Twofish's Blog

January 18, 2009

Career advice for Ph.D.’s

Filed under: academia — Tags: , , , — twofish @ 9:46 am

Do not be picky about what you do, especially in a bad economic climate. Apply for everything you can think of, finance, non-finance, academia, etc. etc. In almost all cases, you will end up having the door closed in your face, which is why you need to knock on as many doors as you can. It doesn’t matter if a 1000 people say no, as long as one person say yes, and you have to keep knocking on doors until you get to someone that has cash to give you.

The psychological pressure can be huge. There are a lot of people in Ph.D. programs who have never had the experience of being rejected, because since kindergarten their history has been “pass the test” go to the next level, and the system they have been in has been somewhat rational in which if you don’t make it to the next level, it’s because of something “bad” you did. Once you got your Ph.D., you are no longer in the world (even if you stay in academia), and it is a huge transition to make to realize, that you are going to fail and be rejected, even if you are very, very good. In a situation in which you have to keep knocking on doors and getting rejected time and time again is new, and something that most people have to deal with is the (justified) fear of rejection, humiliation, and failure.

As far as finance goes….

This situation may change quickly or it may not. I wouldn’t be surprised if in two weeks, the word from on high is “start hiring.” Having worked in the oil industry, I also wouldn’t be surprised if the situation *never* improves. There was a massive burst of hiring in the 1980’s oil boom and no major hiring until the early-2000’s when people started retiring. (Working with a lot of programmers in their 50’s and 60’s was a very good experience, since I don’t have this fear of growing old that a lot of people in younger industries have, since I’ve seen something people in their 60’s doing cool things that I want to do when I’m 60.)

Be ready, be flexible, so that you are ready if there is a massive burst of hiring in two months or if Wall Street ends up a dying industry. One thing that this means is that it helps if you don’t have too fixed an idea of what you want to do. If you say ‘I want to be a quant” then you run into the problem in that there may be no jobs whatever this quant thing is. On the other hand, if you say “I want to do cool things with math and computers” your options vastly increase.


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