Archive for the ‘Book review’ Category

I finally have a chance to reread the autobiography by Emanuel Derman, about his personal reflections on a physicist turning into a quant. It’s one of the few books out there where scientists write about the struggles between your interests and a reality of job that actually pays. The book consists of three parts: his brilliance in physics but failed to compete, his difficult transition from physics into finance, and his viewpoints on the finance world.

I was 33 years old and halfway through my postdoc; where was this peregrination going to end?…. On the day in 1978 I suddenly found myself flirting with the idea of going to medical school… Physics is a harsh meritocracy. Most of the merit is concentrated in a small number of legendary figures…. if you aren’t Feynman, you’re no one. A competent, but not brilliant, research physicist had little to feel good about; who needs what you provide?

This is exactly what most scientists feel when they are faced with the harsh reality of living, your love to research but end up going through the eternal cycle of post docs if you weren’t good/novel enough. He then described his feelings directly, both shame and pride, of working as a quant in the finance world. Though a true physicist at heart, his roles differ from building applications, supporting traders and tinker models for different financial products. The book also described the history of how Black-Scholes model was emerged for those who have an interest on how model was used in the finance world. The style of writing is casual and informal, which proved very easy to read.

The audiences of this book are really people who want a peek into finance. What interests me was how he sees models in the two worlds. A financial theory, he quoted from Fischer Black, was

a theory is accepted not because it is confirmed by conventional empirical tests, but because persuade one another that the theory is correct and relevant

Sounds like dn/ds model? :p It is almost like bioinformatics, a clash between biology and mathematics…
What interests me the most, is his struggle in academia and difficult transitions to quant. I am finishing my PhD and still at mid twenties, yet I already have the same feeling as he writes in the final chapter of his book


Being a scientist can sometimes be depressing. Surrounded by younger versions of yourself, you are constantly confronted by the mismatch between the dreams of youth and the facts of maturity

Don’t we all?


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This book is about conflicts in a research lab – as myself who has always been in a lab of less than four people at one time, this was a great read. The environment is familiar: confined lab spaces and jokes about repeatedly failed experiments, frustration and jealousy of post docs when one can not reproduce the results. The books captured in essence the relationship and feelings and roles of different people working in a research lab: the fast and furious PI, the greater good PI, post doc who can produce results, post doc who can not produce results, technicans who wished the institute to be burnt down, and the mice! The amazing results published in Nature seem to be published too fast to outcompete rivals, and the aftermath is daunting…

To sum up: be nice to your fellow post docs, and make sure you record every single step in your lab log book and lock it up with highest security!

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