CQF Program to get out of career rut?

Salient background on me:

  1. PhD in physical chemistry (a division of chemistry focused on the underlying physics, research entirely based on computer modeling);

  2. Well published in biochemistry and biophysics and strong programmer in several languages;

  3. Working as financial analyst since finishing grad school in 2012;

  4. Employer funded CFA program and sitting for level 3 on Saturday.

/ Career Problem : I work as an “analyst” alongside a financial advisor who has ~$100M in AUM. Let me explain why I put analyst in quotes … The clientele we service are planning for retirement and are basically looking for some hand-holding through market ups and downs. The advisor, who seemed interested in pursuing a quant discipline when I interviewed for the job, actually has no interest in quant finance. I tried to present some research to her and I said, "On the y-axis I plotted - " and she interrupted asking, “What is a y-axis?”. I’m not trying to knock anyone - I’m sure she provides immense value to clients.

But the firm is focused on marketing to bring in new money and qualitative financial planning. My daily tasks are to read “research journals”, i.e. financial planning magazine, etc., and compile these magazine articles into investment ideas. I also am largely responsible for client servicing, managing the client database, preparing marketing material … The bottom line is that I’m not using my primary skill set and I’m underpaid compared to my peers from grad school. CQF Program : I’ve been trying to find positions geared more towards my quantitative skill set and programming abilities for about 2 years (since shortly after I started). I’ve made it to the last round of interviews for 3 different positions thus far but didn’t get the offer. I’m thinking that the CQF program may help me to apply some of those grad school quant skills to finance and fill in the gaps. Obviously my biggest hesistation is the cost, which would come out of my pocket whereas CFA cost was paid by the firm. So - anyone have any thoughts on CQF? or my situation in particular?

I’m looking to apply my computer modeling and mathematical skill set in the field - I’m almost indifferent as to whether I’m on the risk management side vs the quant buy side. I’d appreciate any insights.

It sounds like you already have strong credentials- why add another? Did you receive any constructive feedback from your interviewers? I suspect you would get more value from intensive networking in the quant finance community than going for another credential.

So - to be really frank - I think part of the reason I’ve been unable to get a better offer has been stumbling over some of the interview questions.

I think my PhD work is sufficiently technical to make me a candidate for these positions. I can wax poetic on density functionals versus ab initio Hamiltonians, as applied in chemistry.

But, for example, on my last interview I stumbled with how to address missing data in a database of mortgage holders for an OTC MBS transaction and why Brownian motion is readily applicable to financial modeling. I am familiar with Brownian motion, as applied to physics, but finance …

When I got into this field in 2013 (finished PhD Dec. 2012) I figured I would be able to leverage my PhD work to help quickly learn some of the basics in quant finance. I’m essentially doing trivial office work now and on days when my resolve is low, I think about hanging up the finance hat and heading back to science.

But I am committed to being successful in this field - it truly interests me and envokes a passion. I just feel like my career is stuck in a rut - I don’t see upward mobility where I am now and I don’t think I’m learning how to succeed in a quant role.

In short, my thinking was that the CQF would fill in some gaps for me on quant finance, help me answer those interview questions and get that foot in the door.

But maybe I’m looking at it as a solution and really its just a way to spend huge $$ while waiting for that opportunity to get into a quant role.

The FRM program will fill in your quant finance gaps at a fraction of the time and price of the CQF.

Okay, great - that’s something I’d like to discuss.

Does the FRM provide an overview of relevant mathematics, like the math primer of the CQF? Is it as comprehensive?

I appreciate alot of this information is online. Part of the reason I’m posting this NOW as opposed to next week, after I sit for the 3rd exam, is that the regional CQF manager is pushing me to put down a deposit for the June enrollment.

Can you provide me a brief run down of what is involved in the FRM?

I just took a look at the cost of the CQF- yikes! No way would I spend $20K on that. You may as well do a top MFE program and leverage the brand name equity/career placement services of the university where you complete it.

Try this link, give them your email address, and download the guide. There should be a comprehensive curriculum list somewhere in there:


If you are already mathematically inclined in another field, it is my experience that you will get all of the math primer-type exposure you need with the FRM curriculum. People talk s#!t about credential chasing with FRM, etc. after CFA, saying it’s all useless letters, but I thought the program was excellent. Plus, it’s cheap and can be done in a single year on your own schedule.

Awesome - Thanks so much DOW.

I can’t afford to take time off of work to go to a full-time program. In addition, going to a “top” program would likely mean relocating my family and right now we survive on my wife’s income.

Basically, my wife and I came out of the same school with the same (more or less) PhD and she makes more than twice what I make. Which is great, btw, don’t get me wrong - I would never begrudge her a thing. But using her salary (and the salaries of my peers from grad school) as a benchmark, I’m WAY underpaid where I am right now. But at the same time, I’m not applying my quantitative skills - I’m basically an office manager / admin. So maybe I’m not underpaid but rather under-employed. Although this firm pays low salaries …

Just this morning, one of the secretaries in the firm came into my office to say she was going to ask the firm’s owner for a raise and she threw out a salary that is more than I’m making! I just need to get out of here and move on, but haven’t gotten another offer in 2+ years.

I decided … I’m definitely not doing the CQF in June. I want to fully exhaust the free alternatives - like some of the free MOOCs and YouTube resources on the subject - then I’ll look into FRM, CQF, and the other options. I KNOW I’m capable of so much more than I’m doing now and I just need a shot!

I quickly read the thread. I think a PhD + cfa is enough to target serious quant positions but when I quickly read through, I saw that you say you can’t really link a brownian motion to finance… which is like the basic of quant finance. In that case I would suggest going for an MFE. But skip those expensive US programs. Go to Europe where you can get among the best education in that topic for free (or almost), think Paris (Ecole polytechnique Paris 6 El Karoui, Laure Elie) or Switzerland (ETH, EPFL) or UK (expensive, but probably much less than US).

Then, I think the opportunities for quants are much less interesting than 10 years ago. The job has really changed as financial markets got much less “exotic” and more regulated and focused on risk management. I think the job got much less appealing and all the stochastic theory much less useful. It is extremely interesting topic but the applications are just too limited now I think. Now, the hype is with statistics, machine learning, applied especially to high freqency trading but it also becomes more and more controversial. How long can this go on ? not too much I think. Quant/PM on buy side could be great but opportunities are quite limited I think. I might go for those later. I have a quant background and I’m working much more with traditionnal/fundamental analysis now but I find it less exciting and not using my better skills (which I don’t want to lose as well).

You’re absolutely right. I sort of had an epiphany while reading your post.

I think the bottom line is that

  1. while my PhD and CFA Candidate (hopefully soon to be charter) credentials are sufficient to get an interview, they have not provided the background into quant finance to get even an entry level position AND

  2. if I do some self-study research I can learn these principles and get the job I want.

I appreciate your comments regarding the MFE program. I feel, though, that I can learn this information - I was just hoping for some direction in the form of an entry level position. But I suppose no one wants to hire a student, they want an employee.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I’m a bit embarrassed I didn’t know the connection between Brownian motion and quant finance, given it is one of the basic principles. But I can tuck away that pride, hit the books again, and hopefully get another interview in the near future.

Thanks to all.

I guess one follow up on the FRM - does that program cover the application of brownian motion to quant finance?

it’s not difficult to understand. when quant finance eats a lot of chili and bran muffins, it is subject to Brownian Motion within a few short minutes.

Just today I was asked advice on salary by a guy with a phd in physics and absolutely no knowledge of finance (not even cfa level -1) who got a quant position in a major bank. While I thought those positions were getting more and more hard to land (and since more and more people graduate MFE), it’s clear that if you have good programming skills and good knowledge of numerical methods(think Monte Carlo, finite differences, finte elements which are usually well known in engineering/physics subjects) you should be ok.

Thanks Matt. I’ll be sure to offer that information at my next interview.

Thanks what I’ve heard, as well. I used Monte Carlo extensively in my graduate research. I was published a textbook chapter on semiempirical computer modeling and can code in at least 6 languages. Nevertheless, I’ve been unable to land that quant job and I’m stuck in a paper-pushing hell.

Even though I could probably earn the same salary in a comp chem position with less work, I really want to be successful in this field!

Alright - T minus 40 hours (about) till exam 3, time to focus on that and revisit this next week.

I’ll do you a favor and cover the application of Brownian motion to quant finance to you right now, free of charge.

Einstein originally used the concept of “Brownian motion” to describe the wayward path of a particle suspended in fluid. The “Brown” in “Brownian” is attributed to 1800’s botanist Robert Brown, who found that deterministic methods could not be used to describe pollen floating in water when observed under a microscope. The notion of non-deterministic movement with particles clearly has wide applicability to physics. But here is the plain-English version – Brownian motion is a simple way of saying that something is moving with a “random walk;” that is, the something that is moving is moving with no persistence or anti-persistence, and is random in the sense that the next move cannot be predicted. Now, in economic and financial time series, we don’t have a particle moving around in three-dimensional space, but you can think of a chart moving up and down as having Brownian, random motion in two-dimensional X-Y axes space. So when you hear some dilettante trying to impress you with $10 phrases like “Brownian motion,” you will now understand that this guy is simply saying “random walk.” That’s really all there is to understanding what Brownian motion means in a financial context.

This is important because most of the well-known models used in finance (CAPM, Black-Scholes, etc.) all use the underlying assumption of random walks that aggregate up to normal or lognormal distributions. There is a whole literature out there describing the history of why these assumptions developed in this way, but I would sum it up that it was because the mathematics are much easier to handle when these assumptions are used. When a different, non-random generator process is assumed for the time series, distribution aggregation becomes harder to describe as the Central Limit Theorem doesn’t act as it does under ordinary randomness, i.e., Brownian motion, i.e, a time series that scales with the square root of time. Even though we know that financial time series rarely, if ever, follow a random walk, many in the quantitative finance community conveniently wave away this fact by suggesting some argument that the errors cancel out over time, or point to the elegance of a random-walk-generated Gaussian solution, as if the elegance of solving some math problem more than makes up for the model’s inability to describe reality. But I digress.

The FRM program will sort of touch on this stuff, as the math taught in the curriculum has a nice mix of random assumptions vs. non-random, and Gaussian assumptions vs. non-Gaussian. But for the philosophy and history of why these assumptions developed, you’d really have to reach out on your own and devour a bunch of books on the subject – Peter Bernstein’s Against the Gods, Markowitz’s original papers, Mandelbrot (the easiest read is The (Mis)Behavior of Markets), and of course anything by Taleb.

I don’t know anything about the quant route, but from all the info i’m getting from this and other threads, I would skip that route all together and broaden your opportunity set.

I would:

A1) Jump to a Family Office, SWF, Pension Fund, etc. Lots of places want solid skills but often don’t have the budget that big AM firms have. Nearly everyone will have an non-technical background, so they’ll look to you to lead on technical projects and thoughts. If you can explain technical stuff to people in a non-douche and down-to-earth way, i’m sure you can move up pretty quick.

A2) Keep on developing your knowledge with MOOC, and jump ship when you see another opportunity, much like the Harvard Management Company guys did (i.e forming Convexity Capita, Adage Capital, Highfield Capital, etc).

B) Go to another industry.

Good luck.

Destroyer - thank you very much for your explanation. I sincerely appreciate you going through that. It is kind of frustrating to me, because I feel like I had discounted that sort of explanation as too simple or obvious and was looking for something more complex. Maybe there is, in fact, more to it and this was just a great intro? Maybe I just need to perform better in interviews and explain things even if they seem obvious to me …

BiPolar - Thank you for your insights as well. I already have accomplished your step A1. I’m in a family office and I work with (I’m trying not to use the word idiots) people that have difficulty understanding some of the concepts from junior high school level mathematics. For example, I can not use the term “y-axis” to describe the vertical axis on a 2D plot because that is not understood. BUT I need to do what you said in step A2 (or just move to step B, which I consider every day).

Will post back - thanks again to everyone who offered advice.