A funds manager explains how his physics PhD helped him to transition into the world of finance and investments.
Ben Peters is an investment director at Evenlode Income, an independent fund-management company in Chipping Norton, UK. He explains how his PhD in physics helped to smooth his transition into the world of finance and investments.
Why did you leave academia?
I enjoyed my PhD programme in nanophysics and wouldn't have been averse to staying in academia. But having to reapply for funding every few years didn't much appeal to me, and halfway through my programme, I became interested in investment management through my brother-in-law, Hugh, whom I now work with. So after graduating in 2008, I moved into this industry.
How has your PhD work helped you in your role as a fund manager?
Mathematical and statistical-analysis skills are highly valued and important in this industry. They helped me to get through the door. I constructed a method for quantitative analysis of companies' financial information, and I use statistical techniques to look at the risk in any investment. I also developed a lot of soft skills by doing research, particularly on collaborative projects. If you're an experimental scientist, as I was, you have to be flexible — you might have to change research directions and all PhD students learn how to organize themselves and react to what is going on — it's a good skill for this field.
What do you enjoy about your job?
I'm finding out how the world works. As a physicist, I was beginning to understand the material world, but this is more about the human and economic worlds. The interactions of people around the globe and what they do and how they create value — I find that fascinating. As a fund manager, I have to figure out how the world works and how it might evolve over time, but also accept the extremely uncertain nature of economic systems. So I have had to develop an investment process that ultimately results in action — making an investment — while knowing that it is a game of tilting the odds, rather than one of certainties.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.