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Changing career outlook

  1. Sep 11, 2012 #1
    Hi all,

    First post here. I am a high GPA actuarial science based statistics major at a well known university for act sci. However, I have become disenchanted with the profession lately. I have heard a lot about how the amount of high level thinking required on the job is disappointing to a lot of college grads.

    I don't need to be solving incredibly difficult problems everyday, but I would like to be challenged from time to time.

    I am thinking of switching to pursuing an MS in biostatistics. The reason this is such a big decision for me is because I have scholarships that are based on my choice to pursue an actuarial career. I have already passed to actuarial professional exams and will no longer continue if I don't continue to show that I am trying to pass actuarial exams. I also like that biostatistics seems like it has a bigger impact on the world.

    Any opinions on making the switch and whether or not it's worth it? Will I be more challenged in biostatistics?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 12, 2012 #2


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    Hi rollie. I have a quick question for you. You state that your current undergraduate scholarships are linked to your continuing on an actuarial career path. Does this involve merely taking the actuarial exams? If so, depending on how far you are along your undergraduate degree, perhaps you could consider simply finishing your bachelor's degree in statistics (with actuarial science concentration) and take a few more exams, and then pursue a MS in statistics or biostatistics.

    I've known a number of students with undergraduate degrees in actuarial science who pursued graduate studies in biostatistics (the underlying statistical methods are quite similar, particularly in areas such as survival analysis), so there won't be much of a transition in terms of content.

    As far as being more challenged, I suppose that would depend on what you mean by "challenge". I work as a biostatistician for a health-care organization with involvement in the design and analysis of clinical trials. While there are aspects of the job that are fairly routine (as in any job), I find that the work can be challenging, e.g. determining appropriate sample size of patients to ensure the trial is properly "powered", determining what design is most appropriate for the problem, communicating statistical results to medical professionals, etc. Overall, I find the work I'm involved with very satisfying.

    Furthermore, there are many opportunities for students with graduate degrees in biostatistics in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sector as well as in hospitals, health-care organizations, and government agencies, and demand is quite strong. I would also add that a graduate degree in biostatistics will provide you with the skills to work areas outside of the health-care/pharma/biotech sectors (for example, I've known people with a biostatistics degree working in data mining or statistical software development).

    So if you feel that you are interested in pursuing this route, I would say go for it. Sorry for the long post!
  4. Sep 12, 2012 #3
    Are you in the US or Canada rollie?
  5. Sep 12, 2012 #4
    Have you become disenchanted with the work itself, or just because of what you have heard about the job? The problem with something like actuarial science is that it is often misunderstood as a career. A lot of mathematicians are attracted to the field thinking they'll be solving complex equations all day when this really isn't the case. This seems to give the profession a poorer image than is probably justified. As a career, its better viewed as a business profession with a mathematical leaning. I work with some actuaries in my office and I think its fair to say they are challenged *all the time*. However, its not a mathematical challenge - more of a business one. So you need to define what kind of challenge you want. The actuaries I know seem to be fairly content. Have you considered maybe doing an internship before making up your mind?

    Again, this depends very much on what you define as a challenge and what you want out of a career. The problem is most careers are not as challenging in the academic sense as what you would do in a university. Unfortunately there is a lot of mundane repetitive work that also needs to be done.
  6. Sep 12, 2012 #5
    I remember when I started as an actuarial analyst I saw the job as having two parts – the mathy, harder part, and the wishy-washy businessy part. The first time I attended a meeting that included executive officers was a real novelty. Neato, I get to sit in with the bigwigs.

    Four years later and those meetings terrify me. I plan for them for days, or weeks. It turns out those people in them are razor sharp, ask difficult questions, and remember every word you say. And repeat those words to many people. Every word out of your mouth has to be correct, and it has to be stated in a way that leads to interpretations that are both true and politically intelligent. You have to have a good sense of who the people in the room are, what their histories are, how they relate to the topic, and what impact what you say is going to have on them. You have to know who is on your side and who isn’t. You have to know everything about the topic, or at least have it on hand (and that includes information outside the scope of your involvement). You have to be right, and you need to be honest, but you also need to be careful what you say. Every word not uttered is a potential liability avoided. Unless, of course, it turns out you needed to say it.

    I think I’ve earned a certain amount of respect inside my department for my ability to explain complicated ideas to people, but in the upper level meetings it has bordered on a liability (or at least been a mixed blessing). The only way to guarantee no one can misinterpret what you say is to be uncompromisingly exact. The techniques I used as a teacher and presenter in the past (I love public speaking) are unacceptable in some environments here.

    Every day I only have to do data analysis, report preparation, reserves, etc., is an easy day. Not because the work isn’t challenging, but because the alternative is so dangerous.
  7. Sep 12, 2012 #6
    I am in the US. Thanks for the replies. Also, I have a potential internship lined up for this coming summer which is obviously a good way to see if I like the profession. I was just concerned that I would be allocating too much time towards a career as an actuary by passing more exams when I could be working on skills specific to biostatistics. However, StatGuy2000 makes it sound as tho the mathematics learned in my classes will be relatable to classes I would have in biostatistics if I choose to pursue an MS. Then again I don't want to waste countless nights and weekends studying for exams that I end up never using if I do decide biostatistics.

    Locrian I am intrigued by the way you described challenges in the actuarial world. I guess I have a lot of thinking to do.
  8. Sep 12, 2012 #7
    If you're in the US the only value to undergrad or grad studies in actuarial science is helping you pass the exams. If you can do that on your own (and you should), then instead get a more general statistics degree, or a specific one in another area (biostats). You'll be just as likely to get an actuarial science job, but may be more prepared for other careers.

    My department is a fairly small actuarial department, but there are exactly 0 people in it with any university work in actuarial science. Employers are actually split whether they even think an masters in actuarial science is a plus or a minus.

    Of course, there's that not small matter of the money. . . but if you can get funded in another area of studies, I'd probably encourage it. I think highly of the actuarial profession. The fact that it is open to career changers and those with a variety of educational backgrounds is a big plus in my book, and something to be taken advantage of.
  9. Sep 12, 2012 #8
    I am a statistics major and basically just take a few extra electives in actuarial science...I still get the bread and butter stats.
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