Shobana Iyer is a senior at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, where she is majoring in actuarial science and applied statistics and minoring in management. Shobana is interning this summer at PricewaterhouseCoopers and is also the president of the Purdue Actuarial Club. We spoke with Shobana in June 2021.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
I’ve always been very culturally involved. Both my parents are immigrants from India, and prior to college, I used to participate a lot in a South Indian form of classical music called Carnatic music. I trained vocally in Carnatic music for about seven to 10 years, and while I had to hold off on it during college because of my busy schedule, I’ve been trying to get back into it.
What has your experience at Purdue University been like?
Overall, it’s been great. The opportunities at Purdue have completely exceeded my expectations. I feel like college is generally hard for most, if not everyone, but at Purdue, if I ever struggled with anything, I’ve always been able to find reliable resources, whether that be certain professors or TAs. Everything is openly available at Purdue.
The actuarial program at Purdue is ideally challenging, and I believe that helps push students to do well in the major.
Outside of academics, I’m involved in a yoga and meditation club. I feel like, especially with actuarial science as a major, many students tend to get rather stressed having to study for exams, both in and outside of school. To help me destress, I started getting involved in both yoga and meditation through this club, and the community that I was able to meet there has been great.
On top of everything else, I found the actuarial community at Purdue to be very welcoming. The Purdue Actuarial Club and actuarial classes have given me numerous opportunities to interact with fellow actuarial students and faculty which has further helped grow my connections and make college much more enjoyable.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose Purdue?
I was looking at two other schools that also have really great actuarial programs: the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Michigan State University, which would have been in-state for me since I’m originally from Michigan.
All three schools have incredible actuarial programs, so it was a really tough choice for me. When I visited Purdue, however, it just felt like a home away from home. Once again, the community is just great, and it was a very welcoming atmosphere. On our drive back home from Purdue, I remember telling my parents about how it just felt like the place for me.
What influenced you to pursue an actuarial science program?
For the longest time, I actually thought I would be going into medicine, and I was considering an occupation in psychiatry, psychology, or even anesthesiology, which was pretty different from math and statistics.
But while I was in high school, I worked at Mathnasium as an instructor, and I’ve always really enjoyed math as a subject. One of our family friends had actually told us about actuarial science, and my dad, when he first heard about it, felt like it would be really appealing to me.
When I was younger, I had a tendency to be very interested in the most random statistics. We’d be watching a movie, and if I saw a certain actor, I immediately would want to go and research them and see the numbers that might align with them, like when they were born or when they passed away—it was just really weird. My parents didn’t really know what I’d do with that skill. But actuarial science does deal with mortality and those kinds of statistics, so when our family friend recommended it, my parents thought that maybe this might be a good career for me to look into.
Initially, when I was looking into actuarial science, I thought that with the exam process, balancing school and actuarial exams would be really tough, but once I tried it out, I haven’t looked back and have enjoyed it ever since.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
I’ve been very involved with the program at Purdue since my freshman year. I joined the board of the Purdue Actuarial Club my freshman year, and ever since then, I’ve been able to work with the faculty and fellow students and grow with the community.
Our director, Jeff Beckley, is very involved with the students. Besides just being a great professor, he takes out the time to try to get to know students on a personal level. Even during COVID, we were asked to set up 15 minute 1-on-1 Zoom calls with him so he could have an idea of what was going on in our lives and how we were doing.
The actuarial program at Purdue is ideally challenging, and I believe that helps push students to do well in the major. Our club is also very involved with students too since we have set up study sessions for students in the past or have helped them connect with valuable resources to assist them with studying for classes or prepare for actuarial exams. Additionally, any type of actuarial recruitment, whether that be internships or full-time opportunities, happens through the club.
I’m currently serving as the president of the club, and I’ve been working with companies trying to set up for the fall recruitment season. It’s really nice to take part in setting up events and seeing students do well in their careers and get any type of opportunities and offers.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
My favorite class would probably be STAT 472: Actuarial Models, which pertains to Exam LTAM and is taught by our director, Jeff Beckley. The class was quite challenging, but I really enjoyed learning material that I thought would be relevant to real-world applications.
What is unique about focusing on actuarial science relative to other majors you could have chosen?
The actuarial exams make the major quite unique. It’s challenging but rewarding, especially when you study for an exam and it pays off with a pass.
I feel like with actuarial science, you’re kind of in competition with just yourself. You set up goals in terms of trying to pass certain exams, and for me, I’ve seen it more as a race against myself versus racing against others. I think that’s pretty unique, and it helps us grow as people when we can be competitive with ourselves in that sense, even though it can be quite stressful.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
Time management and self-discipline are two things that are rather tough to develop. Jumping into college, I underestimated the difficulties with actuarial science. It’s quite challenging having to manage taking exams while also doing well in school, and then with recruitment season, things become even harder. It’s also tough trying to strike a good balance between your social life and this career. I wish I would’ve been more aware of the difficulties that come with trying to balance all of your priorities while being in this major.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
I had an internship last summer with Humana in Louisville, Kentucky, and this year, I have a consulting internship with PwC.
My experience at Humana was really nice. It was my first internship, so I didn’t really know what to expect, but I got to work alongside a lot of actuarial interns and my manager was great. I worked in the SPA Rx department, which stands for Senior Products Actuarial, so I worked on projects pertaining to Medicare Part D. I also got to create a phasing tool, so I learned a lot more about the insurance industry that way.
In classes, we’re taught about the insurance industry in a more broad sense. But when you get to work these kinds of internships, you really see how your knowledge can be applied, especially on a deeper level.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
In the short term, I’ll just keep grinding away with school and trying to knock out as many actuarial exams as I can. Beyond that, I’ll try to get my FSA as soon as I can.
I have also been enjoying my current consulting internship. Prior to graduating college, I intend to have a job lined up at a company where I will have opportunities for career advancement with the possibility to travel.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
Network as much as you can. Whether that be with students in college or even credentialed actuaries, I think it’s really nice when you can get a perspective from someone. During my freshman year, I don’t believe I did as good of a job as I should have, but growing into my college career, I did get better at it. I realized that it does pay off when you can go and talk to people and not be reluctant to meet people in the industry, or even just other students.
In the second semester of my freshman year, I made sure to talk to more juniors and seniors about their internship experiences, and those conversations changed my perspective for the better. I had this preconceived notion that I was just going to jump into consulting, but you have to understand that you have to take whatever opportunities that may come your way, instead of being so selective. I’m really glad that I learned that because if I had just stuck with consulting, I wouldn’t have had the health insurance internship and I wouldn’t have been able to gain that experience.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
I would definitely recommend the actuarial subreddit, which is r/actuary. I go on there quite often because there’s a wide spectrum of people, whether it be credentialed actuaries, college students, or even high school students who want some advice. I get a lot of updates about the industry and information pertaining to the exams through that subreddit.
» If you liked Shobana’s interview, check out our other actuarial science student interviews.