Amanda Mickelson is a junior at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. She is majoring in Actuarial Science and will be interning this summer at SCOR Reinsurance. Outside of actuarial studies, Amanda has a passion for acting and directing and will be serving as president of the MSOE Theatre Troupe next year. We spoke with Amanda in May 2019.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
One thing about me that really doesn’t fit on a resume but I think is super important is that I really love travel. I’m a student, so I can’t get out and do it as much as I’d like to, but a goal for me going forward is to travel a lot more. Over winter break this year, I went to Munich, Germany, and that was a really rewarding experience. I got to experience a lot of culture and history. And then over spring break, I took a trip to Las Vegas, and that was just incredibly fun.
I think it’s really important to get away from your daily life every once in a while, and get away from the things that are common to you and just go somewhere else and explore. I really hope to continue to do that as I start to build a career and have a little bit more free time and money to do so.
It’s incredible to see more people starting to view the Milwaukee School of Engineering as a place for actuarial science and seeing actuarial science as a path for students.
What has your experience at the Milwaukee School of Engineering been like?
I really love the college experience and especially the experience at MSOE. The actuarial science program here is small and growing, and it’s really rewarding to be a part of. I almost feel like I’m helping shape this program and helping the program become more well known.
The school in general and student life are great, and the experience so far has been amazing. There are a lot of opportunities to get involved in extracurriculars, which is something I like to take part in. I am currently the president elect of our Theater Troupe. I love acting and directing, and that’s where my passion is.
MSOE has a really rewarding classroom experience, but going beyond that, there are a lot of opportunities for things outside of the classroom. I think having that is really important so that you stay a well-rounded person.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose MSOE?
When I was in high school, I was dead set on the fact that I was going to go to college and study the fine arts—painting, drawing, illustration, you name it. I was very involved in my high school’s arts program. I created several portfolios of work. During my senior year, though, I got really burnt out on it and decided that it wasn’t for me.
I took a statistics class that I really enjoyed and really got into it, and I was recommended to actuarial science at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. Some of the colleges that I had applied to, like the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, didn’t even remotely offer actuarial science. But I ended up choosing MSOE because I knew that they had an up-and-coming actuarial science program, and I thought it was going to be a really good fit for me. So far, it has been, and I’m very happy with my choice.
What influenced you to pursue an actuarial science program?
Like I mentioned, during my senior year in high school, I took a statistics elective just to fulfill some credit. I didn’t really think that I was going to enjoy it at all because I had never done anything statistics-like before in my school career, and I was only moderately into math. I was okay at it, but it wasn’t my favorite.
But when I took the statistics class, I really fell in love with a lot of the things that we were studying, specifically the probability topics. I was good at the class as well, and the teacher suggested that I check out actuarial science.
At this point, I had no idea what the profession was, so I did some shadowing, and I did some research. It looked like it was going to be a career path that I could really get behind. With the data analysis and the probability knowledge required, I felt like it was something that was going to be a good fit for me. So at that time, I was starting to turn away from art and looking for something new, and this was the “something new” that I decided upon, and I’m very happy that I did.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
It’s a great career to get into, and it’s a really rewarding field of study. I think that if you are a student who loves a challenge and loves academic rigor, there are very few programs and career paths that you could look at that can provide the rigor that actuarial science can, due to the nature of the exams and the complexity of the things that we work with. Actuarial science provides that challenge and that rewarding experience.
But I think the beauty of actuarial science is that there’s another side to it. There’s the business sense, the storytelling, the ability to look at data and make an interpretation and judgment about it. It’s fun to interpret data. Maybe it’s not always fun to run the numbers, but it’s fun to look at the numbers once they’re finally done and tell a story based on that.
I think that’s a side of the career that doesn’t get as much recognition because you hear that it’s just about math, finance, and statistics, but I think there’s a real storytelling aspect to it that people should be aware of.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
When I started as a freshman here about three years ago, there were about seven other freshmen in my program, so it was pretty small. But I think that’s more of a benefit than anything because you get super close with these people. You have tons of classes with them, and they are people whom you can both compete with in kind of a fun way and also bounce ideas off of in courses if you’re struggling. You can lean on each other, especially with things as large as the actuarial exams.
It’s also really cool to watch the program here grow. Our freshman class this year was around 30 to 40 kids, which is huge compared to when I first started. It’s incredible to see more people starting to view the Milwaukee School of Engineering as a place for actuarial science and seeing actuarial science as a path for students. It’s great to have that sort of community, and it’s great that the community is growing.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
There is one class that I had my freshman year that really stuck out to me called Professional Presentation Techniques. The class was essentially about learning how to give a professional presentation, but what really sticks with me to this day about that class were the kinds of assignments and presentations we were allowed to give. There was one assignment where we actually gave what was essentially a TED Talk. We chose our own topic, and we worked with the professor to create a five-minute TED Talk about anything we were passionate about.
I love presenting, but in most classes where you give presentations, the topics are pretty fixed and set, but in this class I was able to give a talk on something I was really passionate about. I presented on something called impostor syndrome, which is the phenomenon where a person does not think that they’re good enough, even though they really are. I think that was a great experience for me to be able to give a presentation on something that I felt passionate about.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
I think a lot of the challenge that comes with this field comes back to the exams. I knew going in that there were going to be exams—lots of exams—but I don’t think that I fully grasped the rigor and the amount of time that would need to be put into these exams and the challenge of the material.
I was a pretty good student all through high school, and I’m still a pretty good student in college. But the actuarial exams are on another level. With the amount of time you need to put into them, you need to have complete mastery over the material. I think that’s probably the most difficult part so far, just preparing for those exams to a point where I feel like I am using the material as a tool to solve problems, instead of seeing it as a barrier to pass an exam.
I wish I had known that you were supposed to study around 300 hours for every exam, because that would’ve given me a little bit of a better idea of what I was going into. I wish I had known how much of an absolute grind it would be, just doing practice problems, reviewing those problems, doing the problems again, etc. I wish I’d had a better idea of exactly what it looks like to study for an actuarial exam because it would have definitely changed the way that I approached my first exam.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
This summer, I am planning to do an internship in Chicago at SCOR Reinsurance. I’m really looking forward to that. I’m really excited because I think that internship is a great way to learn beyond the classroom.
Beyond that, I want to build a career in the actuarial science field. I want to pass all the exams I can, get all the certifications I can in whichever society I choose go with, CAS or SOA. That’s a given, to have a great career going forward, and never stop learning things through that career.
One thing that I think is a little bit unique to me is that my goal eventually is to become a gaming actuary, and that’s a pretty rare profession. A gaming actuary essentially works with a casino to manage things like risk. There aren’t many of them out there, but it’s a profession that is super interesting to me and looks like a lot of fun.
How did you get into this particular profession?
I really enjoy card games. I enjoy analysis of card games, casino games, things like that. I really like to play poker. It’s a hobby of mine. I heard about gaming actuaries from this website, The Wizard of Odds. The guy who runs the website does analysis for four casinos, and that’s how he makes a living. He’s a retired actuary. I had no idea that was an option, but as soon as I read about that, I was floored. I thought it was so amazing that you could make a living out of that.
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance?
Technology is a big one, and a lot of people are talking beyond just the Internet of Things—wearables, telematics—but even getting into how we insure artificial intelligence. A big example of that is self-driving cars. That’s something I’m really interested in because there is an ethical component there, as well as the actual questions of, “How do we insure a car that nobody is driving? How do we file a claim against somebody who’s not driving?” I think that as technology continues to evolve and become more ever-present in our lives, these are the questions that are going to need to be asked in lots of industries.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
Make sure that you are working on your interpersonal skills while you’re in school. I think it’s easy to get bogged down studying, especially with all of the exams. But you should do other things, too, because half of our job is interacting with people and presenting data to people. Having great interpersonal skills and networking abilities is vital in this industry.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
I mentioned a little bit earlier about the website The Wizard of Odds, which is great if you’re interested in any kind of sports betting, gambling, or casino games. If you’re interested in how those work and the probabilities and strategies behind that, The Wizard of Odds has an extensive amount of content.