What made you move from engineering to physics?
- I had always wanted to pursue physics but electrical engineering was popular those days and my father was unsure of the job prospects for physics. He felt that I did not know enough of engineering to state that I preferred physics; his opinion was that I found physics more glamorous because there are only “popular science” books but no “popular engineering” books! But at IIT, I found that it was always the physics part of engineering that I enjoyed rather than the applications. I knew I would not be happy designing better circuits or being a manager in some company and money was never that important. So I switched to physics for my Ph. D. and have never regretted it.
What is your advice to students wanting to pursue physics?
- You will probably not make as much money in physics as in engineering. So do it only if you are passionate about the subject. Once you are sure, work at it and don’t let anyone dissuade you, and for sure you will have a career. Don’t depend on your school – teach yourself, and read beyond the regular syllabus. There are many illuminating yet simple experiments that you can find on the internet and do at home. Visit research institutes during summer holidays to meet scientists, understand their work and recent developments in the field.
How do you see the future of careers in physics in the country?
- New areas are opening up and these are often interdisciplinary in nature. Quantum information theory and quantum computers, where quantum mechanics meets information theory and computer science, are examples. Biological sciences are increasingly becoming more quantitative and physicists are using their techniques with great effect here. Economics and finance are also getting inputs from physics.
- Subrata Bal obtained his bachelor’s degree from Presidency College, Kolkata, his master’s degree from IIT Kharagpur and his Ph.D. in Mathematical Physics from the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai. He pursued post-doctoral research at Kyoto University, Japan, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan and Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies, Ireland. Bal is currently working as a quantitative trader at Sun Trading International Limited, London. His work involves running the functional algorithmic trading desk, financial and statistical modelling and quantitative research in high frequency currency trading.
How does your physics background help in your work?
- My work involves studying the market, technically analysing it and building algorithms which help make a trading decision. The attitude and skill of addressing a real problem and building a model which I developed during my physics research helps me tremendously. Some of the mathematical, statistical and computational knowledge and techniques are put to good use in my current work. Domains in physics like random walk and chaos theory are directly used in financial research.