To the Other Side

Joining the Private Sector


A couple of months ago, a rather interesting email floated across my inbox. A consulting firm in Arizona, Prescio, had sent a message to the Physics Department asking them to pass along a job offer for the summer. After my attendance at the APS March meeting, where I learned we graduate about 900 more Physics PhDs per year than we have available faculty positions, my mind had been primed to find “alternative career paths” with my degree. Consequently, when the offer from Prescio came up, I decided to apply.

One immediate problem I ran into was not having an up to date resume. Academics publish CVs, which essentially describe every thing they have ever done - papers written, talks presented, grants applied for, volunteerism projects involved in, committees sat on, etc. In contrast, a resume is suppose to be short and direct. So I had to write one; thankfully, there are many interesting resume templates out there.

After submitting my resume, I heard back from Prescio within a few days - they were considering hiring me on! This was quite the surprise, as I had dallied a bit on sending my resume, and replied to their offer a couple of weeks after seeing it. (Goes to show you that a) sometimes you get lucky, and b) you should reply to opportunities like this sooner rather than later.) After a couple of phone interviews, I was hired on for the summer.

At this point, it should be said my motivation for taking an internship had a couple of components:

  • As mentioned above, the academic job prospects for physicists are pretty lacking. It’s a simple problem of supply and demand (and deserves some deep thought in its own right). Hence, it is far better for me to start looking around for internships now and getting some private sector experience, as opposed to getting my Ph.D and then asking “Now what?”.

  • When I first joined Sandia, my advisor gave me a book entitled Fortune’s Formula - The Untold Story of the Scientific Betting System That Beat the Casinos and Wall Street by William Poundstone. He describes the experiences of some of the first quants on Wall Street - physicists who found a niche solving differential equations and writing code for banks. This was the first time I had been exposed to this career path, and something about it resonated with me. Economics and finance are interesting to me, and Wall Street in particular and business in general pay pretty well, so why not consider working as a quant as a possible career trajectory? Hence, an internship doing quant-related work would help me decide whether this was the type of career path I would want to take.

  • Some of the work I would be doing - time series analysis, regression analysis, etc. - could be related back to work I would be doing starting in the fall, so I would have a leg up on some of the ideas and concepts by coming to AZ for the summer.

As a result, taking three months off to join Prescio seemed a good idea. Of course, there were some logistical challenges to deal with - finding a place to live, moving my stuff, and buying new clothes. (The dress code was, possibly as expected, more formal than what I had experienced at UNM; no blue jeans in the office!) However, now that the move is complete, and I have been here for a couple of weeks, I can say taking this chance was a good idea. My work right now involves learning about a new modeling methodology (mostly reading some financial regulations); eventually, I will be coding up a couple of models using this methodology. Along the way, I have learned some about time series (AR/MA/ARIMA models) and Markov chains. It remains to be seen what the next few months will bring!