Is an PhD in engineering physics too "applied" for a quant job?

I've been reading threads on this site and other websites (namely WSO), and my impression seems to be that quantitative finance jobs are mostly reserved for physicists and mathematicians from rigorously theoretical backgrounds? Do experimentalists and physicists that focus on engineering applications have as much of a chance as well, like an engineering physics PhD for example? How about engineering PhD's? Or do companies just prefer theoretical physicists and mathematicians?

My last question: Does where you do your PhD play a major role? Does it significantly hurt one's chances of breaking into finance if they didn't do their PhD at target?

Thanks in advance.
I have seen many people with liberal art background competing and received offers from such job positions that seem only PhDs in physics/math can apply so it is simply a filter and details like which branch of physics is too minor to worry about.
If you apply to quant jobs from online mass market job portals, chance is your resume won't be in the right hand.


Quant Hopeful
Physics PhDs do modeling of all kinds of stuff, ergo they are needed in quant finance (doesn't matter too much which branch of physics you're coming from).


Quant Headhunter
It may be that engineering physics is a better than average PhD to do quant work, because it depends upon what exactly you did and to some extent where you did it.

Some engineering is exactly the right kind of maths & numerical analysis and at the other extreme some engineering/physics PhDs seem remarkably like specialist maintenance work.

Some hiring managers explicitly prefer "applied" PhDs over theoretical, some very good theorists don't make very good quants.
Are people with PhD in physics still hired at financial firms, as quants? A friend of mine is a physics professor at Columbia U., and she told me that in the past (before the financial crisis), she was contacted by financial firms to go to work there, but lately is not happening at all. (Back then, she turned down, since she wants to do research / teaching in physics)
One of my TA-s in the pre-MFE program had a PhD in Astrophysics, and became a professor at a college, then completed the MFE program (and went to work in the finance world). I am wondering, if he could go to work into finance without taking the MFE (I did not ask.).

I'm just wondering how the job markets for people with PhD in physics. In the past years, 2 things have happened simultaneously: demand decreased, as the financial job market is pretty bad, and supply increased, as more and more MFE programs have been established (around 100 now?). I know that many people are struggling to find a job in finance. (not quant job, but "regular" - like people with MBA in Finance)


Quant Headhunter
Georgina: Are people with PhD in physics still hired at financial firms, as quants?
Yes, fewer but still is a common thing, most of the decrease is general softness in the entry level end of the market, not an aversion to physics PhDs.

As for whether it is optimal to do an MFE on top of a PhD is one of these things that I can't give you a clear and definitive answer because there isn't one. The preferences of hiring managers vary and of course PhDs are not anything like identical so how much you benefit from the MFE also varies. An extra factor is that MFEs are quite expensive and so if you have the cash you can get into a university with better branding than you could as an undergrad.

Thanks. I don't have a PhD in physics, and I don't even want to do quant work anymore. I tried the Baruch pre-MFE seminar, it was great, but I won't be able to study all day/night in the next 3 years (doing part time) in the MFE program. And after that, I would face a fierce competition, and even I would land a job, I can be out the next day. (I think this was the "last straw", when the professor told us, that if we calculate the wrong number, and the traders trade on that, we can be fired immediately.) Plus, in my situation, this (working as a quant) would be a "step back", because as of right now, I'm doing many managerial / organizational tasks, rather than just pure technical.
However, it is interesting to watch the trends in this field. In NYC, the finance job market is not so good - to put it mildly.


Quant Headhunter
"I think this was the "last straw", when the professor told us, that if we calculate the wrong number, and the traders trade on that, we can be fired immediately"
This is pretty rare and it was told to you by an academic, not a practitioner.

It's not my job (as I define it) to sell you on doing quant work, but I would put it to you that "safe jobs" are a myth. In retrospect some jobs have been very solid, but predicting which will be safe is a mugs game which I don't play.

I do know that academic scientists in their pre-tenure phase are highly unsafe and since many PhD entrants had started along that route, they often feel safer in a bank.

I worked for a few years in IBM's labs, as a consultant, flatly refusing to join the staff and IBMers would point out to me that they had jobs for life a policy IBM had followed for over 50 years, never making anyone redundant.
A couple of years after I left there were vicious lay offs and they are being shafted over their pensions. For no good reason I was at that point Test Director at PC Magazine, which was part of a magazine group that had the 1st, 3rd, 4th and 5th top selling computer mags and made billions. It barely exists now and >90% of people lost their jobs.
I've done time at banks, some are here and some are missing, but the story I use most often is of TV repairmen...

This was a truly vast line of work. The mean time between failure of a CRT based TV was then a couple of months, work out how many people you need to visit every home in the country every two months to carry out repair work. Was quite skilled and by necessity something that could not be offshored.
...except it was.
Japanese TVs that were both cheaper and more than an order of magnitude more reliable came in and meant that when an old TV died it was replaced not repaired and because of the high failure rare the change was very swift. The repairmen were shafted big time.

All this crap by mediocre people about jobs being stolen by people who aren't as white or as American as they are ignores basic reality.
If there are people who can do stuff better and/or for less money than you, you're fucked unless you up your game.

The average Indian or Chinese is less well educated even than the average American who themselves is pretty much the least well educated of any average person in any developed country, but it's the average that matters here.
The whole world is going through a period of massive mean reversion, people whose pay is a matter of luck based upon place of birth and colour of skin are reverting towards the world average. American hourly labour productivity is actually pretty good but inevitably in relative decline. The reason for the inevitability is that the majority of growth in India, China et al is not because they are managing their countries well, but because until recently China and India was run so badly that merely stopping doing outrageously crap things like murder smart people by the million (China), and stop companies importing advanced tech to "encourage" employment (India) meant that they suddenly grew. America has fewer insanely stupid things to stop doing, it must instead do smarter things, which is hard in itself, but given that evangelicals, climate change deniers and moronic design deists are strangling the education system, hard to see that happening.
That is very interesting. Another question I have: How does one who comes from a non-target school break into quantitative finance? If I did my PhD at a small school, does that mean my chances of becoming a quant are slim to none?


Quant Headhunter
Nano, my background has led me to a position where from the start I separate evaluation of candidates from where I look for them, I first learned of conditional probability 33 years ago, it's now pretty much hardwired into my thinking, just in time for me to go senile :(

The general recruitment process is a lot more fuzzy, it's absolutely true that the probability of you getting an interview is lower if you went to an obscure or weak school, but it's a lot better than "slim to none".

Once you're in an interview, it's much more single combat: they ask you questions, you answer them, little consideration is given to your school. A slight trend I've seen sometimes is that people from what sometimes gets called "elite schools" sometimes come across as too academic and not "useful", but in all these things you need to understand that the set of decision makers about your first job are drawn from about 20,000 different individuals. Their idea of "useful" and "elite school" is highly variable, it's entirely possible to get two senior managers to list 10 schools each and not have them intersect at all (OK, possible but low probability, but about the same odds as producing identical lists)

Ironically this doesn't really affect most of what you personally should do...
Everyone needs a resume that is clear and defect free.
You should spend some effort on brainteasers and polish your programming a bit.
You should research the firm and team you are targeting.

The first difference is complex and subtle enough that I rarely put it up as public advice because getting the words right is hard.

It is to do with the branding of your first employer...
For two roughly equal job offers it is worth taking the one at the better respected firm (not the same as famous)
There is subtlety in how far "apart" those jobs would be for that to be optimal and for someone without brand names in their education that gap is larger, but still bounded.

The second is also a slight change, this time to the buzzword density in your resume, yours needs to be a bit higher, though I'm conscious that since I haven't seen your CV, I'm basically saying "you need more of things I haven't defined compared to a resume I haven't seen"

There exist a few tricks, the inhouse recruiters at GS are vastly less smart than most others such as Morgans and can't understand your resume at all, relying far too much on keyword search. That means if you can legitmately reference a top school as a buzzword (such as my paper was published by Harvard press (or Cambridge or whatever)), then your chances of getting an interview go up a useful amount. It would of course be entirely wrong for me to suggest that you google some list of the top 30 universities in the world and paste them into MS Word, then format this list as 1 point high white text on a white background, which shows up in buzzword searches but not in the visible copy. Don't do this.
Also be aware that inhouse recruiters have tragically bad software support and typically use your email as a primary key.
You don't need deep database skills to be a Quant, but please look up Primary Key a) because it's very useful, b) you can use it to apply multiple times to the same firm without ever saying anything untrue.
As it happens there are two inhouse recruiters (out of a couple of hundred) who know what a Primary Key is, neither work for GS, but at least the GS ones (male and female) are pleasing to look at.

One last point is that from where you sit it is impossible to work out whether the signal of not getting a particular job or interview is a reflection on you or the market. That's a noisy signal in a time when most people face that issue to some extent, the way to deal with this is not tricky, just time consuming, you do need to apply to more places.
Nano, it depends on your knowledge.
Have you learned Stochastic Process?
Have you learned Fourier Transform?
How well can you solve a Partial Differetial Equation?
How much have you mastered Statistics?

If you pass the four questions, the only block between you and a quant job is Shreve's book.
Thanks to all the contributors to this thread.

Not engineering, but does anyone have an opinion on a BSc followed by a MSc degree in econometrics (specialization quantitative finance), as they exist in continental Europe?


Quant Headhunter
Econometrics is a decent enough way to get into Quant work, indeed a criticism I sometimes hear of MFE programs is the relative weakness in this area.