Financial analysts are the folks that figure out how much something (such as a company, a research project, or a new product) is worth. As you can imagine, there's a lot of demand for this kind of person, given that our whole society seems centered around financial worth--we're all reliant on the stock market for our retirement, cures to diseases only happen if they increase shareholder value, and the latest murder has been replaced by the latest merger on the front page of every major newspaper on the planet.
As a lowly scientist, stuck in a lab somewhere, you may be rather disgruntled at this whole state of affairs. How can someone that understands money be more valuable to society than you are? Don't people understand that it takes products to create wealth? That the laser and the polio vaccine weren't invented by some finance jock?
Well, today is your day.
It seems that, in today's world, the process figuring out of how much something is worth is a whole lot more complicated than it used to be. Products, science, and hard-core math seem to get in the way. Which paves the way for folks like us. The folks that are trying to figure out what something is worth can't do it without understanding what that something is, most of the time. And in a stock market that is driven by technology stocks, and a financial market that is becoming more and more reliant on complex mathematics to determine opportunities, scientists are being hired in droves.
The generic title "financial analyst" covers many different jobs, all doing pretty much the same thing. People, like Rob Attwell are working in the pharmaceutical industry. They're figuring out what a new research project is worth. Or how much a possible acquisition target is worth (just read up on all the mergers that have been going on lately in pharma, and you'll understand why companies need financial analysts "in house").
People are also being hired quite frequently to work as industry analysts at merchant banks or investment banks. These people will typically have IT or biotech expertise and will be able to understand, and explain the nature of, highly technology-dependent companies such as baby biotechs or wireless startups. Deepa Pakianathan explains his path to becoming a biotech analyst at Genesys Merchant Bank, in an article written by Cynthia Robbins-Roth.
As well, there seems to be an awful lot of demand for people with high-level math skills on Wall Street. These people are being hired, as financial analysts, not because they can understand companies better than anyone else, but because they can build models to analyze trends. And who better at building models to explain the unexplainable than physicists? So naturally there have been a lot of opportunities for physicists and other higher-math beings. Chris Attfield, Paul Wilmott, and Mark Staley discuss their transitions to various hard-core math analytical jobs on Wall Street.
Finally, when there is a market demand, the schools are quick to jump in. Purdue, Warwick, the University of Chicago, and the University of Toronto, among others, all have programs in financial mathematics, tailored for people making the jump from physics or mathematics to an analyst role on Wall Street. So read on...Whatever your field of science, there might be a high-paying career waiting just around the corner!