance? any journals? I want to read them to establish my PhD topic.

The hot topics today will not be hot tomorrow. Do not worry about narrowing down your PhD topic yet, but focus on getting a broad understanding of finance. Read the books on the master reading list.

There are few PhD programs in quantitative finance. You are better off doing a PhD in finance at a top university and do your research in quantitative finance. You could also consider PhD programs in applied math or statistics as they also do quantitative finance research at some universities (not sure if you would be qualified).
 
Connor made good points. A lot of people make a mistake of thinking they are unique but when they come out for a job, interview, they find out that there are many people just as unique or more better "unique".
I don't know the structure of degree in UK but Connor said what you study right now is similar to MFE which could lead to a job in the financial firms.
There are few PhD FE, Quant Finance programs in the US as opposed to just PhD Finance. Take a look at Financial Engineering Program Selector - Quant Network
 
Thanks for Connor and Andy.

For GRE/GMAT, which one should I prepare for? I am thinking of GMAT, because most business schools accept GMAT and I have heard that GRE requires hell lot more vocabulary with respect to GMAT, and to build up vocabulary takes longer time than the marginal skill required by GMAT.

If I can financially support myself without PhD scholarship, do I stand more chance of my application in PhD finance?
 
Thanks for Connor and Andy.


If I can financially support myself without PhD scholarship, do I stand more chance of my application in PhD finance?

It will NOT help your application at all if you offer to pay your way for a Finance PhD. ALL the Finance PhD students pay $0 tuition and get a stipend of $25K - $30K per year. There is no exception.

The only two universities which allow the students to enter the first year of the Finance PhD program by paying full tuition are Stanford University and Boston University. At the end of the first year, Stanford may select one or two of the smartest students who are paying their way and allow them to continue in the PhD program with full support ($0 tuition + $30K per year stipend). The remaining students are given MS degree and then dropped from the PhD program.

They are not going to spend six years working with you unless they feel that you have exceptional intellectual capability to do high quality productive research for the next forty years. Admission rate is usually less than 2%.
 
Thanks for Connor and Andy.

For GRE/GMAT, which one should I prepare for? I am thinking of GMAT, because most business schools accept GMAT and I have heard that GRE requires hell lot more vocabulary with respect to GMAT, and to build up vocabulary takes longer time than the marginal skill required by GMAT.

If I can financially support myself without PhD scholarship, do I stand more chance of my application in PhD finance?

The vast majority of business PhD programs in the US are fully funded including tuition and a stipend. This is not always the case in Europe I've found.

The GRE does require more vocabulary than the GMAT, but I believe there is a new GRE starting in 2011 that is less vocabulary intensive. Which you take should depend on the requirements of the programs you want to apply to; while many will accept either some say that they prefer one over the other. Ideally if you could take both and do amazingly well that would be a bonus on your application.

GRE/GMAT scores and GPA are important aspects of your application but probably more important are research experience and letters of recommendation (LOR). Whether you want to work in academia afterwards or not (never say that you don't), PhD programs are focused on making you a great researcher. So having graduate level research experience and LORs from people that can attest to your research and learning abilities is key.
 
Thanks for replies.

I am currently studying Msc Financial Mathematics at University of Exeter. But unfortunately all my modules are taught and I did not choose any dissertation and research methods. This is mainly because a dissertation module and a research methods module counted for 75 credit (whole program is 180 credits), when I chose the module I thought I am better off with more taught modules so I chose 6 more taught modules(each of the 5 worth 15 credits and one worth 30 credits) instead of dissertation and research method, since I took one assessed research method module in my undergraduate final year and my final year dissertation scored very good(78%). The 30 credits module I will take is basically a company research report about 5000 words at investment banks' level.
Do you think I am still stand the chance for PhD in finance after this master programme? I can not change back to dissertation because it is too late.
 
I'm sure you can get into a finance PhD program somewhere.

Usual advice is to apply to a few top dream schools, a few programs that you feel qualified for and then a few lower as safety schools that you feel overqualified for. Look to apply to 6-8 programs.

You will need great LORs. Hopefully you know a few of your professors well and they can vouch for your abilities.
 
Thanks Connor,

I realise that perhaps most important thing is what topics I want to dedicate few years working on and how I am suppose to accomplish it. In the end, it is the intellectual curiosity and your skills that really drive you to get work done,and it is what's on your mind and how good you do things that build yourself up no matter which school you graduated.
I think many students(include me) sometimes make mistake on top school, it is your work that make you outstanding and reputable, certainly not the other way around.
 
Thanks Connor,

I realise that perhaps most important thing is what topics I want to dedicate few years working on and how I am suppose to accomplish it. In the end, it is the intellectual curiosity and your skills that really drive you to get work done,and it is what's on your mind and how good you do things that build yourself up no matter which school you graduated.
I think many students(include me) sometimes make mistake on top school, it is your work that make you outstanding and reputable, certainly not the other way around.

Well yes but coming from a reputable school helps.

Hypothetical situation: PhD grad from top school X publishes 2 papers before graduating, while PhD grad from middle ranked school Y publishes 2 papers before graduating. Which will have an easier time getting a job? Probably the grad from top school X; the grad from school Y would have to publish more.

Even if you don't want to go into academia, publishing is the result of research and the number of published paper and in what journals is an indicator of performance, work ethic, and knowledge. Whether this is actually true doesn't matter, perception matters.

At the end of the day, go to the highest ranked, best known university you can get into that meets your needs.
 
Yeah. Certainly perception matters.

I am currently gathering materials for GRE and start to study it.

There are some Profs willing to write me very good LORs if I do well this year on my courses.

Just hypothetically, if I graduated distinction, and I obtain a higher than average required GRE score, with my first class undergraduate degree, and those Professors write me very good LORs. Do you think I stand a good chance of getting into a top school? Since my previous institution of education isn't one of the top schools, would it disadvantage me?
 
If you get a distinction, then they will definitely take a close look at your application and you will have a shot at the top schools. But distinction at Exeter is very different than a distinction at LSE. LSE distinction practically guarantees entry into a top program. With Exeter distinction, they will have to take a close look at your Math and Economics grades, test scores, references, etc. Apply to 18 schools (most are free or $50 application fee, not $250 ike MBA application fee). 6 ambitious, 6 target match, 6 safety. I can tell you that it is a lottery and very tough to predict what will happen. For some reason, some of these MFE dudes from the top programs want to give up $150K jobs on Wall Street and spend 6 years in poverty in a Finance PhD program. So that is what you will be up against.
 
Admissions at top finance PhD programs is extremely competitive (2-4% admission rate at some). It really comes down to being lucky in some cases. I think you have a chance and should definitely go for.

If your recommenders are turning out generic LORs then applying to 18+ schools is possible, but if they are tailoring each LOR for each program then asking them for 18 LORs is unreasonable. Best advice would to talk to them; say you are interested in PhD programs and ask their advice and where to go, LORs, application, etc.

On applying to safety schools, don't bother applying there if you really don't want to go there. You will be spending 4-6 years there, so unless you are just dead set on getting a PhD and don't want to try again another year then don't apply to places you wouldn't want to go to.
 
Germany offers PhDs for free at all public institutions, and there are a group of international programs taught exclusively in English without any German language requirement. Some allow dissertations written in German or English, but are taught in English.

PhD Position Postings in Germany
International Doctorates of Finance in Germany

As for your research topics, I think you should consider building on your own theory of the Chinese financial market. You might profit well from developing educational materials to train professionals as a consultant in China with a PhD. I wish more PhDs were self sufficient and taught people real world skills outside of the collegiate systems. If you are creative, you can do it.
 
Thanks for Stephie,

I probably will not consider places other than US or UK. Because I already been in the UK for many years and I think I am better off stay in UK or US in terms of career.
 
Creative topic is a good point, since my profile may not look as strong as my competitors, but maybe I have a very interesting and practically sound topic that attract some Professors from top schools, who knows. None of the top schools had ever revealed how they select candidates, and I believe creativity and strong personal skills play a big part of the selection process, because your topic and reasons for research defines how you see the world and your personal ability defines whether you can tackle your problem.
 
The financial crisis has brought the world to ground zero in some sense(or in finance industry) or a new beginning of business cycle, no one knows where the right way is. But something is certain, that is we have to make changes. This gives everybody an opportunity to develop new ideas and applications to improve the current systems. Surely, an opportunity for me, I hope this can differentiate my application from competition. Some may argue that those applicants who have work experience or graduated from top schools have better ideas or more insight into the industry than me. But the fact is ,the real world is an chaos, I believe the chance of highly educated people who make discovery is an martingale. Otherwise, the smartest people or entity will be the best forever. Maybe I am wrong about it,but only this can drive me forward. We made history, history didn't make us.:-k
 
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