2018 Career Trajectories Panel Discussion: Opportunities for Physicists in Finance and Data

Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics
31 Jul 201940:18
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TLDRIn this panel discussion, two physicists share their career transitions from academia to the finance sector. They discuss their experiences working in data science and risk management at the Royal Bank of Canada and Scotiabank. The speakers highlight the importance of problem-solving skills, the adaptability of physicists, and the soft skills necessary for success in the corporate world. They emphasize the value of networking, continuous learning, and finding passion in one's work, whether in research or finance. The conversation also touches on the collaborative nature of the finance industry, the potential for impact through research, and the benefits of an MBA for those looking to pivot to business roles.

  • 🧲 The panelists, both physicists by training, transitioned into the finance industry, leveraging their problem-solving skills and interest in new challenges.
  • πŸ’Ό One panelist moved from academia to a data science role at RBC, highlighting the applicability of physics skills in the finance sector.
  • πŸ“ˆ The other panelist shifted into risk management at Scotiabank, motivated by the financial crisis and the desire to understand and contribute to regulatory changes.
  • πŸ’‘ Both emphasized the importance of continuous learning and adaptability, teaching themselves new skills like Python and machine learning to fit into their new roles.
  • 🀝 The finance industry is increasingly collaborative and less corporate, with a focus on innovation and a tech startup-like environment to attract talent.
  • 🏦 Banks are actively transforming into tech companies within the finance sector, creating flexible and innovative work cultures.
  • πŸ’° While salaries in finance can be higher than in academia, the panelists advised that passion for the work, not just the money, should be the driving factor.
  • πŸŽ“ One panelist pursued an MBA to complement their physics background, finding it beneficial for management skills and business understanding.
  • πŸ› οΈ The panelists identified soft skills such as communication, networking, and time management as areas where physicists might need development in a corporate setting.
  • πŸš€ For those considering a move from physics to finance, the advice was to network, seek out informational interviews, and understand the specific problems a company or team is trying to solve.
  • πŸ“š The value of an MBA was discussed, with the consensus being that while it's not strictly necessary, it can provide structured learning and valuable networking opportunities.
Q & A
  • What was the motivation behind the panelists leaving their careers in physics?

    -The panelists left their careers in physics due to a combination of factors, including a love for teaching, an interest in machine learning and data science, and a desire to explore alternative career paths outside of academia.

  • How did the panelists transition from physics to their current roles in finance and data?

    -The panelists transitioned by teaching themselves new skills such as Python and machine learning, seeking opportunities in quantum technology, and leveraging their problem-solving abilities to fit into roles in data science and risk management within financial institutions.

  • What role did the financial crisis of 2008 play in the panelists' career paths?

    -The financial crisis of 2008 made the academic job market even more challenging, leading one of the panelists to explore opportunities in finance more seriously, and it also sparked an interest in understanding what led to the crisis.

  • How did the panelists' experiences in academia prepare them for their roles in finance?

    -The panelists' experiences in academia, particularly in research and problem-solving, were beneficial as they translated well into roles that required analytical thinking, debugging, and a deep understanding of complex subjects.

  • What advice do the panelists have for physicists considering a career in finance?

    -The panelists advise physicists to pursue their passions, be open to learning new skills, and to network within the industry. They also emphasize the importance of soft skills such as communication and collaboration.

  • What is the cultural difference between working in academia and working in finance according to the panelists?

    -The cultural difference includes a more collaborative environment in finance, less micromanagement, and a focus on delivering results rather than adhering to strict rules. However, there is also an increased level of politics in the corporate world.

  • How do the panelists perceive the work-life balance in finance compared to academia?

    -The panelists find that finance offers a similar work-life balance to academia, with flexible working hours and a focus on results rather than time spent at a desk.

  • What are some of the challenges the panelists faced when transitioning from physics to finance?

    -Challenges included learning new technical skills such as Python and machine learning, adjusting to a corporate environment, and managing the expectations of stakeholders in a for-profit industry.

  • How do the panelists define success in their new roles in finance?

    -Success is defined by the impact they have on the industry, whether it's through contributing to financial regulations, driving research in areas like quantum computing, or leading teams to solve complex problems.

  • What skills do the panelists believe are most important for a successful transition from physics to finance?

    -The most important skills include the ability to learn quickly, strong communication and soft skills, and the ability to work collaboratively with others to solve problems.

  • How did the panelists approach the decision to pursue an MBA while working in finance?

    -The panelists pursued an MBA to gain a broader perspective on business, improve their management skills, and to network with a diverse group of professionals, which they found to be invaluable.

πŸ‘©β€πŸ« Transition from Physics to Finance Careers

The panel, moderated by Amy, discusses the transition from physics to various careers in finance and data. It features two physicists, one from the Royal Bank of Canada and another from Scotiabank, who share their personal journeys. They explain how they left physics, their experiences in academia, and how they found their way into the financial sector. The discussion highlights the importance of problem-solving skills, which are transferable from physics to finance, and the natural progression they felt in their career shifts.

πŸ“š From Academia to Risk Management

The panelist from Scotiabank shares his academic background in physics and how he transitioned into risk management within the financial industry. Initially set on a career in physics, he pursued undergraduate and graduate studies, followed by postdoctoral research in quantum information. However, the academic job market led him to explore opportunities in finance. His interest in the financial crisis and the desire to understand its causes motivated him to move into the banking sector. He emphasizes the collaborative environment in finance and the opportunity to influence regulatory changes.

πŸ’Ό Experiences in Finance and the Tech Industry

The panelist from the Royal Bank of Canada discusses his transition from a postdoc in quantum physics to a data scientist role at RBC. He talks about his interest in machine learning and data science, which led him to teach himself Python and machine learning. He also shares his experience of leading a team within the data side of the bank. The conversation highlights the cultural shift from academia to a corporate environment and the importance of adapting to a more flexible and innovative work culture, similar to that of a tech start-up.

🀝 The Collaborative Nature of Finance

Both panelists share their experiences of the collaborative and less competitive nature of the finance industry compared to academia. They discuss the supportive environment within banks, where success is driven by teamwork and innovation. The conversation also touches on the importance of networking and the value of an MBA in providing management skills and business perspectives that are beneficial in a corporate setting.

πŸ’‘ The Impact of Finance on Society

The panelists explore the impact they can have in the finance sector, from contributing to international financial regulations to driving research in areas like deep learning. They discuss how, despite being in a for-profit industry, there are opportunities to make a positive impact on society and drive advancements in technology and research.

πŸ’Ό Challenges and Rewards of Transitioning into Finance

The panelists discuss the challenges they faced when transitioning from an academic background to the corporate world of finance. They talk about the need to balance the pursuit of personal goals with the demands of a for-profit industry. The conversation also addresses the misconceptions about the nature of work in finance and the reality of a collaborative and problem-solving focused environment.

πŸ›  Essential Skills for a Career in Finance

The panelists identify the key skills that are often lacking in students transitioning into finance, such as soft skills, communication, and time management. They emphasize the importance of being able to learn quickly and adapt to new situations, as well as the ability to network and collaborate effectively within a team.

πŸš€ Steps to Transition from Physics to Finance

The panelists provide advice on how to make the transition from physics to a career in finance. They stress the importance of networking, understanding the language and thought processes of data scientists, and identifying specific teams within companies that align with one's interests. They also discuss the value of an MBA in providing a structured learning environment and networking opportunities.

Physics is a branch of science that deals with the nature and properties of matter and energy. In the video, it is the academic background of the speakers and the starting point of their career trajectories. The speakers discuss transitioning from a physics background into different fields, indicating the versatility and applicability of skills acquired from studying physics.
πŸ’‘Career Transition
Career transition refers to the process of moving from one career to another. The video's theme revolves around this concept, as it features professionals who have moved from a career in physics to various roles in finance and data science. The term is used to illustrate the diverse opportunities available to those with a physics background and the potential for growth in different industries.
πŸ’‘Quantum Optics
Quantum optics is a field that studies the behavior of light and its interaction with matter at the quantum level. In the script, one of the speakers mentions their research in experimental quantum optics and quantum computing during their PhD, highlighting the specialized knowledge they gained which later influenced their career path.
πŸ’‘Data Science
Data science is an interdisciplinary field that uses scientific methods, processes, and algorithms to extract knowledge and insights from data. The speakers discuss their involvement in data science after transitioning from physics, emphasizing how the analytical and problem-solving skills from physics are applicable in this field.
πŸ’‘Machine Learning
Machine learning is a subset of artificial intelligence that enables machines to learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed. The script mentions machine learning as an area of interest and expertise that one of the speakers developed, showcasing the transition from theoretical physics to applied technology.
Finance refers to the management of money and includes activities such as investing, borrowing, lending, budgeting, saving, and forecasting. The video discusses how physicists can get involved in finance, indicating the intersection of scientific expertise and business strategy.
πŸ’‘Regulatory Changes
Regulatory changes refer to modifications or updates in rules and regulations that govern a particular industry or sector. One speaker talks about their role in monitoring and influencing regulatory changes within the banking industry, demonstrating the impact of physicists in shaping policy and compliance.
πŸ’‘Risk Management
Risk management is the process of identifying, assessing, and controlling threats to an organization's capital and earnings. The script mentions a risk management position that a speaker applied for, illustrating the application of analytical skills from physics to financial decision-making.
πŸ’‘Cultural Shift
Cultural shift refers to a significant change in the beliefs, behaviors, and customs of a group or organization. The speakers discuss the cultural differences they experienced moving from academia to the corporate world, particularly in finance, and how they adapted to these new environments.
πŸ’‘Soft Skills
Soft skills are personal attributes that enhance an individual's interactions, job performance, and career prospects. The video emphasizes the importance of soft skills such as communication and networking for those transitioning from physics to finance or other fields, as these skills are crucial for success in business environments.
πŸ’‘Salary Expectations
Salary expectations refer to the anticipated income one believes they should earn for a particular job or role. The script discusses the higher salary expectations associated with moving into finance from physics, indicating one of the motivations for such a career transition.
Networking is the process of building and maintaining professional relationships. The speakers highlight the importance of networking as a means to transition into new roles and industries, emphasizing that personal connections can often lead to job opportunities.
Problem-solving is the ability to analyze issues and develop creative solutions. The script frequently mentions problem-solving as a key skill that physicists bring to their new roles, as it is a fundamental aspect of both scientific research and business strategy.
πŸ’‘Academic Research
Academic research refers to the systematic investigation and study of materials and sources to establish facts and reach new conclusions. The video discusses the application of academic research skills in industry settings, such as in the Borealis Institute, where deep learning research is conducted.
πŸ’‘Team Management
Team management involves coordinating and motivating a group of people to achieve a common goal. One speaker talks about the challenges of managing a team of ten people, highlighting the need for quick decision-making and the ability to handle multiple tasks simultaneously.
MBA stands for Master of Business Administration, a degree that provides knowledge and skills in business and management. The script mentions an MBA as a valuable addition to a physics background, offering insights into management, business strategy, and networking opportunities.

The panel discusses various career paths for physicists outside of traditional physics roles, focusing on finance and data.

Meredith from the Royal Bank of Canada shares her transition from experimental quantum optics and computing to a data science role.

Renee from Scotiabank describes her journey from quantum information theory to risk management and regulatory research.

The importance of teaching and passion for machine learning in career transitions is emphasized.

Self-teaching Python and machine learning as a bridge to industry roles.

The corporate environment's shift towards a tech company culture to attract talent.

The collaborative nature of working in finance, contrary to the competitive prejudice.

The value of an MBA in complementing technical skills with management and business acumen.

Salary expectations and the competitive edge of tech skills in finance.

The balance between pursuing passion in physics and the practicality of a finance career.

The impact of physicists in shaping international financial regulations.

The presence of research and development within financial institutions.

The necessity of soft skills like communication and networking for success in finance.

The advice for transitioning from physics to finance: network, learn the language of data science, and understand team dynamics.

The role of an MBA in networking and gaining a diverse set of skills.

The importance of understanding the specific problems a company or team is trying to solve when seeking a job in finance.

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