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Part-time coursework as preparation for PhD


jmeister
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I am interested in getting a PhD from NYU Stern/Columbia GSB in finance/statistics/decision theory at some point in the future.

I have an offer to work as quant at an IB in NYC. I'd like to know if undertaking courses at NYU/Columbia from the PhD curriculum part-time to the extent possible, would

a. Strengthen my application(I have an undergraduate+masters in engineering + some quant experience)

b. If admitted, reduce the time I spend completing the PhD, full-time, to 2-3 years - assuming I manage to do most of the coursework in the curriculum part-time while working.

 

More generally, how could one utilize a few years spent as a quant in NYC to prepare for a business PhD?

 

Apologies if this question has already been asked/answered before - forum search didn't return anything relevant..

 

Thanks!

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I can say that if you take PhD courses and are successful in them, it will definitely help your admissions there or elsewhere. Getting them to let you do this is another story.

 

I can't imagine that it would shorten the time in the actual program beyond the idea that you would be able to produce faster in the dissertation phase.

 

The idea that you could complete all of the curriculum, 2 years of serious full time work, in 2 years while working in IB seems a little naive. Part time PhD's are not really an option, especially at schools of that caliber.

 

The most realistic option that is somewhat like what you have proposed is likely to sit in on seminars and workshops and hopefully get to know a few faculty members. I think that doing this would greatly help your PhD admissions goals.

 

Now, a question that you may hear a lot, why a PHD?

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I think you're underestimating the intensity of the PhD course curriculum at a highly-ranked program. Many students have found it challenging to get through it on a full-time basis, how do you expect to do well part time? Also, how do you plan on taking these courses? The PhD program is extremely expensive for the schools, usually comes to around $40,000 for a year's worth of tuition. That's $80,000 for two years, are you going to be paying for it? Putting that aside, I think it's highly unlikely that they'd let you take PhD courses part-time anyway.

 

If you were able to somehow do that, I think it will strengthen your application, but not in a straightforward way. With top-ranked programs, there are a large number of highly qualified candidates and your preparation is just one among many. Where it'll strengthen your application in my opinion is that it'll allow you to become intimately familiar with their department. This can probably help give you an inside edge compared to the other highly qualified applicants.

 

The PhD program is usually broken down into the following: 1.5 full years of coursework + a second-year paper, culminating in a Master's, then 2 years to focus mainly on dissertation research, followed by job talks and more dissertation work during the fifth year. You can do the arithmetic of subtracting whatever official work you have previously done towards this PhD degree.

 

Again, all of this is hypothetical. Under normal circumstances outsiders are not allowed in the actual PhD courses.

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I think the narrow focus of schools (2) and broad focus of disciplines (3) while attempting to find a way to somehow complete PhD coursework while being a quant at an IB shows a tremendous misunderstanding of what the PhD process is all about.

 

I was similarly naive years ago, so it's not a judgment or an indictment on your ability, but you need to do either/or, and frankly, if the desk quant job is appealing, I would just try and make a career path along those lines. They aren't going to let you register part-time and if you try to do coursework while working the requisite 80+ hour weeks, all you will signal is that you are a high-risk to return to industry with your PhD, at which point they will cease being interested in you.

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Thanks for your reply.

I understand that it's impossible to complete the coursework in 2 years part-time - maybe I'll be able to do 50% of the courses in 2 years, maybe 75% in 3 etc. I'm interested in the option because it seems to be the best way to leverage the pay+location of my quant job to boost admission chances as well as reduce PhD workload.

 

Regarding why Ph.D: I am interested in a research career. I was going to do an applied math PhD right after my engineering degree but decided to "try" out quant finance and found it interesting - derivatives pricing, market microstructure, and statistical modeling in general. It seems natural now to pursue a business PhD in one of these areas.

 

I can say that if you take PhD courses and are successful in them, it will definitely help your admissions there or elsewhere. Getting them to let you do this is another story.

 

I can't imagine that it would shorten the time in the actual program beyond the idea that you would be able to produce faster in the dissertation phase.

 

The idea that you could complete all of the curriculum, 2 years of serious full time work, in 2 years while working in IB seems a little naive. Part time PhD's are not really an option, especially at schools of that caliber.

 

The most realistic option that is somewhat like what you have proposed is likely to sit in on seminars and workshops and hopefully get to know a few faculty members. I think that doing this would greatly help your PhD admissions goals.

 

Now, a question that you may hear a lot, why a PHD?

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Regarding why Ph.D: I am interested in a research career. I was going to do an applied math PhD right after my engineering degree but decided to "try" out quant finance and found it interesting - derivatives pricing, market microstructure, and statistical modeling in general. It seems natural now to pursue a business PhD in one of these areas.

 

If you don't care about going into academia after the PhD, then you should consider an engineering PhD instead. One program that immediately comes to mind is the IEOR department at Columbia. They should be far more open about removing requirements than a equivalently ranked business school. The business PhD is unique in that it's specialized purely for business academia. Therefore much of their training revolves around research and education that heavily favor business-related applications. Also for this reason, the programs requires a special kind of focus of their students that a PhD in science and engineering simply does not need. In my opinion your research interests at the moment are more suited to an IE/OR program with a focus on financial engineering than a business PhD. Many graduates from that program go into the research departments of investment banks, hedge funds, and industrial research labs. If you're not 100% convinced on going into business academia then I suggest that you consider that stream first.

 

Also, if you think that you're supremely talented and absolutely want the shortest length of a PhD (non-business), then you should look into some of the top UK programs. It's still possible to get a 3-year PhD there. It's basically equivalent to skipping the first 2 years of coursework and going directly into dissertation research.

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I think the narrow focus of schools (2) and broad focus of disciplines (3) while attempting to find a way to somehow complete PhD coursework while being a quant at an IB shows a tremendous misunderstanding of what the PhD process is all about.

 

I was similarly naive years ago, so it's not a judgment or an indictment on your ability, but you need to do either/or, and frankly, if the desk quant job is appealing, I would just try and make a career path along those lines. They aren't going to let you register part-time and if you try to do coursework while working the requisite 80+ hour weeks, all you will signal is that you are a high-risk to return to industry with your PhD, at which point they will cease being interested in you.

 

This, so much this. Every word of it.

 

See Indus's quote in my signature.

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I plan to pay for the courses. I could also potentially get my employer to sponsor some of the courses relevant to my job, especially in statistics/econometrics.

 

And yes, it seems I was overestimating the coursework that I could do part-time. Firstly, as you point out, it may be logistically impossible to undertake many of them. The core courses at e.g. Stern's finance PhD program, NYU Stern | Error, are different from the MA ones which are typically offered in the evenings, despite having similar course names: http://econ.as.nyu.edu/object/economics.0812.ma.courseofferings. Secondly, full-time job + PhD level coursework may be too intensive.

 

So at best I could probably do two/three courses per term among the few core + elective courses offered in the evenings.

 

I think you're underestimating the intensity of the PhD course curriculum at a highly-ranked program. Many students have found it challenging to get through it on a full-time basis, how do you expect to do well part time? Also, how do you plan on taking these courses? The PhD program is extremely expensive for the schools, usually comes to around $40,000 for a year's worth of tuition. That's $80,000 for two years, are you going to be paying for it? Putting that aside, I think it's highly unlikely that they'd let you take PhD courses part-time anyway.

 

If you were able to somehow do that, I think it will strengthen your application, but not in a straightforward way. With top-ranked programs, there are a large number of highly qualified candidates and your preparation is just one among many. Where it'll strengthen your application in my opinion is that it'll allow you to become intimately familiar with their department. This can probably help give you an inside edge compared to the other highly qualified applicants.

 

The PhD program is usually broken down into the following: 1.5 full years of coursework + a second-year paper, culminating in a Master's, then 2 years to focus mainly on dissertation research, followed by job talks and more dissertation work during the fifth year. You can do the arithmetic of subtracting whatever official work you have previously done towards this PhD degree.

 

Again, all of this is hypothetical. Under normal circumstances outsiders are not allowed in the actual PhD courses.

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That is a fair assessment but how about an alternate interpretation of my proposal = I'm really keen on a PhD and am trying to make best use of the job opportunity to prepare for a PhD? Part-time coursework seems much better(cheaper but harder) than other options to boost my application, like a masters degree or a research internship.

 

Mine is a mid-office role, not a desk-quant role, and I'll be working 50-60 hours/week. I do not see myself continuing in this role for long.

 

I think the narrow focus of schools (2) and broad focus of disciplines (3) while attempting to find a way to somehow complete PhD coursework while being a quant at an IB shows a tremendous misunderstanding of what the PhD process is all about.

 

I was similarly naive years ago, so it's not a judgment or an indictment on your ability, but you need to do either/or, and frankly, if the desk quant job is appealing, I would just try and make a career path along those lines. They aren't going to let you register part-time and if you try to do coursework while working the requisite 80+ hour weeks, all you will signal is that you are a high-risk to return to industry with your PhD, at which point they will cease being interested in you.

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That is a fair assessment but how about an alternate interpretation of my proposal = I'm really keen on a PhD and am trying to make best use of the job opportunity to prepare for a PhD? Part-time coursework seems much better(cheaper but harder) than other options to boost my application, like a masters degree or a research internship.

 

Mine is a mid-office role, not a desk-quant role, and I'll be working 50-60 hours/week. I do not see myself continuing in this role for long.

 

If you just want to boost your application, then time is probably best spent reading about the research work of potential supervisors on your own. There's no need to do any part-time coursework. Since you're thinking about applying to Columbia and NYU, I assume that your objective credentials are already top-notch. All that's left is to make sure that you meet the requirements of individual programs and have a perfectly tailored SOP. This means having some quality communication with faculty at Columbia and NYU in your case.

 

Generally speaking, anyone who thinks that they can do anything to cut down the time of a PhD to anything less than 5 years is quite confused. With a business PhD, it's not about how long you spent on it, it's about the quality and quantity of your publications. Finishing in 4 years and being placed in a top-50 school is far worse than finishing in 6 years and being placed in a top-10 school. Even if you are super-well-prepared, you can always take a little longer on your PhD just to ensure the overall quality of your work.

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Columbia has got a MS in Financial Economics program where you will be taking most of your courses along with the Columbia Finance PhD students. It is a really great program. The admission rate is around 3%. Then, you will be paying $120 K tuition to take the same classes which the Columbia Finance PhD students are taking for free. Most importantly, you will go into deep shock when you realize just how smart the Columbia Finance PhD students are. It may demotivate you from doing a PhD at all.
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I agree with the MFE idea. Also, http://www.stern.nyu.edu/experience-stern/about/departments-centers-initiatives/academic-departments/finance/Events/seminar-series/

 

You have a time and location to show up to some workshops if you want. I don't know about stearn, but at my school it would be acceptable for someone like yourself to just show up and not interrupt. You could use this opportunity to talk to some of their faculty or PhD students face to face. You seem to have the social ability to judge how to do this.

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