A&S alumnus and mentor Petar Tomic encourages physics students to step outside the box

November 10, 2020 by Petar Tomic

As an associate in credit management at TD Securities, problem solving and critical thinking are key skills for Petar Tomic — skills he says he learned thanks to U of T’s physics and mathematics programs. That’s why he mentors current U of T physics students: to encourage them to trust their own abilities and realize that with their degree, any career path is possible.

What can you do with a physics degree? "Anything" says alum and mentor Petar Tomic

For the last two years I’ve been an Associate with TD Securities in Credit Management. Our group owns the counter party risk of all non-direct lending (i.e. derivatives, trading, etc.) relationships for the investment banking division of TD. We assess each client in the context of any potential credit risks that may arise as part of establishing/maintaining a business relationship with them. Then we determine the level of exposure we would be comfortable with, within the context of TD’s overall risk appetite.

I also completed and obtained the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation over the course of the past few years which has been a whole separate journey in and of itself!

I initially chose physics and mathematics because I always had deeper questions about the universe that I wanted to explore and to be able to understand one day. Seeking to understand nature at the fundamental level and constantly pushing the questions “why” and “how” were what drove me to continue and ultimately graduate. I maintain this deep rooted passion for physics, astronomy, and cosmology to this day and make sure to check up on the latest developments, discoveries and publications!

This same curiosity drove me towards the financial markets as it was a few years after the crisis in 2008/2009 and literature was only just starting to emerge about what had caused the implosion and ultimately, the Great Recession. This was my first exposure to advanced mathematics being applied to areas other than physics, and armed with my newfound understanding of PDE’s (Schrodinger equation), probabilities (quantum and statistical mechanics) and tensor calculus (GR), I was able to quickly grasp financial concepts that were being discussed at the time such as the Black-Scholes model and Copula Function.

I believe that the rigorous physics and mathematics programs at U of T ultimately trained me to be a problem solver, to approach issues from multiple angles and be efficient in finding the optimal solution. In my first few interviews after graduating, I very confidently (and perhaps arrogantly) answered the age-old question, “so what can you do with a physics degree?” with the only answer that I could possibly think of: “Anything”.

This remains my answer to this day and is what I wish to pass on to all students and mentees who are struggling to find the answer within themselves. Any problem you are faced with in your professional career, and life to a large extent, rest assured that your training as a physicist, problem solver and critical thinker will always be there to guide you to the optimal solution, or at the very least, optimal direction.

I also know what it feels like to be in love with and entirely consumed by physics and science for many years that are comprised of long days and even longer nights. It is a love that is very hard to let go of – to allow oneself to pursue other interesting fields that may intrigue you along the way. All the while you are reading about new particles being discovered or gravitational waves being detected or pictures of black holes! But it’s only when you step outside the box and give other fields a chance with your own unique perspective, that you discover, that one can be just as (or even more) passionate about new topics once we broaden our horizon and dare to explore new worlds.

It is said that we never forget our first love. Thankfully, Shankar and Griffiths will always be there for you for some light reading if one day you too, decide to venture out and explore new fields and new worlds with the mindset that you can do anything.

Interactions — the Department of Physics newsletter — asked Tomic why he mentors students

"I decided to be a mentor because I wanted to give back to the university and the program responsible for training me to become a problem solver and critical thinker. I remember what it felt like to be graduating in 6 months and still being unsure as to whether I would seek out a career in finance, pursue graduate studies, try my hand in engineering or spend some time post-graduation reflecting on this very question. All of my mentees throughout the years have faced similar dilemmas at one point and I hope I was able to offer them some perspective and guidance as to how to face and approach these pivotal decisions when the time came."

Learn more about the Physics Mentorship Program.