Showcasing careers beyond academia
michael pye

Michael Pye

PhD in Ancient History and Iranian Studies, University of St Andrews
Investment Manager
Baillie Gifford

Year entered into industry: 2013

Job highlight: Opportunity to meet with leading companies from around the world and reflect on what their future might hold.

Key take-away: Academic research is fundamentally about unearthing new information or reassessing known information in a fresh light. These skills are directly transferable to the finance industry where most participants circularly reference each other, exhibit a reluctance to think differently, and therefore predominantly do a mediocre job for their customers.

What’s your background?

I wrote my doctoral thesis on relations between pre-revolutionary Iran and Soviet Russia. Before that I worked as a producer for a (pretty chaotic) startup film company in various locations and I have always had a curiosity for learning about new places, which has stood me well in my current career.

Why did you move away from academia?

Candidly, my field is fairly niche and academic posts are hard to come by! I remain involved via an academic conference that I co-founded. An enjoyable aspect of investment research is the breadth of topics to learn about from biotechnology to artificial intelligence, renewable energy etc. Initially it is daunting to go from being an “expert” on a subject to “equally dumb” on multiple subjects, but ultimately the variety is great fun.

How did you prepare for the work involved in your job?

No preparation is necessary. Specifically, no advanced maths, spreadsheet wizardry, or financial background is required.

How did you get this job?

Honestly, I did what postgraduates do best – I read and watched as much material as I could get my hands on about Baillie Gifford, what the firm stands for, and the various investment approaches it offers.

Can you describe a typical week in your job?

I am now five years into my job so it is predominantly self-directed. I work on a fund called Long Term Global Growth that owns only 30 stocks and typically holds onto each of them for a decade; we are looking for businesses with special potential, and this requires patience. It also requires travel because I am unlikely to find them sitting behind my desk in Edinburgh!

What’s the workplace culture like?

About as far from the stereotype of the finance industry as you can imagine. The hours are 9-5. The culture is very supportive and long-term focused. It is also a very diverse workplace. Half the investment floor has a humanities background and around a third are non-British.

How did your PhD prepare you for your current job? For example, what were the transferable skills that you developed during your PhD that are most relevant to your current job?

Please see ‘Postgraduate takeaway’ above.

What are your favourite parts of your job?

The chance to travel and meet people at the cutting edge of their industries.

What are your reflections on your career path?

It takes time to figure out what works for you, meaning in my case what particular investment style you feel drawn to. Patience is helpful.

Do you have any advice for current graduate students and postdocs considering a career outside of academia?

Consider cultivating soft skills through debating, societies, conferences, etc. When writing a long dissertation, these inevitably suffer.

Can you recommend any relevant resources, organisations or events that might help somebody new to the sector find out more about it?

To get a flavour for the specific job that I do, I warmly recommend my fund’s website:

Please also feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn if you are considering applying. I am happy to answer any questions.