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I am looking for some advice to return to academia around financial math and related branches. I used to be a pure math enthusiast. Back in my school days, I was a competitive mathematician (qualified Japan MO) and programmer which got me interested in the subject initially. I eventually decided to join a local university that didn't require me to gamble away a lot of money on rent, food and some tuition by moving abroad (to Cambridge, in my case). However, in the process, I gambled away my career - I graduated with extremely poor academic performance and I want to restart my career again. My current goal is to get into a graduate (PhD) program but I understand that it won't be easy.

I checked out several Master's programs across the globe and they all are extremely expensive. I was thinking of getting a Master's at a relatively cheaper university in Japan to offset the effect of my grades and then join a PhD program at a good global university. Is that a good idea or should I continue working as a banker (with JP Morgan) in risk and later try to get into Master's/PhD programs? I am slightly unwilling to bank on the former since a small uni is unlikely to have the environment that will allow me to conduct good research.

Please suggest me options that will give me more realistic chances of eventually pursuing a PhD in applied math. Your suggestions will be appreciated. If there's anything you would like to know about me in order to guide better, please ask.

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    Does your employer have a scheme for funding employees through university programmes? A quick web search suggests the answer is probably yes. Apr 20 at 9:46
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    "a small uni is unlikely to have the environment that will allow me to conduct good research" – this entirely depends on the university. Unless your research relies on access to prohibitively expensive computational resources, the environment you need at the Master's level is mainly good researchers in your particular area of interest, and those can certainly be found also in smaller universities. Apr 20 at 9:50
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    @DanielHatton Yes, they fund employees and also allow relocation (someone suggested me to relocate to the US and join an affordable MS program). However, all that is not pragmatically possible given I'm an employee for less than a year. While this may not be true, I also felt that they love funding professional degrees (like CFA) and MBA much more than an MS. Apr 20 at 14:54

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If your past academic performance is poor then a good coursework Masters program will give you the opportunity to reset this, and give you a good platform for later applications for a PhD program. (If your past grades are not good enough for direct entry into a coursework Masters program then you might be able to get into a lower-level postgraduate degree such as a Graduate Diploma and work your way up from there.) Since you already have a plum banking job, you might want to consider part-time study at a nearby university while you continue to work. Here you will need to weight the trade-off between income, cost, living convenience, etc., which is not something we can help you with.

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Not all good universities are expensive. University is largely free in Germany and France, for example.

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  • Thank you Professor Wolfgang for your response. Universities in France and Germany indeed offer extremely affordable (subsidized) courses and despite that, the quality of faculty/equipment is very rich. However, as I said, my GPA is below-average (around 2.5 on a 4.0 scale) and French/German universities, as I hear, are very strict in that regard. Apr 20 at 20:44
  • I am thinking of three options. Which one do think is something I should consider? (1) leave job > get an MS from a good uni in Japan in a related field (since there are no good unis that teach financial math) > join a PhD in a good school (unlikely in financial math) > talk to Professors, work with/under them and take a transfer to the desired PhD program. (2) same as above except to join a mediocre uni in Germany/France since I am unlikely to meet the eligibility criteria for the good unis. (3) Work for a few years, join the research teams, and then directly apply for a pre-doc or a PhD. Apr 20 at 20:49
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    @quant-puzzler This really isn't a very good place to get life advice. We can help with facts. We can't help with your big life choices. Apr 21 at 19:10
  • You're right, I'm sorry for asking that. Could you please tell me what German and French unis focus on while admitting students to their Master's programs, that is, how much they stress on the GPA, research experience, internships, extra-curriculars and other things? Given my GPA is around 2.5 on a 4.0 scale, how do I get into a Master's program in Germany/France? Apr 21 at 20:19
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    @quant-puzzler I don't actually know. I left German more than 20 years ago after my PhD; I've never been in a position to make these decisions. Apr 22 at 3:18
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I used to be a pure math enthusiast. Back in my school days, I was a competitive mathematician (qualified Japan MO) and programmer which got me interested in the subject initially. I eventually decided to join a local university that didn't require me to gamble away a lot of money on rent, food and some tuition by moving abroad (to Cambridge, in my case). However, in the process, I gambled away my career - I graduated with extremely poor academic performance and I want to restart my career again.

Have you considered applying to some PhD programs directly, while explaining this situation? I cannot speak to your specific chances, but to me, your situation seems to show some promise such that some programs might be willing to overlook your academic record. If you can complete some self-study in the meantime (for example, on-line courses, going through textbook exercises, writing reports on some topics of your interest), that could go along way to showing that you are a serious, but non-traditional, student. You may not have to do yet more formal coursework (in a masters program) to show that you are interested in research.

However, you will want to talk to a trusted advisor, if possible, about your chances given your specific university, location, and coursework background. Good luck!

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