I'm not a math genius. Do I have a shot?

kbog

New Member
Some background: current junior undergraduate at a top 50 school (not ivy league), econ major, high 3s GPA. Tl;dr at bottom if you don't want to read all this.

I've recently become interested in quant finance as a career but I'm not confident in my prospects for mastering the mathematics. I've learned from this forum that a lot of quants came from strong math backgrounds and then learned to apply it to finance, and that's simply not me. Don't get me wrong, I like learning and practicing math quite a bit. I have absolutely no problem doing hard mathematical problems as part of my career. But I haven't found any reason to consider myself especially talented at it, and currently I'm far from the education level required for quant work (I'm only in basic calculus and statistics courses right now), so I'm not sure if I'll be a good fit at that level. I'm not really asking about MFE applications right now, even though I know it will be difficult for me to get into a highly ranked program. What I'm asking about is whether I should be confident in my ability to learn and practice stochastic calculus and similar topics at the level required to be successful as a quant.

I will put in the necessary amount of work and self-study to make this happen. I can fit all the necessary prerequisites for an MFE into my last three semesters of education, the problem is that taking that route right now would detract from my academics and self-study towards alternative career aspirations. If I couldn't do quant, I'd probably go for a less quantitative sector of finance. I wouldn't be doing physics etc. And I don't simply want any job in quant finance for the sake of working in quant finance. It's not my passion in life, it's simply appealing and I think I would enjoy it better than other roles in Wall Street because I'm analytical and introverted. I only want to do it if I have a good shot at being successful and making competitive earnings compared to other roles in finance and business. So given my situation, is this a realistic path for me to pursue, or am I kidding myself? Thanks for any advice.

TL/DR: I don't consider myself a natural math whiz, I will work hard to get into quant, but only if I have a good shot at actually being successful against the rest of the pack. I would like to know if lacking top notch math talent will relegate me to the less exciting, less lucrative, back office side of quant.
 
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kbog

New Member
Thanks Alexandre but I can't predict what my passion will be, two years ago I thought military service was my passion, and then with experience I realized it wasn't. Quant finance looks like fascinating stuff, but I want to figure out if I'll have an easier time moving up the ladder in consulting or PE or something like that.
 
You never know where you are going to end up 5 years from now. For now, do what you think you will enjoy the most. May be down the line you will find a different passion or you will narrow down your thought on what fascinates you.

I had similar interrogations several years ago. Wanted to join the military, went to engineering school, realized maybe this wasn't for me after all, experienced business while interning at one of the Big 4, enrolled in a MFE, starting a Sales Trading position next year with little modelling involved from what I am getting. It is normal that your idea of what you want to do changes over time. Just make sure you are able to express the logic behind you changing your mind during an interview

You don't need to be a genius to work in the field, you do have to be smart though.
If you already knew all the models, I don't see why you would want to join a Master's program.

On another note, do you know any programming?
 

kbog

New Member
You never know where you are going to end up 5 years from now. For now, do what you think you will enjoy the most. May be down the line you will find a different passion or you will narrow down your thought on what fascinates you.

I had similar interrogations several years ago. Wanted to join the military, went to engineering school, realized maybe this wasn't for me after all, experienced business while interning at one of the Big 4, enrolled in a MFE, starting a Sales Trading position next year with little modelling involved from what I am getting. It is normal that your idea of what you want to do changes over time. Just make sure you are able to express the logic behind you changing your mind during an interview
Thanks for the advice. Makes sense. If I knew what I enjoyed most now I'd do that, but I've had plenty of enjoyment using both hard and soft skills at my level of education.

You don't need to be a genius to work in the field, you do have to be smart though.
If you already knew all the models, I don't see why you would want to join a Master's program.
How smart? A lot of people think I'm smart, but I'm not the sort of person who is really good at chess, or aces calculus tests, or all those other things which smart people seem to do.

On another note, do you know any programming?
Hardly, I've just started some introductory C++ tutorials. Not sure how I feel about this yet either.
 

Pavlos Sakoglou

Well-Known Member
C++ Student
There is no easy way to succeed. You will have to pay the price. Math and programming are very important, they will also make you smarter in the way you look at a problem. Buy introductory calculus and stats books, study organized and make sure you understand them completely. Then buy more advanced books and continue this process. Given you are a junior student you will have plenty of time until graduation to do so. In the meantime structure your curriculum s.t. to be as quantitative-math oriented as possible. The harder you work the better your chances.
If you succeed on that, then you will have a chance, if not, it means that you are not ready to pay the price -- meaning find something else cause a career in finance is rigorous, let alone the competition in getting such a job and be good at it.
:)
 

Yike Lu

Finder of biased coins.
How smart? A lot of people think I'm smart, but I'm not the sort of person who is really good at chess, or aces calculus tests, or all those other things which smart people seem to do.
I don't know what kind of stereotypical "math genius" you have in your head...

You have to be smart enough to understand advanced math and apply it. Which kind of math is highly domain specific... you won't be needing differential geometry or group theory for example. You don't have to be able to derive new theorems or do pure math research (which is what PhDs in math actually do).

You have to be able to reason scientifically and statistically. You don't have to be up with all the latest statistics papers.

You have to be clever enough to combine different techniques creatively and come up with engineering justifications. You don't have to be able to write proofs on the existence and uniqueness (although they can help) of solution techniques you come up with.
 
What exactly is a "math genius" anyway? Is it like the "Apple Geniuses" working for $15/hr at the Apple store, or is it more like Gauss, Newton, Feynman, Euler, Hilbert, Fourier, etc?

And you said that you don't have much math knowledge aside from calculus and statistics. As far as I can see, 99% of quant math is just calculus and statistics.
 

tfors

Active Member
Sounds like you would be better suited for a less quantitative role, there are plenty which are not directly extroverted sales roles. Myself I am not entirely sure either where I fall on the spectrum, the math so far is hard, but not undoable, sometimes I wish I had chosen a direction something less rigorous. It's easier to curl up with a marketing book on the couch then transforming matrices in your head. But then again, I find the hard side less boring.
 

Will James

New Member
Discussion on existence and uniqueness of solutions is an important concept learned from differential equations, though.
 

Daniel Duffy

C++ author, trainer
Something like...
Existence:
Does the DE actually have solutions?
Uniqueness:
If a solution of the DE exists and satisfies an initial condition, is it the only such solution?
I suppose DE == ODE?
For nonlinear DEs, it is possible to have no solutions, multiple solutions etc.

A solution may not exist in the classical sense and then we need weak solutions.

And how can we 'compute' the solution?
 
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