Fizza Abbas is a senior at the University of Texas at Dallas, where she is earning a double major in Actuarial Science and Mathematics. Fizza is the career liaison for the UT Dallas Actuarial Student Association, and she interned this past summer at Willis Towers Watson. We spoke with Fizza in October 2019.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
One of my favorite hobbies is baking. I’ve been baking for almost ten years now, and it’s my way of de-stressing after a long day. I especially love making cakes and desserts for my friends and family on their birthdays, or just to give them as a gift once in a while.
What has your experience at UT Dallas been like?
I actually moved to Dallas from Dubai, so it was a very different experience. I was technically an international student even though I was born here, but I moved back to Dubai and then moved here for school. It was a difficult experience at first because I didn’t know anyone here when I started, and I was getting used to everything here. But looking back now, the experience has been amazing.
The actuarial science program at UTD is growing, but it’s still a small, tight-knit community. We all know each other, and it’s nice to have everyone around supporting each other.
UT has a very diverse campus, and I’ve met a lot of great people here. I’ve also met really great professors who I’ve learned so much from. Over the last few years, I’ve really gotten involved and have been active in a lot of organizations here, so I’ve been able to meet so many people. I still can’t believe it’s already senior year, and I’m about to graduate!
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose UT Dallas?
When I was applying to schools, there were two other schools that I also really wanted to go to—Georgia Tech and UT Austin. I got accepted into them as well, but what ultimately made me choose UTD was the fact that my older brother was attending school here. My parents wanted me and my brother to go to the same school because they were not in the same country as us. Also, when my brother started attending UTD, I went to his orientation, and I got to see the campus, and I met an advisor here. I really liked the program here, which is what made me eventually choose UT Dallas.
What influenced you to pursue actuarial science?
When I was in high school, I knew I wanted to pursue something with math. It was my favorite subject, and I enjoyed learning more about it. I had heard about actuarial science from my friend’s older sister, who was getting a degree in actuarial science. I did some research on actuarial science, and I wanted to pursue it as a career, but I still wasn’t set on doing it as my major.
So I applied to UT Dallas as a math major, and for my first two semesters here, I was a math major. But once I got here and talked to people that were in the actuarial program, it convinced me to double-major because many of the classes were overlapping, so I wouldn’t have to stay another year or anything. And I knew that this was the path I wanted to take as a career.
Actuarial science applies mathematics and statistics to solve real-world problems. You’re seeing how you can use statistics in the insurance industry to analyze risk or pricing. I found all of this very interesting.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
The actuarial science program at UTD is growing, but it’s still a small, tight-knit community. We all know each other, and it’s nice to have everyone around supporting each other since we’re all going through the same experience.
Our professor Dr. Natalia Humphreys, who is the associate head of the program, is very passionate about the program and works really hard to make it great for us students. She’s always open to ideas and ways to improve the program.
We have companies coming in almost every week for networking and on-campus presentations and interviews. And moreover, we have two really good campus organizations. I’m on the board of the Actuarial Student Association, and we also have the Beta Phi Chapter of Gamma Iota Sigma here. Both organizations hold a lot of networking events, mock interviews, and resume workshops, and they also go to a lot of conferences.
Having these resources really helps you to meet people that are in the same field as you and want to go down a similar path. It’s nice to have friends here that are going through the same process to support each other, especially during exams.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
My favorite classes are my actuarial classes because they’re more pertinent to what I’m doing. My favorite class so far is a class that I took last semester called ACTS 4301: Life Contingencies. It’s a class that covers the material for the LTAM exam. I found it particularly interesting because it involves studying mortality tables, mortality assumptions, and models and seeing how that plays a huge role in insurance and how we calculate present values and pricing. When I was interning over the summer, it was nice to see how a lot of the things I studied played a role in actual actuarial work.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
The actuarial exams are a big part of studying actuarial science, and I can see why a lot of people are intimidated. I think studying for exams has been very challenging, especially if you are working part time and going to school full time. It can be really hard to balance your schedule to take time out to study for exams.
Something that I wish I had known ahead of time? I started taking exams during my junior year, and I feel like I should’ve started taking exams earlier on because it would’ve helped me get an internship during my sophomore year. I think I would have gotten a better idea of what the work entails and gotten more experience.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
I interned last summer at Willis Towers Watson in their actuarial service center. It was an amazing and very enriching experience. Sitting in class compared to actually being on the job and learning are two very different experiences.
I learned a lot during my internship. We had regular training sessions where we learned about what pension plans and pension regulations are, and we also had training sessions where we improved our technical skills. We had one main project during the semester, which was for us to see exactly what they do for each client in a fiscal year, and then we had to present that project at the end. It was a really nice internship, and I learned a lot through that experience.
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance?
Something that I feel that we definitely need to keep our eye on is AI and the rise of insurtech. I think it’s very important because it’s going to shake the industry up. Right now, there are forward-thinking companies that are already researching and planning ways to involve their companies because with machine learning coming into play, the way we price or analyze data is going to be transformed. But at the same time, I don’t think people should be alarmed or that jobs of actuaries are going to slowly decrease. I think actuaries will work with machine learning, and these new technologies are going to evolve the actuarial career in a more exciting way.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
Right now, I don’t have a specific insurance industry that I want to go into. I’m keeping my options open to see what I like. With that, I’m hoping to start working as an actuarial analyst once I graduate and progressing on my exams to attain my FSA, in whatever track that would be, and trying to get it over the next few years. Long term, I’d want to get into more of a leadership position.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
I think people don’t realize that there are so many different paths you can go down in the insurance field. People get scared and think they’re going to go into a specific role and be constrained to that, but the reality is insurance is so varied. Even within actuarial science, there’s so much you can do. My advice would be to try to shadow someone and see what they do and see if you’re interested in that particular field.
I also think it’s really important to network. I know networking is not that easy, and it pushes you out of your comfort zone, but I think it’s really important because of two reasons. One, I think it helps you make connections, which are going to be helpful throughout your career. And two, it improves your soft skills. People say that actuaries just have desk jobs and are more mathematically inclined, but actually, having soft skills and communication skills really makes you stand out when you’re applying for jobs.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
The main resources to use are the SOA or the CAS website. For exam information, these sites tell you any changes that have happened recently, and they lay out what exams you need to take. The SOA website also has resources where they post articles about whatever changes that are happening in the industry. Something that I recently discovered was that the SOA also has a podcast channel, so that’s something you can listen to on the go.