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4 Oddly Popular PhD Careers In Finance And Business

PhDs in the sciences and humanities are not qualified to work in finance or business.

At least that’s what I thought.

That was until I started hearing more of my former colleagues talk about their transition into consulting and financial service roles.

These were people who specialized in very niche areas of science. I was surprised to learn that their skills were needed in the financial and business sectors of industry.

What can a PhD in the sciences or humanities possibly contribute to finance and business?

As always, it comes down to your transferable skills.

These sectors are seeking highly educated professionals who can analyze large datasets, derive feasible solutions, detect potential anomalies, identify risk factors, and make predictions based on preexisting information.

And who is better suited for this job description, other than a PhD?

In finance and business, you get to see the direct impact of your work, and many PhDs find careers that are both challenging and rewarding.

One Cheeky Scientist member recently described how happy she is in her role as a Healthcare Management Consultant:

“I’m happy to announce that I was recently promoted from Associate Consultant to Consultant!

During my PhD, I never considered myself an expert in anything, but in my role now, I’m considered an expert in data modeling.

I find it so satisfying to contribute to such a range of assignments that have immediate impact.

The great thing about consulting is that there are so many different places to go from here. The work is fascinating and exciting!”

Today, I’ll discuss a few of the many opportunities that PhDs have in the financial and business sectors of industry.

PhDs Are Needed In Finance And Business

Finance and business are risky areas of industry.

One only has to consider the 2008 financial crisis to understand this truth. And because of this (and other recent market disruptions), businesses have come to prioritize risk mitigation.

As a result, demand has increased for people who can competently assess and mitigate the inherent risks that come with major business and financial decisions.

That’s why companies are hiring more PhDs.

PhDs are skilled analysts and can offer unique insights into classical financial and business problems.

And jobs in these sectors abound.

Jobs in business development management are expected to grow 8% between 2020 and 2030 and the consulting market is expected to expand, with an estimated growth rate of 14% over the next decade.

Analyst positions in the financial sector are also projected to grow by 6% between 2020 and 2030.

In a finance or business position, PhDs are compensated according to their value.

Financial analysts make an average of $108,000 annually while someone in business can expect to make anywhere from $98,000 to $120,000 per year.

PhD Positions In Finance And Business

There’s an array of career trajectories that PhDs can pursue in finance and business. You just have to decide which is best for you.

Jobs in finance and business are generally in-house, data-driven, and lean towards the commercial side of operations.

If this aligns with the job qualities you seek, then read further to learn more about the exciting roles that finance and business can offer you.

1. Finance positions 

While people with a background in finance or economics have historically dominated financial positions, now, many companies are hiring PhDs into these roles. 

That’s because as technology becomes a dominant force in industry, financial companies are looking for people with a diverse skillset beyond just finance.

Science PhDs are particularly sought after by institutes that work with biotech and biopharma companies – they need people that understand the industry and can make sense of the science-based data.

So, if you love working with numbers and large datasets, have a strong background in analytics, statistics, or computational modeling, you may find a career in financial services highly rewarding.

Institutions that hire PhDs include investment banks, asset managers, hedge funds, private equity firms, and insurance companies.

Two roles that PhDs are hired into are: equity research analyst and quantitative analyst.

Equity research analyst

All investors in publicly traded companies want to know how much a company is worth. That’s the job of an equity research analyst.

Equity research analysts predict whether a company’s stock will go up or down. They’re the fortune tellers of the finance world. 

In this role, you’d be working for a financial institute, assessing business prospects, and determining whether a company is a “buy” or “sell.”  

Equity research analysts distill large amounts of data derived from key opinion leaders in medicine, intellectual property, and government – all to determine a company’s future profit potential.

Take a biopharma client, for example.

To determine the success of a drug product, an analyst is playing a game of odds.

What are the odds that the clinical trials are successful? What are the odds of the drug being approved? What are the odds that this drug will be a successful competitor in today’s market?

To a financial specialist, the goods produced by a pharmaceutical company (ie, drugs) may not be much different than the goods that are produced by a shoe company. To them, a product is a product.

That’s where your expertise has value.

Your scientific knowledge, your ability to identify feasible projects (or products), and your ability to condense a large amount of information into tangible results are all valued in finance.

Quantitative analyst

Any decision a business makes comes with its own unique set of challenges and risks. This is where quantitative analysts can help.

In short, quantitative analysts help companies with their business and financial decisions – identifying profitable investments and mitigating risks.

What’s the risk of this decision (eg, investment)? How likely is this a bad investment? Will this investment pay off and when?

These are questions you’d need to answer.

Quantitative analysts, also known as “quants,” are particularly revered in the trading world.

Long gone are the days of traders running frantically around the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Most companies now use electronic trading algorithms.

As a quant, you’d be programming the algorithms that buy and sell shares when prices hit a value predetermined as profitable.

These trading algorithms are the brawn, while quants are the brains behind the operation.

Quants also work in banking and insurance.

Quants help banks valuate their securities (stocks, bonds), identify profitable investment opportunities, and identify the risks and rewards of an investment. In insurance, quants help develop risk evaluation strategies and pricing models.

As with equity research analysts, PhDs have a competitive advantage thanks to their ability to process complex information, their analytical skills, and their ability to adapt to ever-evolving environments.

2. Business positions

While MBAs have historically monopolized business positions, nowadays, PhDs are increasingly hired into these roles.

That’s because PhDs have strong technical backgrounds and are used to solving complex problems.

If you’re a problem-solver at heart and are interested in solving classical business problems, you’ll be at home in business.

And there are plenty of positions for PhDs.

Two such positions are: business development manager and management consultant.

Business development manager

Business development is a highly collaborative client-facing area of business.

Business development managers work in cross-functional teams alongside sales and marketing, product development, R&D, operations, and finance. They also communicate directly with stakeholders and external clients.

Their goal is to grow the business by increasing revenue and profitability through strategic partnership.

They develop business strategies, identify new business opportunities, and maintain strong partnerships with existing clients.

Other responsibilities of a business development manager include preparing and presenting sales presentations, communicating new products to prospective clients, and overseeing the development of marketing content.

You may also be involved in business mergers and acquisitions or in a company restructuring.

In business development, the clients are frequently other businesses or large institutions. This includes large hospitals, universities, and/or other pharma and biotech companies.

Part of the job also entails taking new goods from a simple pitch to a completed business deal.

This means that strong communication skills, a solid business acumen, and a knack for negotiation are needed to succeed in business development.

As a PhD, your ability to devise detailed plans, create feasible strategies, and foster long-term collaborations make you well-suited for a position in business development.

Management consultant

Among PhDs, consulting is one of the most popular positions in business.

Consulting firms are hired to identify business pain-points, perform analyses that help find solutions, and help businesses implement the proposed plans.

In short, management consultants look to provide solutions for the client’s business needs.

While the scope of work can vary, core responsibilities include strategy development, largescale implementation, process optimization, change management, and introduction of new technologies.

The tasks of a consultant will vary depending on the business need, but most involve intensive data and financial analyses.

Consultants are also expected to contribute to the firm’s industry knowledge; they’re responsible for tracking changes in the industry and determining how such changes impact the client.

Like the job of a financial analyst, a consultant’s priority is to mitigate risk for their client.

A successful consultant can assess broad market trends, analyze data, and become a subject matter expert in their area of business.

PhDs have a competitive edge over other candidates because they can take a complicated problem, identify potential solutions, and clearly present their findings, all while under pressure.

Business moves fast and they need people who can think on their feet.

Concluding Remarks

Finance and business offer PhDs a wide range of exciting positions. If you want to work behind the scenes, love working with numbers, and enjoy the fast pace of the stock market, then you may find working in finance as an equity research or quantitative analyst a good fit for you. If, however, you’d prefer a more client-facing role, then a career in business development or management consulting may be a better fit. These positions lean towards the commercial side of industry and require strong analytical skills, the ability to solve complex problems, and communicate solutions in a clear and concise manner. Many PhDs have found fulfilling careers in either finance or business, and you can too, no matter your background.

If you’re ready to start your transition into industry, you can apply to book a free Transition Call with our founder Isaiah Hankel, PhD or one of our Transition Specialists. Apply to book a Transition Call here.

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Dr. Isaiah Hankel is the Founder and CEO of Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by millions of PhDs and other professionals in hundreds of different countries. He has helped PhDs transition into top companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Intel, Dow Chemical, BASF, Merck, Genentech, Home Depot, Nestle, Hilton, SpaceX, Tesla, Syngenta, the CDC, UN and Ford Foundation.

Dr. Hankel has published 3X bestselling books and his latest book, The Power of a PhD, debuted on the Barnes & Noble bestseller list. His methods for getting PhDs hired have been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Nature, Forbes, The Guardian, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine and Success Magazine.

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

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