Webster Gordon is a junior at Louisiana State University, where he is majoring in mathematics with a concentration in actuarial science. Webster is involved in the school’s Math Club, Actuarial Student Association, and the LSU Tiger Marching Band. We spoke with Webster in April 2021.
Tell us one thing about yourself that’s not on your resume.
I love a good puzzle, and I play a lot of strategy games on my computer. Almost every time I go to a bookstore, I find myself picking up a new Sudoku book, word puzzle, or crossword puzzle. In high school, I would go on YouTube and watch calculus videos after getting out of calculus class, and now, I’ll go on the internet to find challenging math problems about whatever class I’m in just because I think it’s fun.
What has your experience at Louisiana State University been like?
I was actually kind of surprised. When it comes to the organizations that I’m in, such as the Math Club, the Actuarial Student Association, and the Tiger Marching Band, it really has a family-like atmosphere. Louisiana State University has over 30,000 students, but I feel like everyone is really friendly, and it’s easy to make friends. The last time I checked TigerLink—which is our student organization website—I think there were 475 different student organizations, so we’ve got all kinds of walks of life.
If you’re good at math and you like a challenge, actuarial science is a growing and fulfilling field. I would definitely recommend it.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose Louisiana State University?
To be honest with you, I didn’t even look at any other schools. I have known for some time that I wanted to go to LSU—even before I knew what I wanted to study. Everyone in my family is an LSU alumnus, so it was a family event to go to an LSU football game. When I was in my high school band, I looked up to all the people who were in the Tiger Band, and I knew I wanted to do that one day. Fortunately, we have an actuarial science program, which was great when I finally ended up figuring out that that’s what I wanted to do.
What influenced you to pursue an actuarial science program?
At first, I didn’t really even know what an actuary was. I always liked math, and I liked analytical classes like physics, but I didn’t know what I was going to do with that. One day, I took an aptitude test in my English class with our school counselor, and one of the categories that I fell into was analytical. Being an actuary was one of the professions listed, and it was the only one I wasn’t familiar with. I did what any kid in the 21st century does, and I went home and googled it.
As I read into it, I realized that being an actuary definitely sounded like something I could do. It combines all the things I like about math and critical thinking. I talked to my high school math teacher and he told me that LSU had a program.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
First and foremost is job security. Insurance isn’t going anywhere, and actuarial science is on the up. If you’re good at math and you like a challenge, actuarial science is a growing and fulfilling field. I would definitely recommend it.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
It’s been awesome. Dr. Lawrence Smolinsky is the director of the program, and he has a great plan laid out. Semester by semester, he can tell you which classes and prerequisites you need using a flow chart. It’s been a good resource, and he’s been very helpful.
On top of all the actuarial science-specific classes, we have access to finance classes, which is really interesting. We have a nice relationship with the finance department, so actuarial science students are allowed to take finance majors-only classes relevant to exam FM and exam IFM. There’s even room in the schedule that Dr. Smolinsky has laid out for a minor, so I’m actually minoring in statistics and business administration.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
Math 4058: Elementary Stochastic Processes has been my favorite so far. It wasn’t required, but it has ended up being super interesting and really applicable to actuarial science. It explores probability in a way that I haven’t seen before.
The professor uses a lot of real-world examples, which I find helps take the abstract into reality and makes it more fun. Using real-world examples, like probability while gambling at a craps table, makes It feel like the concepts can apply to anything. Martingale theory is part of it as well, and that’s really applicable to finance.
What is unique about focusing on actuarial science relative to other majors you could have chosen?
I was interested in doing pure math or physics before I figured out what it meant to be an actuary, but I appreciate that actuarial science is a hybrid of all those things. It incorporates math, data science, computer science, and even statistics. It has all of these math-adjacent topics that I’m really interested in wrapped up in one package.
Actuarial science has extra breadth that pure math wouldn’t have because you’re a bit restricted. With actuarial science, you could go into the world of finance, health insurance, property and casualty insurance, etc. I feel like it certainly has a lot more reach.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
I wish I would have known how hard these exams are and the importance of time management. The courses are really interesting, but interesting doesn’t translate to easy. I’ve got these advanced math classes that are difficult, hundreds of hours of studying for exams, I am a personal tutor for some high schools in the area, I have band practice, and I also need time to wind down at the end of the day. The most challenging part is definitely filling out my planner and making sure that everything’s in order.
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance?
As we become a more virtual society, I would say cybersecurity insurance is important to pay attention to—especially with the privacy that people need working from home. I think there needs to be more actuarial data collected on cyberattacks and privacy on the internet.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
I’d like to get my associateship and fellowship eventually. My preference is to be with the Society of Actuaries and pursue either the Individual Life and Annuities or Group and Health track. I find it all interesting, but I would say those are my top two.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
This applies to any career, but definitely don’t get intimidated. I feel like there’s a lot going on in insurance and actuarial science specifically. There are a lot of big words being thrown around and a lot of math. It’s tough, but it’s not worth giving up.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to keep working on that problem, keep studying for that exam, and just keep pushing. When I first started studying for the probability exam, it was very overwhelming, but I persevered, and I ended up getting a nine on that exam. There’s no point in selling yourself short. It’s a challenge, but once you get there, it’s definitely worth it.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
The Infinite Actuary is a really great online resource for studying for actuarial exams. I signed up for the LTAM section, where they go over everything you possibly need to know about the exam you’re going to take. I think there are over 800 practice problems for LTAM alone, so it’s definitely worth looking at.
And then there’s The Second Machine Age, a book by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. It’s about how the evolution of the technological landscape is affecting our economy and will continue to do so for better or for worse. Some of it was a little spooky, but it was very interesting and worth reading for anyone who’s thinking of going into technology.
» If you liked Webster’s interview, check out our other actuarial science student interviews.