The sooner the better, say those in the know.
Yushly Collop, Data Scientist, Insurance Data & Analytics at Capitec completed his Masters at UWC in 2020. His experience offers some insight into why a Masters degree is so valuable for aspiring quants.
“I worked before I went to study, and I gave up my income to do my undergraduate in Mathematics and Statistics at CPUT full-time,” Yushly says. “That’s where I fell in love with statistics, and when I applied for my Honours at UWC I did it as a kind of fail-safe – I wanted to get back into the workplace and applied for jobs, but I applied for the Honours as well in case things didn’t go according to plan.”
Yushly laughs when he recalls: “I didn’t get a single response to my work applications, so I did my Honours and then used the same approach – applying for work and my Masters so that if I didn’t find employment I could do the Masters instead. I got two responses from employers this time – both to thank me for applying and saying I hadn’t been selected.”
Yushly’s Masters changed things completely. “Once I’d finished the Masters, it was a different story entirely. Companies started approaching me.”
So, what is it makes Masters graduates so much more sought-after in Quants fields?
“Having a Masters helps graduates to make the mindset shift from knowing the theory of data science, to being able to apply that theory to solve real world problems,” says Prof. Rodwell Kufakunesu, Mathematics and Applied Mathematics, University of Pretoria. “For employers, this is attractive, and employment data shows this. According to a Statista SA 2022 bulletin, unemployment of graduates is almost 3% but the number of unemployed Masters graduates is much lower.”
And there are other reasons to do a Masters, as well. Prof Kufakunesu explains: “It improves one’s understanding of the field as you will study advanced skills needed as the field evolves. It enables one to tackle non-standard problems using the research methodologies taught at this level.”
“For students transitioning from other STEM fields – like engineering or the physical sciences – into quantitative sciences,” he continues, “it adds business and financial knowledge that they wouldn’t have been exposed to in their previous degrees. It also improves the chances of career mobility into leadership roles and teaches technical capability that is crucial before one can lead a team of other quants.”
A Masters also adds value in terms of one’s personal development – particularly rational thinking, critical thinking, presentation skills and efficient collaboration – which are highly valued skills amongst Quant employers.
Janette Larney, Senior Lecturer at North-West University’s Centre for Business Mathematics and Informatics, adds: “A Masters like ours – that is focused on teaching graduates how to translate the skills and theory they’ve learned in their undergrad and Honours degrees into real-world business problem solving – makes it much easier Masters graduates to hit the ground running. This means employers can give Masters graduates impactful and interesting work as soon as they start, rather than easing them into the world of work more slowly.”
Project-based Masters degrees like those at NWU and UWC are offered in partnership with employers to ensure that the projects are based on up-to-date industry requirements and applications.
But whether the Masters you do is project-based or theory based, the sooner you do it the better.
“If you can, apply to do your Masters straight after Honours,” Janette advises. “It’s not impossible to go back to studying full-time after you have a few years of work experience behind you, but it can be difficult. Not only financially, but in terms of getting back into the student mind set.”