Academic seeking salvation

I’d like you to weigh in on whether my plan to use the CFA exam to solve my problem is feasible. Let me give you the necessary definitions in that sentence.

I am a 32 year old biomedical engineer, academic all the way. I got a Masters and PhD in the subject at a top US program and now I’m a post doc at another top US school. There are way too many PhDs in the US so my job prospects are grim. My quantitative skills are pretty good (Matlab is definitely my bitch) but I’m not a focused stats or physics supernerd like the people that are really competitive in that space.

My problem is that I work in a non-profit environment that fails to direct valuable resources (like my twenties for example) towards a useful end. I want to transition into a business role operating under the discipline of the market. Business development at a biotech company maybe, something entrepreneurial, I’m pretty flexible at this point but I don’t want to do finance for too long. Also, I need to start making breadwinner income pretty much now.

I don’t want to do an MBA or an MFE. Too slow, too expensive. The plan is to use the CFA as a substitute. Pass level 1 in December. Use my biomedical engineering PhD and the L1 to get a job valuing life science companies for two years (in the Bay Area preferably, $80K/year, <60 hrs/week - I have a wife and child and I don’t want to abandon them to work like a Red Bull-fueled 23 year old with nothing but a big flat screen to go home to). Then, I have business skills and science skills and I can get a more family friendly job that will still pay the bills.

Any feedback on how realistic this all sounds would be much appreciated.


I don’t understand the bit about “I don’t want to do finance for too long.” If that’s not a typo, then I think CFA is not for you, and an MBA is a better choice.

If you do want to do financial stuff (which is often very interesting for people who like to think), I do have a friend with a Harvard Ph.D. in some life science (molecular biology, I think) who now does research on valuing pharmaceutical companies, so this is definitely a feasible way to go.

The entire CFA program seems like overkill if you just want to research individual companies rather than manage investment portfolios. Level 1 might help familiarize yourself with core concepts needed in finance although without a tremendous amount of depth.

After that (assuming you are doing the valuation part of things) you’ll need to go through the exercise of building financial models from publicly available information and your own insights. Something like Wall St. Prep or Wall St. Training (search for these programs on the net) can be a big help in getting your thinking into the general ball park of what these people do. It’s not a full substitute for experience, but it can expose you to key parts of the practice of what many company researchers do day in and day out.

Then you will want to write up your own research on public biotech companies, so that you have examples of what you can do. Start with some sell side research and try to do a “monkey-see-monkey-do” copy of that report with a different company, just so you have some practice.

As for Matlab, that’s a good skill, but it’s probably more useful if you are trying to do things like portfolio optimization or the kind of quantitative work that will have very little connection to your Ph.D. studies. By all means, put it on your resume, but the kind of things matlab is used for don’t sound like the things you’d want to do, given your existing knowledge set. If you DO want to do matlaby things, then consider the CQF program. It’s a bit pricey, but not nearly as much as an MBA or MFE.

I say this as someone who was also an academic and would have had a much easier transition if someone had cued me in to some fo this stuff. I had to bump my head into lots and lots of walls before finding my way (and I still feel I’m sometimes finding my way).

Hmm. I can’t help but think that there might be better opportunities for you in other industries in the Bay Area. For instance, my friend works for a consulting company that specializes in biomedical device companies. Otherwise, there are numerous pharmaceutical or biotech research companies that might appreciate your background (depending on what you’ve been doing). Financial firms, unfortunately, select job candidates in a very superficial way. They will hire someone with an MBA but less impressive science background over someone with strong science skills but no finance experience. It might work if you do more CFA exams, but it’s sort of a long shot.

Yea I get the idea you want a get a high paying finance job fast and that’s tough, especially since you explicitly said you’re unwilling to work like someone who’s breaking into something new

I would say MBA as well, but that is expensive and time consuming which you said you can’t do.

As for the CFA levels 1 and 2 can help, but level 3 would be a total waste for you

Hi all,

Thanks to all who took the time to share their expertise, this is very helpful to me. I had a chat with a senior biotech analyst at a small investment bank and asked her a similar question. She suggested that even the CFA Level 1 might be more than I needed for an entry level job and told me that there are one week full time courses that cost like $3000 I might consider to get the financial modelling piece. Don’t know any more than that, just thought I’d throw the idea into the mix. Anyway, thanks again.


Somehow I am skeptical of what that biotech analyst said, and I bet that person is probably not in the CFA program There’s a ton of people still in undergrad registering for level 1 in boatloads

pass rate of those undergrads ??

not 40% :slight_smile:

Sort of agree with the analyst. To be a successful analyst on the buy side (biotech or not), I would recommend level 1 and experience (2 and 3 are not that relevant). For “just” an entry level job, I would recommend very strong accounting skills and some basic valuation. Level 1 would be overkill.

In the real world, however, the supply of candidates is greater than the demand from employers, so you probably need to pass level one to be competitive. It’s not going to be a ticket on its own, but it will help you at least keep pace with the herd.

^. I think level 2 has value.