Jessica Jin is a third-year at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, where she is pursuing a Bachelor of Actuarial Studies and Economics. Jessica is currently participating in a two-year cadetship program with PricewaterhouseCoopers Australia, working full-time while also pursuing her degree part-time, and she expects to graduate in 2020. We spoke with Jessica in May 2019.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
I love music, and I’ve taken piano lessons since I was five-and-a-half. My piano teacher was Croatian-Serbian, and she used to be one of the top accordion performers in the world, so I actually play the accordion as well. I’ve even participated in international competitions during high school.
Since I came to know Christ and became more involved in church, I also picked up drums and the guitar and lead the church band sometimes on Sundays. That’s been really fun as well. I’m lucky to have a musical background, because it means that learning these other instruments is much easier.
What has your experience at Macquarie University been like?
It’s been really good. There are so many clubs and societies, and you’re not limited at all by what currently exists. Macquarie is always keen for you to start something new and add to the student culture. It means you have plenty of opportunities to gather and meet other like-minded people, regardless of what interests you have. I really enjoyed being a part of the Actuarial Students Society, where I had the chance to organize a mock interview event for all the members, as well as the Food Society.
I was comforted knowing that life as an actuary didn’t just involve back-end calculations and modelling, but also communicating your discoveries and professional advice given the work you perform.
What I also love about my experience at Macquarie is that you feel really supported in your pursuit of your future career. There is a Career and Employment Service where non-academic career-related advice and consultations are offered, helping students in researching organizations and opportunities, searching and applying for jobs, and providing a platform for students to acquire the skills and experience needed to be career-ready, which can be really hard without having the right connections sometimes.
There are really great mentoring programs that Macquarie facilitates, where students are empowered to identify the skills they need to become future leaders and map their career paths by establishing relationships with senior executives from the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors. I was partnered with a corporate mentor form TAL, an Australian life insurance company, and I was able to sit in on key meetings at their head office, which I wouldn’t have had the chance to do without participating in the program.
Another program I enjoyed participating in was the Career Accelerator Program, which ran across a couple of days, providing students with exclusive access to several corporate headquarters and facilities and an inside look at the structure and culture of each employer. We were also able to mingle with and gain advice from recent graduates and key recruiters and participate in hands-on workshops designed to develop key professional skill sets, such as communication, thought leadership, and personal branding. I definitely learned a lot about the careers available and experienced a taste of how each company operated.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose Macquarie?
There are several universities across Australia, but I really only considered the University of New South Wales, Macquarie University, and Australian National University in Canberra. My family is very tight-knit, so everyone would be really sad if I ever moved too far away from home.
Macquarie ended up being the best fit for me because it was the university closest to home and had flexible study options and an industry-relevant actuarial course structure. My particular double degree wasn’t an officially offered program, but after speaking to a couple of course advisors, I was able to combine the two fields I wanted to study.
All Macquarie degrees also have mandatory “People” and “Planet” units built into every degree. They’re two units that must be taken outside of the fields relating to your degree, and it enables you to take subjects that may interest you beyond your degree. For example, I took SOC182 – Economy and Society, which examined the market economy from a social and political perspective. Another course I’m keen to take is GEOP200 – Environment and Society, which takes you through how societies and ecologies are entwined and touches on ways to solve environmental dilemmas, an area I’m really interested in.
The courses offered in Macquarie’s actuarial program are also quite industry-relevant, and since several of our lecturers have worked extensively in the industry before, they bring their experience in the workforce to the classroom, always teaching in a way that connects the theory we learn to what is actually being applied in the jobs available to actuaries.
One unit quite unique to Macquarie is ACST152 – Introduction to Actuarial Studies, taught by Shauna Ferris, that we take in our very first semester. It’s a great introduction to what actuarial studies actually encompasses and the relevant industries and roles of actuaries. I think it’s fantastic that you are able to obtain a holistic understanding of what you’re committing to early on, and it helps many students realize that actuarial is or isn’t like what they imagined it to be. I think we can all agree that actuarial studies is quite a mysterious area of study that many don’t really understand!
What influenced you to pursue an actuarial science program?
I simply considered what subjects I really enjoyed during high school. I studied the highest level of math, and I really loved that and was challenged by it. I also loved business and economics and that was when I was first exposed to the idea of modelling. Through talking to career counselors and attending university open days and expos, I was able to learn about the degrees available that would match my interests. Word on the street was that actuarial science was one of the most challenging degrees, and so I decided I’d give it a shot.
My math teacher also invited one of his past students, who went on to become one of the professors at the Australian National University, to share with the top math classes about actuarial science. I don’t remember exactly what he spoke about, but it drew my attention and led me to consider pursuing actuarial science more seriously.
I also attended a couple of seminars the Institute of Actuaries hosted and learned about what actuaries do. Something they emphasized was that besides the math and complex problem solving capabilities required in an actuary, you also needed to have strong soft skills and the ability to communicate well.
I was comforted knowing that life as an actuary didn’t just involve back-end calculations and modelling, but also communicating your discoveries and professional advice given the work you perform. I love talking to people and building relationships, so I felt that the mix of skills required as an actuary really fit my character, giving me another reason to pursue actuarial science.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
I’ve really enjoyed it so far. Macquarie is renowned for teaching quality and support. When I was in my first and second year of study, we were learning heavier math and statistics-related units. I really struggled to understand all the key concepts by only attending lectures. Thankfully, Macquarie facilitates a teaching space called the Numeracy Centre, where students could drop in outside of their scheduled class times to receive further support and teaching from the tutors rostered. I only performed well because of the extra help I had access to!
I’ve been enjoying the actuarial science program more and more, as we move onto subjects that have more real-life applications. The subjects are always challenging but presented in a way that allows the students to understand the complex concepts being taught, with the lecturers always harking back to previous subjects that we’ve studied as part of the degree. I believe this sense of continuity contributes to the flow of learning and helps us as students to gradually build on what we’ve studied before in a very clear way, as opposed to other courses where you have more freedom to choose what subjects you want to take, leading to a less cohesive learning experience.
What I’ve also really appreciated is the time our lecturers take to contribute to supporting our learning and professional development. When I reached out to the Macquarie Actuarial Department hoping to find out more about the course and career pathways, one of the professors took time out to meet with me, before I had even started studying! When I wanted to study a combined degree that wasn’t by default offered through Macquarie, another professor emailed me with a spreadsheet outlining the rest of my expected studies for the next four years and how to take subjects in a way that still enabled me to meet all my professional accreditations. Overall, it’s been experiences like these that have made me feel really valued as a student at Macquarie.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
One of my favorites is called ACST 212 – Combinatorial Probability, run by Jim Farmer. That was in my second year, involving complex problem solving. It was like permutations and combinations on steroids, which I found really difficult in high school. Having to go even more in depth in uni helped me to understand the thought process and logic behind the application of the theories and helped me to understand how probabilities are assigned to certain events.
Probably my most favorite so far from third year was ACST 357 – General Insurance Pricing and Reserving, where we examined the use of statistical models in general insurance. We learned about several model types, including those used in time series analysis, generalized linear statistical modelling, and runoff triangle models. The problems we were presented with were more real-life related and involved practical applications of math and statistics to, for example, price insurances or predicting outstanding insurance liabilities. I also had the chance to use R to analyze series models. That was really fun because programming wasn’t as much of a focus in my first two years of study.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science?
One of the most challenging things for me was to really understand the impact of the work you do as an actuary. I used to only think of it as working with numbers, statistics, and models, but on a big-picture scale, actuaries become equipped to make complex and informed decisions to solve important problems across every industry.
I’ve always wanted my career to be a vehicle for me to make a difference, and sometimes you don’t realize how much you’re helping people in society through the work you do as an actuary, especially when you’re in the midst of studying complex formulas and sitting through really hard tests. So that would be what I think was most challenging for me as I study—connecting the concepts we learn in class with the real world impact it’s going to allow us to make.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
I’ll be returning as a full-time student next year, after which I hope to join PwC as a graduate in their actuarial team—if I get accepted! My passions revolve around positively impacting society through solving complex problems, so areas such as impact investing and environmental sustainability really interest me.
Working in the public sector would also be something I’d want to try. I would love to end up in a career path that enables me to make a difference in those fields. Something my work experience has taught me in these last 2 years is that there are opportunities everywhere, but it often takes work to uncover them. Knowing this, I’m excited about my future because I know where I want to end up. The journey to that point is something I’ll just have to discover along the way.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
Do your research! Check with your university, or any graduate pages or forums, to see if there are any programs or events that are being run for young actuaries that are open to students as well. Some might even focus specifically on the insurance field. That’s something that the Institute of Actuaries here in Australia does, and that was one of the ways I actually started to connect and learn more about all fields of work available and about the current and emerging actuarial trends.
I think that’s something students don’t usually consider, so don’t just limit yourselves to your university societies or corporate events, but also to connect with the official bodies because they may have good networks and resources that you can benefit from as a student as well.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
The Institute of Actuaries, they actually publish something called The Actuarial Sprint. It’s a collection of peer-contributed articles, both from experienced professionals and sometimes even from students. It’s great to stay updated on the latest trends in the Australian actuarial field.
On a more technical level, as I was doing research for some of my assignments, I found that The Journal of Risk and Insurance was something that was really interesting as well. I would also recommend researching what your lecturers may have written. I know a couple of mine have published really interesting articles.
A book that my dad always encouraged me to read was How to Win Friends and Influence People, which I thought contained some really great nuggets about how to be self-aware as you’re interacting with people, as well as tips to help you build good relationships with others.