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Careers in academia suddenly look alluring

Peter Hahn, a former Citigroup managing director turned PhD student at Cass, says he’s being approached by a lot of financiers who want to sound out the viability of a career change: “I’m getting regular calls from people working in the City – bankers, central bankers, regulators, you name it – who are interested in moving into academia.”

Hahn advises his callers to start by studying a PhD. He also points out that academic life doesn’t suit everyone: “You need to be able to substantially downshift your income expectations and to appreciate that you are, in effect, starting again – you may have been an MD in a bank, but as a PhD student you’ll be a junior faculty member amongst people who outrank you, but who have less experience than you do.”

Academics are paid a fraction of bankers’ pay, but they can supplement their salary with a spot of consulting on the side. Hahn puts pay for faculty at top US business schools between $200k and $300k; in Europe it’s likely to be at the $150k level.

Predictably, banking superstars favour the biggest academic jobs. Goldman’s head of US asset management has quit to become EVP of Harvard University; Frank Yeary is retiring as global head of M&A at Citigroup to become Vice Chancellor at Berkeley; and Richard Gillingwater, former chairman of European investment banking at Credit Suisse, has reinvented himself as Dean of Cass Business School.

Heather Macgregor, a visiting professor at Cass Business School and former banker at ABN AMRO, says a full-time career in academia is a good “final-stage career option”.

But she cautions against it for anyone who still enjoys the thrill of the chase: “Don’t forget that academia is about research, teaching and consulting. That means you won’t be doing deals any more. If you want to do deals and make profits, it’s not for you.”

Comments (4)

  1. Final stage!! For a junior who has a PhD, a research fellowship for 1, 2 or 3 years could be a good resting place until hiring gets back into gear in London. A few more papers couldn’t hurt the job prospects now could it??

    Do people agree?? From the bleak outlook I always hear on this site, all I can see now are thousands and thousands of bankers, quants etc who have experience playing for the few jobs left, kinda leaves people like me who are just entering out of it a bit.

    If a fellowship comes up, should a PhD grad take it or keep looking in the city??

  2. I tend to concur with Heather’s caveat. Having been a parttime professor for most of my career now (next to my professional career in finance), I can only conclude that being a professor makes me a better professional and being a professional makes me a better academic. Going fulltime in academics would mean losing certain skills that are highly appreciated in practice but they also make you a better academic. So becoming a fulltime academic is much more a final choice than you would think- and 4 years of PhD studies is then a very high sunk cost.

  3. I used to be academia, did about 10 yrs there, got a PhD from a top UK University, published numerous papers in highly reputable journals. Then jumped ship to become an investment banker. Doing a very decent career here. Never regretted a second having changed my life so dramatically. Unfortunately, in my academc field going back is hardly an option as you rapidly lose the touch once you quite, so I am not thinking about ever going back. The only thing I am missing from those years is free evenings and weekends :)

  4. I was a postdoc, turned into a quant at 32. I must say I was intrigued by the aura of being a quant, living in the big smoke, crunching numbers … that would (at last!) give me some money and to a certain extent.
    In academia, if you are on the right path as I was there is one thing though: your boss/mentor/supervisor/senior scientist is smarter than you are. It means you are learning, and you learn how to create new science. In the City, you will soon realise that you can be much smarter than the people around you. You might get paid more, but the learning stops once you get there. Try having ideas, it’s going to be a nightmare believe me even if they make perfect sense….

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