- What is your current job/career?
Actuary. My current title is Manager over Individual Rating and Forecasting in the Actuarial Services Department of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona.
- How do you use math or mathematical problem solving in your work? How does your math background help you in your job?
There are two aspects to the actuarial career path that rely heavily on math.
First, instead of obtaining a higher level degree like other professions (e.g. law degree for lawyers, medical degree for doctors), actuaries obtain credentialing through a series of exams. The preliminary exams actuaries take to obtain their associate level in the Society of Actuaries (SOA) are all exams centered around mathematical topics, e.g. probability, derivatives markets and stock pricing, and amortization of annuities (with and without life contingencies). In 2018, the SOA is also adding a predictive analytics exam. Credentialing through the exam process is required to be able to sign certain documents as a practicing actuary.
Second, there’s the work. Actuarial activities include pricing products based on expected values of future claims, reserving enough money to pay claims, performing financial projections (including stochastic modeling, simple Monte Carlo simulations etc.). Passing the exams and doing actuarial work requires an understanding of algebra, calculus, probabilities and statistics, etc. on a daily basis.
- What motivated you to study math?
Math was a topic that was always interesting to me, so when I started college with no idea what I wanted to do for a career, I started taking math classes in addition to a lot of other random topics (anthropology, French,etc.). Some of the typical STEM fields that students are pushed toward (e.g. engineering) weren’t appealing to me, and after going to several career events, I heard about the actuarial profession, which sounded interesting. This profession requires heavy mathematical skill sets so a degree in mathematics was a perfect fit. Additionally, getting a degree in a broad subject (math) rather than a specific subject with a specific career path (i.e. an actuarial sciences degree or accounting degree) was appealing to me in case I changed my mind in the future about my career goals.
- What would you say to a student who is thinking about studying math but doesn’t want a typical teaching career?
A mathematics degree is a great stepping stone to several career options, not just teaching (or actuarial work). The skills you learn when obtaining your math degree (basic coding, logic, reasoning, etc.) will set you up well for many opportunities. Plus, many people in the “real world” will be very impressed with your math degree (at least, that’s been my experience), which may be just what you need to get an interview.
- Other advice or comments?
a) Leverage your time in school to try out a few things.
b) Don’t hem yourself in to one career option by choosing a very specific degree (unless you’re really, really sure that’s what you want to do for the rest of your life!).