Career crossroads

ssr

New Member
#1
Hello everyone,

I was wondering if anyone could offer me some advice. I'm kind of in limbo as to what to do career-wise.

A little background first..

I graduated in 2002 with a BSc from the University of Toronto, majoring in Actuarial Science and minoring in Applied Statistics. I've always had a general inkling for math and numbers but never really liked studying so I pretty much got through university doing the bare minimum to pass but never really trying to excel. As a result, my grades were not great.

Since then, I've worked in the capital markets industry (hedge fund, then brokerage) doing rudimentary spreadsheet work on excel, while learning how to trade. I've never really applied anything I learned in school onto any job I've had though.

I really haven't had a steady job in a couple of years now and was thinking of applying for a Masters program in Statistics. I know that sounds completely counter-intuitive to everything I just wrote above but I feel as though my quantitative nature should be part of my professional life. With my work background, a job as a quant trader/analyst might be in the cards for me if I were to obtain a graduate degree and learn some programming (of which I know none). Then again, I'm not sure if I'll even like it. I think I'd prefer a career that involved some bit of travelling and not having to sit in front of a computer all day.

I've considered many different avenues. The business analytics field also intrigues me because I've been reading that its the wave of the future and you need a math/stats background to progress.

So, in short:

1) If I were to go back to school, will I even get in to a Masters program with a bad GPA? If I do, will I be able to complete it while admittedly barely remembering anything about what I learned over a decade ago...in courses that I passed, but did not do well in? Or should I take refresher courses (which?) to get up to speed, and improve marks? I'd prefer to start a Masters sooner rather than later obviously, being in my mid-30s.

2) If I were to keep looking for work, what are some options and where? I'm in Toronto right now. I've applied to a few places, with no luck. Perhaps some computer programming languages are what I need to learn. If so, which one would be a good place to start?

Essentially I just want to have an end goal in place so I can figure out how to reach it. The basics are similar to most people, I would assume. Make enough money to not have to worry about it. And enjoy what I do for a living, without it consuming me.

Perhaps if some people share their experiences, job and education-wise, it may help.

Thanks.
 
Last edited:

noetsi

Fortran must die
#2
I've never really applied anything I learned in school onto any job I've had though.
I would guess that could be said of 95 to 99 percent of students. I have four graduate degrees now and have virtually never used anything I learned in a class to any job. Universities are rarely in the business of teaching job skills.

I don't know the Canadian system, but in the US if you do well on standardized test (the GRE most notably) they will take you in some cases even with a low GPA. I had an awful undergrad GPA and got into a graduate program as a provisional student due to a high GRE score. It helps if you can find someone to reccomend you and to point out that you are better (for example more mature student now than then). It depends in part on how many positions they have relative to demand.

It might be useful if you took courses again and did well on them (assuming they are related to what you want to do in graduate school). I would think this is particularly true in statistics unless you are naturally brillant in that area. It is easy to forget highly technical matters. You might be able to take graduate courses and add them to a program after acceptance - although you don't want to do this if you need to brush up first (bad grades won't impress the admissions office).

There is no way anyone here can tell you what will increase your chances of getting a position. Every labor market is different and what is hot one year may not be the next (this is true of SQL for example which was very hot in the US a decade ago, but somewhat less so I believe now). There are employment agencies, private and public, that track what is hot - you might ask them.

Making money as a goal is not why most go into stats I would assume:p People are generally good at what they enjoy and stats and computer science are for most not easy to learn.
 

Mean Joe

TS Contributor
#3
Interesting that you majored in Actuarial Science, but never became an actuary? What do you like to do? If there are sports you like to play...

Let's take baseball as an example. There seems to have been a surge of statisticians getting jobs on professional baseball teams. Essentially, sports teams are taking an interest in gathering more kinds of data, beyond the simple counting up RBIs, goals, etc. And now organizations are looking for people with a statistics bent, not just people who have spent their lives playing the sport.

Applied statistics even goes to animal research (eg fisheries/conservation).

Everyone's gathering more kinds of data. You mentioned business analytics; do you have interest in business? Or did you just read an intriguing article about the field?

You may be able to show someone that you know something that could help them.

You know that you don't need to go to school to get a job? If you are interested in business analytics, you could hook up with a company and learn on the job (especially if it is an emerging field). If you know what you want to do, you don't need a degree to show/say that you know your stuff. Although it helps.
 

Mean Joe

TS Contributor
#4
Perhaps some computer programming languages are what I need to learn. If so, which one would be a good place to start?
C is a good language, and Java is related to it. You can find free online courses (eg Coursera) that will teach some coding.
You may not get to use C/Java for your job, but the key is that once you learn one language then you can learn others more easily.
 

spunky

Doesn't actually exist
#5
hello there! Canadian here too (West Coast, Vancouver)... my 2 cents:

1) If I were to go back to school, will I even get in to a Masters program with a bad GPA? If I do, will I be able to complete it while admittedly barely remembering anything about what I learned over a decade ago...in courses that I passed, but did not do well in? Or should I take refresher courses (which?) to get up to speed, and improve marks? I'd prefer to start a Masters sooner rather than later obviously, being in my mid-30s.
if you're aiming at an MSc, you should DEFINITELY take refresher courses. particularly if you're applying to any of the top 3: UoT (your area), UBC (where I am at) or McGill. if you're aiming for something that's not so heavy on theory you *might* be able to get by but keep in mind programs are usually quite competitive. as an example from UBC, this year we had close to 300 applicants for only 8 places. and UoT is supposedly more prestigious than UBC.

2) If I were to keep looking for work, what are some options and where? I'm in Toronto right now. I've applied to a few places, with no luck. Perhaps some computer programming languages are what I need to learn. If so, which one would be a good place to start?
in all honesty, if you're finding no luck in Toronto i'd say your only two options left would be Alberta (the oil industry is indeed creating a lot of new jobs) or just head down to the U.S.
 

ssr

New Member
#6
I would guess that could be said of 95 to 99 percent of students. I have four graduate degrees now and have virtually never used anything I learned in a class to any job. Universities are rarely in the business of teaching job skills.

I don't know the Canadian system, but in the US if you do well on standardized test (the GRE most notably) they will take you in some cases even with a low GPA. I had an awful undergrad GPA and got into a graduate program as a provisional student due to a high GRE score. It helps if you can find someone to reccomend you and to point out that you are better (for example more mature student now than then). It depends in part on how many positions they have relative to demand.

It might be useful if you took courses again and did well on them (assuming they are related to what you want to do in graduate school). I would think this is particularly true in statistics unless you are naturally brillant in that area. It is easy to forget highly technical matters. You might be able to take graduate courses and add them to a program after acceptance - although you don't want to do this if you need to brush up first (bad grades won't impress the admissions office).

There is no way anyone here can tell you what will increase your chances of getting a position. Every labor market is different and what is hot one year may not be the next (this is true of SQL for example which was very hot in the US a decade ago, but somewhat less so I believe now). There are employment agencies, private and public, that track what is hot - you might ask them.

Making money as a goal is not why most go into stats I would assume:p People are generally good at what they enjoy and stats and computer science are for most not easy to learn.
Thanks for your reply noetsi.

Four grad degrees after having a bad undergrad GPA...wow. That actually gives me hope.

I think you're right in that I would have to brush up on some courses. I was good at math and stats all the way up to university without really trying, and as such, picked up really bad study habits. Everything pretty much came naturally to me up to that point. I did okay in first year calculus, but I struggled the rest of the way from 2nd year on (in math, stats, actuarial science and computer science). Mostly because I was just lazy and didn't put forth an effort to learn the material. I did the bare minimum to get by, and I've regretted it ever since. I just have this feeling that I have the brain for this area of study and it would be a waste if I didn't try to do something about it, and actually put forth an honest effort in doing so.

At this point, if I felt confident in my ability to start and complete a Masters program, I think I would do it. But I'm a bit gun shy because of how little I think I'm prepared for it. Part of that is because I've been out of school for over a decade, but mostly its because I don't think I've absorbed anything from 2nd year on. Ideally, I would like to start in September, if I go the school route, but that's under the assumption I can even get in to a decent school.

I've also heard from some people that course work in Master's programs are not necessarily as difficult to do well in because the school will help you try to pass moreso than they would if you were in undergrad. Meaning, its in their best interest to graduate you. I'm almost embarrassed to ask...is that true?

As for money, of course it would be great if I became a multi-millionaire, but like I stated, my goal is really two-fold. One, to enjoy what I do for a living, and two, to make enough money where I don't have to worry about finances.
 

ssr

New Member
#7
Interesting that you majored in Actuarial Science, but never became an actuary? What do you like to do? If there are sports you like to play...

Let's take baseball as an example. There seems to have been a surge of statisticians getting jobs on professional baseball teams. Essentially, sports teams are taking an interest in gathering more kinds of data, beyond the simple counting up RBIs, goals, etc. And now organizations are looking for people with a statistics bent, not just people who have spent their lives playing the sport.

Applied statistics even goes to animal research (eg fisheries/conservation).

Everyone's gathering more kinds of data. You mentioned business analytics; do you have interest in business? Or did you just read an intriguing article about the field?

You may be able to show someone that you know something that could help them.

You know that you don't need to go to school to get a job? If you are interested in business analytics, you could hook up with a company and learn on the job (especially if it is an emerging field). If you know what you want to do, you don't need a degree to show/say that you know your stuff. Although it helps.
C is a good language, and Java is related to it. You can find free online courses (eg Coursera) that will teach some coding.
You may not get to use C/Java for your job, but the key is that once you learn one language then you can learn others more easily.
Thanks for your reply Mean Joe.

That's funny that you would mention sports. I actually do love sports and think it would be quite fascinating to work for a sports organization. I just think those jobs are so few and far between that they only take the best of the best. And me, having just a BSc with no relative statistical modelling experience and not having any relationships in that field...I think it would be incredibly difficult to get a foot in the door. Also, I'm not very knowledgeable in terms of what that job would entail, so its quite possible that I wouldn't like it. But that's definitely something I would love to try, because in fairness, I'm not knowledgeable on any type of stats-related job actually.

As for business analytics, I have no experience in that field either. I had just read some articles, yes. They stated that those who are generally good numbers-oriented people do well in that area. And that it is a burgeoning industry. It was more of putting two and two together for me.

And about hooking up with a company and learning on the job...I wish it was that easy! I haven't been able to even get an interview. I will have to learn SQL at the very least, and like you stated, I believe learning Java (which I had a hell of a time with in undergrad) is something I should learn too.
 

ssr

New Member
#8
hello there! Canadian here too (West Coast, Vancouver)... my 2 cents:



if you're aiming at an MSc, you should DEFINITELY take refresher courses. particularly if you're applying to any of the top 3: UoT (your area), UBC (where I am at) or McGill. if you're aiming for something that's not so heavy on theory you *might* be able to get by but keep in mind programs are usually quite competitive. as an example from UBC, this year we had close to 300 applicants for only 8 places. and UoT is supposedly more prestigious than UBC.



in all honesty, if you're finding no luck in Toronto i'd say your only two options left would be Alberta (the oil industry is indeed creating a lot of new jobs) or just head down to the U.S.
And thanks for your reply too spunky.

I think you're right about the refresher courses. Its pretty much a necessity. Which courses would you recommend? Assuming that I only did well in first year, and also that I've pretty much forgotten everything since. Almost feels as though I need to redo my whole undergrad degree.
 

spunky

Doesn't actually exist
#9
Almost feels as though I need to redo my whole undergrad degree.
well... I think you're kinda right there. I was about to compile a list of courses but, honestly, the list looks more like your average undergrad course list from any Statistics program. Did you take real analysis as an undergrad? a 3rd-year course on probability theory and another one on mathematical statistics are must-haves. and multivariate statistics, regression and design of experiments.

the other thing is that I know both UoT and UBC are HEAVY on programming in R, so you becoming comfortable with it right now would help a lot.

at least for Canadian universities, please keep in mind that what gets you in the program are good grades + good references. the GRE is almost never required... which is what worries me about your situation, since your grades will play a major role in getting accepted and if they're not that great then... :-/

the UBC website has a pretty good overview of what they consider the bare essentials to be a potential candidate.

Quote:

Required Academic Background/Checklist for Admission

"The Admissions Committee has outlined the following requirements for admission,
• introductory courses in statistics and in probability;
• course in statistical inference;
• course in regression analysis;
• at least 3 of the following courses: introductory stochastic processes, 4th year probability, mathematical statistics, design of experiments;
• preferably two other 3rd or 4th year courses in statistics or computer science.

Recommended Background

Admission success depends a lot on excellent grades and a good selection in undergraduate courses in areas most relevant to graduate courses in statistics.
• Mathematics: minimally, calculus (differentiation, integration, multivariable), linear algebra, advanced calculus (proofs involving limits, continuity etc); in addition, a course in real analysis would be useful as background for more theoretical statistics courses.
• Probability: axioms up to multivariate distributions and limit theorems; stochastic process (could be taken in MSc program).
• Statistics: minimally statistical methods, statistical inference (theory of estimation and hypothesis testing), regression analysis; other useful courses are sample surveys, design of experiments and analysis of variance.
• Computing: programming experience (e.g. C/C++) would be useful background for programming in statistical software such as Splus, R and SAS.

"
 

ssr

New Member
#10
Bump..

Just wanted to see if anyone can add to this discussion. It's been a while and was wondering if anyone had any more insight.

Thanks.