The Benefits Of Starting Early With Financial Planning For Scientists

We talked to a Certified Financial Planner™, Christopher Calandra, to learn more about the importance of financial planning, especially for early scientists.


Dr. Beccy Corkill


Dr. Beccy Corkill

Custom Content Manager

Beccy is a custom content producer who holds a PhD in Biological Science, a Master’s in Parasites and Disease Vectors, and a Bachelor’s in Human Biology and Forensic Science.

Custom Content Manager

woman staring at a computer in an office

Early career scientists sometimes have different financial situations than other sectors.

Image credit: AvokadoStudio/

With the pandemic and the increased cost of living, our financial situations may be playing more heavily on our minds than ever before. We wondered what financial assistance a financial advisor can give young scientists emerging from the pandemic. 

As such, we caught up with the founder and lead advisor for Elliott Wealth Management Services, Christopher Calandra CFP®, who has 31 years’ experience as a financial advisor. He is also the host of the Simply Financial podcast, which currently has over 350 episodes. The latest episodes include a three-part series called The Science of Money based on money math, financial experimentation, and the psychology of money.  

How have recent events (such as the pandemic) changed the finance sector, in terms of saving and retirement?

In relation to the financial sector, it seems for a lot of people that the relationship balance between work and life has changed. For example, a lot of people are looking to retire earlier than they probably would have been pre-pandemic. We also see young individuals continue to delay things like marriage, home buying, and having children. That is having an impact on the economy. 

Another example is technology usage. So, prior to the pandemic, there were a lot of people that would want to only meet face-to-face with their financial advisors. Now, a much greater number of people are very open to remote business relationships that are done over the phone, zoom, and email. 

The last thing is the uncertainty and the anxiety. The fear that was induced during the pandemic has led to a post-pandemic world where a lot of people really desire financial security. But they also want to spend money, have experiences, and enjoy their lives, so they're not missing out. 

A scientist’s financial situation can be unstable as early career scientists (ECS) often have temporary jobs. Is there any advice that you can provide to help an ECS be more financially secure in the future?

There are two things. Firstly, you would want to take steps to increase your financial security – described as building wealth. Secondly, you want to take steps to improve your career so that you can increase your income over time. 

We call these our seven wealth building rules, a more in-depth explanation is available on our website: But briefly:

  1. Establish goals: You need to ask yourself questions (e.g., how much do you want to spend/ save? How much debt do you want to reduce?).
  2. Be prepared: This relies on a little bit of learning and research and putting time in so that you are prepared to move down the pathway to the achievement of those goals.
  3. Develop a wealth building plan: There is an ebb and flow to wealth building over the course of a lifetime. But you do want to develop a plan of what you're going to do with your money. 
  4. Establishing a team: Building wealth and making smart financial decisions is usually not a one-person job. You need a team of accountants, attorneys, friends, family members, co-workers, and financial advisors.
  5. Track your progress: It's kind of like in science, if you're doing experiments, you would want to track the results of your experiments, you want to track the progression of the research that you're doing, on your way to getting the answers and the conclusions you're looking for. 
  6. Diversification: You want to spread your risk around to reduce the chances of one bad outcome ruining your entire plan.
  7. Be careful with debt: If you have some debt, especially the wrong kind of debt, you certainly want to have a plan, at least over the long term to reduce and eliminate that debt.

Scientists often have student loans or debt. How can a financial planner help them manage their debt? 

This goes back to what we talked about before about establishing goals, and one of the goals may be to reduce or eliminate the student loan. 

Financial planners help develop a plan. For example, you may have a goal to pay off/ reduce that debt. And that goes into that personal financial planning because everybody's situation is different. But generally, you want to pay off that debt sooner rather than later, while also being consistent with your other goals and your other financial priorities.

You host a podcast with a series called The Science Of Money. In the Money Math episode, you talk about compound interest. What is compound interest, and why is it important?

Compound interest is a mathematical formula whereby the principal earns interest. And then that interest begins to earn interest. And that's that compounding, it's sort of like a snowball effect. 

So, quick example, there's a nice down-and-dirty formula called the rule of 72. If you take an interest rate, and you divide it by the number 72, the answer equals the number of years it takes money to double. If you're able to earn a 6 percent rate of return, the formula works six into 72 is 12. That is telling you that at 6 percent, your money will double every 12 years. That's the compound interest. 

Once your interest starts earning interest, given enough time, and a good enough interest rate, you will end up with your interest money earning more interest than even your principal. It's extraordinarily powerful. It's also something you ignore at your peril because compound interest works against you when you are a debtor. 

You refer to life as a large “experiment”, especially when finance is concerned. That can seem like a scary prospect. How do you get your clients to think about it in constructive ways?

Life is an experiment because there are so many unknowns about who will be in our lives, what our health will be, how much money we'll make, what jobs we'll have, where we're going to live. 

In the three-part series on the financial experimentation episode, I discuss how retirement income planning is an experiment, which can be scary, as you mentioned. However, it doesn't have to be, and the constructive approach we take when working with clients is to let the seven wealth building rules be a guide. You want to have a well-thought-out plan.

So, the best way to construct it practically is to deal with the experiment. Put that work in upfront to have a plan and then to monitor that plan every one to two years consistently, and then make changes as needed. The best thing you could do is to have a plan, monitor it, make changes as needed. 

What are the most common psychological biases and traps that people fall into when making financial decisions?

There are so many. I'll give you a few though. 

Herd mentality is one. Basically, you are doing stuff because everybody else is doing it. It could be counterproductive financially, but just because everybody else is doing something doesn't mean that it's consistent with your goals and may not be right for you financially or otherwise. 

Another example is the endowment effect. An endowment effect is an emotional bias that causes individuals to value an owned object higher than others, or should be valued at. 

And the last example I'll give is something called the Law of Reciprocity. When somebody does something for you, you feel that you have a debt, so you want to repay that debt. And you see this a lot in business meetings. A salesperson might give you a free sample. Well, believe it or not, even though we're independent and strong-minded people, we feel like we owe that person; you want to be aware of this law of reciprocity. 

A classic example is a salesperson buys you lunch and you might repay the debt with a massive order from the salesperson. Because the human condition doesn't really adjust for valuation, it just adjusts for the settling of the debt. And you could end up making some bad financial decisions.

What do you think the most important takeaway for our readers should be?

I think in the financial planning world, there's been an adage, I learned it early on in my career, and it's essentially: “Most people spend more time planning their vacation than their financial future.” So, I think an important takeaway is that money is not the most important thing in your life, it shouldn’t be because there are other things that are more important like relationships and your health. But it's not unimportant, either. 

To build wealth, to increase your financial security, you need to put in some time, you need to be purposeful, and have a plan so that you could be successful financially. I know, successful is a relative term. Different people have different views. But I think that's the key takeaway to build wealth, to increase your financial security, you have to put some time into it – it doesn't happen on accident, you have to be purposeful, and you have to have a plan. 

To listen to the three-part podcast series, access the Seven Wealth Building Rules Whitepaper and video explanation, go to

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