Emily Fishel is a junior at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, where she is double majoring in Actuarial Science and Mathematical Statistics, with a certificate in Risk Management and Insurance. Emily served as the vice president of finance for the Actuarial Science Club this past year, and she is interning this summer at Principal Financial Group in Des Moines. We spoke with Emily in May 2019.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
One of my favorite things to do outside of class is playing tennis. Way back during my freshman year of high school, I joined the tennis team, having zero experience, and I wasn’t the best at all. But I had such a fantastic time playing tennis all four years of high school, ever since then, I love nothing more than getting out on the court with a racquet and a couple of friends. It’s a great time.
What has your experience at the University of Iowa been like?
Not only has it met every single one of my expectations, but it’s also exceeded all of my expectations from the start. One of the reasons I chose the University of Iowa was its campus. I think it’s so cool how it’s located right across the street from downtown Iowa City, so you have this connection between the college and the Iowa City community that I feel like other colleges don’t have. Freshman year, I lived in the honors dorm, and I went to all of the Big Ten football games for the Hawkeyes. I had the best of both worlds with studies and fun, social time.
At Iowa, I feel like the fellow students are so supportive, and the stress of studying for finals becomes a shared experience. We all want each other to succeed when it comes to exams and internships.
That year, I also became super involved with our Actuarial Science Club on campus. The club’s previous vice president of finance reached out to me as a mentor, and he helped me navigate all my scheduling and encouraged me to run for the executive board, which I did the next year. Experiencing the club during my first two semesters at Iowa helped me realize that actuarial science was the career for me and this is the place and community I wanted to be in.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose Iowa?
My two top choices were Drake University in Des Moines and the University of Iowa. Both are Centers of Actuarial Excellence as declared by the SOA, so they both have incredible programs. But I definitely felt more drawn to Iowa’s program for a couple of reasons.
Personally, I love the fact that Iowa is just a bigger school, which to me, meant more opportunities. Also, there’s a small yet significant difference between the actuarial programs. Drake’s actuarial program is in their business department, whereas Iowa’s actuarial program is in conjunction with the statistics department under the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. I felt that Iowa’s closer ties to the statistics and mathematics side of actuarial science would provide me with a stronger foundation of actuarial knowledge and technical skills.
What influenced you to pursue an actuarial science program?
In high school, I really enjoyed my math and business courses, but I was kind of clueless as to what I wanted my career to be. I talked to my AP Calculus teacher about potential jobs in those fields, and the first thing he recommended was actuarial science, which I had never heard of at the time. But I did some research, and it sounded interesting.
I went into the University of Iowa declared as actuarial science interest, but I still wasn’t totally convinced it was for me. That really changed during the first month of my freshman year because our Actuarial Science Club hosted the Midwest Actuarial Science Student Conference, where industry leaders and actuaries across the Midwest gather together. There were hosted Q&As and presentations on what the real-life job of an actuary is like.
I was so excited to learn that every day, risk management comes with new risks and opportunities. It’s an always-changing field, and it’s also really empowering to hear that a lot of actuaries have potential for advancement. They’re in a special position to make a significant difference in a company.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
I think insurance and financial services are stable yet exciting fields to go in to. There are a lot of good jobs out there, and I think actuarial science also presents a good opportunity for students who are looking to combine many of their interests. Actuarial science is a really interesting combination of math, stats, economics, finance, communication, and risk management.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
In one word, it’s been outstanding. The courses and the professors are super helpful for exam preparation, which is important for any actuarial student. For instance, at Iowa, there are courses to help our actuarial students prepare for the first six ASA exams, and I’ve personally taken the courses that help with exams FM, P, and IFM. These courses have made studying a much less daunting and intimidating task. I genuinely feel so prepared for the exams because of these courses.
In regards to the Actuarial Science Club, it’s run by students for students. Because it’s run by students, it’s really in tune with what students want and need to help them succeed for internships and careers. For instance, we provide resume workshops and mock interviews. I served on the club’s executive board as a freshman, as the underclassmen ambassador, and last year, I served as the vice president of finance.
In this role, I helped to plan a trip to the Transamerica Corporation, which is a large insurance and investment firm in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for 40 of our actuarial students. We were able to hear from Transamerica’s head actuary and job-shadow for a half-day.
Another aspect of the club that I really love is our annual Excel competition. This is a two-hour exam written by our actuarial science students in Excel to help students prepare for their internships and careers and test their Excel skills and knowledge. We also hold two workshops a month prior to the competition to help students prepare. We’ve even had actuarial science clubs from other schools reach out for our help in creating their own Excel competition. I think this is such a cool attraction of the club and department.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
My favorite class so far is called Mathematics of Finance II, taught by Ambrose Lo. It was a really tough course, but it was designed to help students prepare for the IFM exam, and in particular, the derivatives section of that exam. Not only was our textbook written by our professor, but each lecture was built to help students with problem solving.
We built the conceptual knowledge first, but then after that it was all problem solving and doing problem after problem, which I found helpful for preparing for the exam. Ambrose Lo is such a genius when it comes to actuarial science and its related fields. The class was great because I felt so challenged, and at the end of the semester, I genuinely felt like I’d learned so much.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
The most challenging part of studying actuarial science is how time-consuming it is. Compared to some of my other friends who are studying in different fields, it seems like my courses are so much more time-consuming and intensive. In addition, there are the actuarial exams that we have to study for outside of regular classes, so that takes a lot of extra time. Finding the time to relax and exercise, especially in the weeks leading up to an actuarial exam or finals, has personally been the most challenging part. I wish I would’ve known that ahead of time.
Another thing I wish I would’ve known is that even though this field is competitive and the major is competitive, at Iowa, I feel like the fellow students are so supportive, and the stress of studying for finals becomes a shared experience. We all want each other to succeed when it comes to exams and internships. I wish I would’ve known that because I think it would have relieved a bit of anxiety I had about coming into such a competitive and intensive major.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
I have my first internship this summer. I’ll be interning at Principal Financial Group in Des Moines. I’ll be in the specialty benefits division, working on pricing employee benefit plans, such as short-term disability and long-term disability.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
Right now, I am leaning more towards the life and health field rather than P&C. I’d like to gain my ASA and then my FSA, and then potentially the CERA credential. A short-term goal would be just to pass as many exams as possible. Preferably, I’d like to pass four exams by the end of college, potentially even five.
Long-term goals would be to work for a company that’s ethical, innovative, and has a passion for community service and employee leadership. Eventually, I would hope to make as much of an impact as I can in such a company, whether it’s in leadership or building strong relationships and connections with my fellow actuaries.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
One stereotype that I got from my family and some of my friends when I first told them I was going into actuarial science, which is a subset of insurance, was everyone always told me, “Oh, insurance is boring. Why would you want to go into insurance?” But I would say to someone who is interested in the insurance field that insurance is anything but boring.
From talking with current actuaries and recruiters, it seems every day in the insurance field is different because you have constantly changing social, political, and environmental issues that insurance has to adapt for. Especially as an actuary, you get a front-row seat to all of these changes. Also, it’s such a growing industry, as I mentioned before, and can provide some really stable and fantastic jobs.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
If you’re looking for actuarial-specific content, I’d point you to the monthly actuarial newsletter from Rethink Studying. Every single month, I get an email from Rethink Studying, and it comes packed with articles on effective leadership, study motivation, and study strategies. It’s a fantastic newsletter that I really enjoy when it comes to studying and leadership help.
If you’re looking for exam prep, my go-to is the online subscription-based product from Coaching Actuaries. They have adaptive practice exams and modules, which I found to be extremely helpful when it comes to studying for exams.
If you’re looking for daily articles on risk management, in my risk management class, we looked at this website called PropertyCasualty360. It has a wide variety of the most up-to-date articles on what’s going on in the property and casualty industry.