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Goldman Sachs Hires Particle Physicist From The Large Hadron Collider

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Forget a PhD from Imperial College or the doctoral programme in finance at Wharton – the hottest people in quantitative finance come from the world’s most powerful particle accelerator at CERN in Switzerland. In fact, Goldman Sachs has just hired one of them.

Ryan Buckingham, a particle physicist with a PhD from Oxford University, spent three and a half years at CERN before joining Goldman Sachs in London as an associate in the credit and mortgage structuring team earlier this month. He declined to speak to us and Goldman didn’t return our request for comment, but it seems that the path from CERN to investment banking is a well trodden one.

“CERN is the place to find top PhDs in physical sciences and computing,” said Dominic Connor, head of quantitative finance recruitment firm P&D Quant Recruitment. “Working at CERN is one step up from having any old PhD. There a lot of people who have doctoral degrees, but you know that if someone has worked at CERN they will be very good indeed.”

Buckingham isn’t the only CERN alumni working in finance. Alexey Afonin, a vice president in strats and modelling at Morgan Stanley used to work there too. So did Anne Richards, the chief investment officer at Aberdeen Asset Management. So did Nikolaos Prezas, a quantitative researcher at J.P. Morgan and plenty of others. Most people seem to work at CERN early in their careers, and then move into finance.

We asked CERN whether it has a problem with losing staff to the financial services industry and we didn’t get a response. CERN’s own recruitment website, showing a relaxed man with a goatee beard riding a bicycle through bucolic Swiss countryside, makes you wonder why anyone would ever leave to work in an investment bank. However, one ex-CERN employee turned banker said working on the Large Hadron Collider isn’t as exciting as you might think.

“CERN can be a very interesting place to work with a lot of cultural diversity, but it’s also highly political and very bureaucratic,” said the ex-scientist turned bank technologist, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Basically, you’re a high level international civil servant – a fonctionnaire. And a lot of the jobs are quite boring.”

He added that the big plus about CERN is the fact that the international fonctionnaires who work there receive tax free salaries and generous allowances for schooling their children. The big minus about working for CERN is that most people are employed on short term contracts lasting no more than five years. Thereafter, CERN employees must apply for a highly sought after ‘indefinite contract’. Few succeed.

“As far as I could see, only 10-20% of people got an indefinite contract at CERN and they were almost all French,” said the ex-CERN employee turned banker whom we spoke to. “I always received excellent appraisals and was suddenly told I wasn’t good enough,” he added.

He said a lot of ex-CERN employees move into banking because they’ve done their time on the collider and need something else to do when a permanent contract isn’t available. However, there is no indication that this happened to any of the finance professionals named above, and it seems that a move to a large international financial centre can in any case provide welcome respite to years living in Geneva or the Swiss-French countryside. “CERN is a bit of a weird place,” said the ex-CERN banker we spoke to, “- it’s very insular and incredibly competitive.” Not like banking at all then.

What chance does any government, NGO, quango have to catch these banks STEALING when you've got the world's most enlightened mathematicians and physicists being head hunted by the vampire squid; creating mechanics of wealth extraction via advanced algorithms and state machines?

None.

Fvcking shameful waste of talent.

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What chance does any government, NGO, quango have to catch these banks STEALING when you've got the world's most enlightened mathematicians and physicists being head hunted by the vampire squid; creating mechanics of wealth extraction via advanced algorithms and state machines?

None.

Fvcking shameful waste of talent.

+1

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"And a lot of the jobs are quite boring."

Ha, if he thinks this about CERN just wait until he starts working in banking. I know quite a few quants analysts - they don't work on anything remotely as challenging as the work he will have been doing at CERN. The job is mundane and dull.

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cant blow up the world at Cern?

then try banking....theyve nearly succeeded....twice...

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"And a lot of the jobs are quite boring."

Ha, if he thinks this about CERN just wait until he starts working in banking. I know quite a few quants analysts - they don't work on anything remotely as challenging as the work he will have been doing at CERN. The job is mundane and dull.

The job at CERN may have involved a great deal of bureaucracy and middle-management, with the science being done by academics from elsewhere (possibly on secondment), and the technology by contractors.

(An observation based on having spent several years working at two international scientific institutions - as a contractor in both cases).

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"And a lot of the jobs are quite boring."

Ha, if he thinks this about CERN just wait until he starts working in banking. I know quite a few quants analysts - they don't work on anything remotely as challenging as the work he will have been doing at CERN. The job is mundane and dull.

But the money, cocaine and hookers more than makes up for it!

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What chance does any government, NGO, quango have to catch these banks STEALING when you've got the world's most enlightened mathematicians and physicists being head hunted by the vampire squid; creating mechanics of wealth extraction via advanced algorithms and state machines?

None.

Fvcking shameful waste of talent.

He might turn GS into a blackhole if he isn't careful though.

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They do this to try to create an illusionary association between their staff's intelligence and their profits, and nothing to do with corruption.

Edited by cica

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Colleague's son got an Oxford first in physics. Walked straight into well-paid job in a Yank Bank. Thing is, he's hardly typical, not at all interested in clothes or cars or 'stuff' (girlfriend is the same, they're both academics at heart) - he doesn't like the work and would far rather being doing research, but feels he needs to accumulate some cash while he can.

Colleague is pretty sure he will jack it in eventually and go back to academia.

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Looks like they're on a collision course of some sort.

They must be hoping they're more successful than the the maths "experts" involved in all the derivative thingies, the experts that forgot to make allowance for people in debt sometimes not being able to pay.

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The big minus about working for CERN is that most people are employed on short term contracts lasting no more than five years.

There's short term and there's short term. In the UK that's almost permanent - public sector aside that is.

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Shouldn't take him long to find the black hole.

:lol:

It might make sense in a way- employing someone who specialise in the field of finding the Infinitesimally small.

Assuming he is going to be joining their ethics and standards committee. ;)

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What chance does any government, NGO, quango have to catch these banks STEALING when you've got the world's most enlightened mathematicians and physicists being head hunted by the vampire squid; creating mechanics of wealth extraction via advanced algorithms and state machines?

None.

Fvcking shameful waste of talent.

Given banking fraud has been proven on here by a handful of wacky internet ne'er do wells only about 8 billion times, it's not catching them that is the issue.

The issue is a lack of wanting to prosecute them even though even your average 5 year old knows they are all thieves.

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Colleague's son got an Oxford first in physics. Walked straight into well-paid job in a Yank Bank. Thing is, he's hardly typical, not at all interested in clothes or cars or 'stuff' (girlfriend is the same, they're both academics at heart) - he doesn't like the work and would far rather being doing research, but feels he needs to accumulate some cash while he can.

Colleague is pretty sure he will jack it in eventually and go back to academia.

Exactly why quite a lot of geeky and academic types end up in the industry. Instead of working for 10 years doing something else, you can work for 3-5 years and do whatever you want for the remainder.

Alternatively it's one of the very few ways you can afford to buy a nice house and be able to raise a family in Greater London without saving until you're about 40.

Edited by jcpricewatcher

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Exactly why quite a lot of geeky and academic types end up in the industry. Instead of working for 10 years doing something else, you can work for 3-5 years and do whatever you want for the remainder.

Alternatively it's one of the very few ways you can afford to buy a nice house and be able to raise a family in Greater London without saving until you're about 40.

Bingo.

Jobserve today is showing Quant roles in the £600-£900 per day bracket. Rent a small flat, get your head down and work hard for 5-10 years, then leave the smoke behind you and buy a house - cash - outside of the SE. That would leave most of these folks in their mid-30s and sorted.

Then back to research for the rest of your life, if that's what floats your boat.

Ps. Just don't get married and have kids and settle in London! :)

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cant blow up the world at Cern?

then try banking....theyve nearly succeeded....twice...

Historically bankers have been at it since they "invented" themselves

even back in "biblical times" - they got several "mentions" in the bible

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Bingo.

Jobserve today is showing Quant roles in the £600-£900 per day bracket. Rent a small flat, get your head down and work hard for 5-10 years, then leave the smoke behind you and buy a house - cash - outside of the SE. That would leave most of these folks in their mid-30s and sorted.

Then back to research for the rest of your life, if that's what floats your boat.

Ps. Just don't get married and have kids and settle in London! :)

That's the sort of idea I had in mind when I first moved to London over 10 years ago (taking a London pay premium).

Oops on the last bit though!.... Has completely negated any of my original plans... So you're completely right!

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In my previous job I often worked in collaboration with CERN and other particle physics labs. A good friend had completed his PhD whilst working at CERN. He told me that every year there are approximately 100 PhD students, when they complete their PhD there are normally about 10 fellowship vacancies which are short term contracts normally limited to 3 years. Akin to a post doctorate position in the UK. Every year there might be 1 permanent position. Although the numbers change from year to year the ratios are normally the same. To start with there are 100 people vying for 10 fellowships of which 1 might end up getting a permanent position. It does not lead to constructive atmosphere. Unfortunately with few exceptions the best person out the 100 who start does not get the permanent postion. The problem was made worse with the LHC, the construction overran and lots of people were coming to the end of their second fixed term contracts. An employee is only allowed two fixed term contracts after that they need to find a permanent position or leave. This meant that lots of people who ordinarily would not get a permanent positon did if they were critical to getting the LHC finished.

The money and the lifestyle is good, an engineer or a physicist will be earning atleast €60k tax free. Even with the high cost of living in Geneva it is still far better than the UK equivalent. I'm not sure it could compete with a Goldman Sachs salary though.

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