Wednesday, February 15, 2006

An interview with Matthew Nobes

Life on the lattice founder Matthew Nobes, now a Quantitative Analyst with a firm in London, England, kindly agreed to give us an e-mail interview. Interviewing him is Life on the lattice's Georg von Hippel.

Georg: While I assume that 'Life on the Lattice' readers will know you, maybe you would like to briefly introduce yourself?

Matt: My name is Matthew Nobes, I grew up in Southern Ontario, and studied undergraduate physics at the University of Waterloo. I did an MSc and PhD at Simon Fraser University (SFU), in Vancouver. Following that I did just over a year of postdoctoral work at Cornell University.

Georg: What brought you into physics originally? And what made you choose to specialize in Lattice QCD?

Matt: I had very good physics teachers at the high school level, which is what got me interested in physics, over another science. As for Lattice QCD, I got into that through my PhD supervisor, Howard Trottier, who was a very inspirational teacher. Howard taught an introductory Quantum Field Theory course my first year at SFU. From that I knew I wanted to work with him. That's how I got started in Lattice QCD.

Georg: Maybe you would like to tell our readers a little about the research you have performed or participated in during your life on the lattice.

Matt: My major focus was on the perturbative improvement of the actions and operators we use in Lattice QCD. In simple terms Lattice QCD is an approximation to the real world, and as such it has errors. One can correct the errors systematically using perturbation theory, however it is quite difficult. My research involved developing methods to streamline and automate these perturbative calculations.

This is a very important thing to be doing, as many of the recent HPQCD results have errors dominated by the lack of perturbation theory results.

Georg: Recently, you have changed careers and locations; now you are working as a Quantitative Analyst in London. What is that kind of work like, and how does it differ from being in a physics department?

Matt: The work is very different than academic physics. For one, the pace is much faster, people expect results on a much quicker time scale. Also, the number of things you have on the go at any one time is larger. In addition the work is far less specialized. I've had to use many skills which I haven't had to use in years.

Georg: Would you say that studying particle physics, and Lattice QCD in particular, was a good preparation for the work you are doing now? And if so, what kind of skills or knowledge acquired on the lattice are you using in your present position?

Matt: I would say yes, it was good preparation. There's lots of numerical analysis tasks in my new work, for which a background in Lattice was very good preparation. In addition, the general theoretical physics training gives one a very good set of tools and methods which can be applied to finance.

Georg: Where do you see yourself in ten years? And where do you see Lattice QCD going in the same timeframe?

Matt: I have no idea where I'll be in ten years :) Happy in a Quant position somewhere, I suppose.

As far as Lattice QCD, I imagine in ten years the field will have moved on quite a bit. Two areas of growth, I think, are into very complex QCD problems. Exploring the boundary of QCD and Nuclear physics, for example. Another area would be Lattice QFT more generally. If the LHC hits upon strongly coupled new physics, the Lattice will prove a valuable tool.

Georg: Do you have any other messages you would like to pass to our readers?

Matt: I hope everybody is well. And a big thanks to you for carrying the blog on very ably.

Georg: It's a pleasure. Matthew, thank you very much for the interview.

Matt: You're welcome, anytime.

7 comments:

PhilipJ said...

Hi Matthew,

How did you make the jump from a post-doc in particle physics to a financial position? Were you just on the lookout for that kind of job, or did your supervisor know someone who knew someone? Either way, that's quite the jump!

Matthew said...

Hi Philip

I was contacted by a headhunter about making the jump. It's actually not as uncommon as you might think. Most of my new coworkers have backgrounds in Physics or Applied Math, often to the PhD level. The skills one learns studying physics is (with some changes of notation) very relevent to how various financial products are modeled.

For anybody interested in learning more, at a somewhat technical level, I can recommend "Options, Futures and Other Derivatives" by Hull.

PhilipJ said...

I had thought (knowing a couple of people who tried to do a similar change of profession) that it was quite challenging these days, but I'm glad to hear that theoretical physicists are still in high demand. Either way, congrats! :)

Anonymous said...

Matt and Georg, thank you for this interview!

Matt, a couple of questions:

Did you have a background/interest in finance before you got contacted by the headhunters?

Were you asked about finance during the interview process, or was knowing probability/statistics and numerics considered enough background?

How did they find you (i.e. did you post your resume somewhere, were they just trying people working in some relevant fields, etc?)

m

Matthew said...


Did you have a background/interest in finance before you got contacted by the headhunters?


Not at all. Apart from knowing that it was something some physicists went into I had no finance knowledge.


Were you asked about finance during the interview process, or was knowing probability/statistics and numerics considered enough background?


A tiny bit, only to the level I claimed I had read up to. Really very basic stuff.


How did they find you (i.e. did you post your resume somewhere, were they just trying people working in some relevant fields, etc?)


What I did, after being contacted by the first headhunter, was to start sending CVs off to any job ad I saw that required a PhD but no finance experiance. These are all handled by headhunters, so your CV gets out there pretty quick.

For those interested, the two sites I used most for job ads were wilmott.com and quantfinancejobs.

Chris Oakley said...

Matt,

I am sorry to read that you are leaving theoretical physics (especially as there will now be no further point in arguing with you about renormalization).

I suspect, though, that you will not regret the move. Instead of just a handful of people being interested in what you do, you will probably now find that a large number of salesmen and traders will take a close interest in your work, which you will probably not find to be that different from what you did before (it consists mainly of solving PDEs). It is generally better to be a cog in a machine. Also, you will now be able to afford somewhere decent to live.

BTW: I disagree about Hull and White. I found William Shaw's book to be more instructive, even though I did not use Mathematica all that much.

Anonymous said...

hi mathhew,
I bitan roy new graduate student of simon fraser university in department of physics want to know something about the researwork of Prof. Howard Trottier