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Math Does it make sense for a math Ph.D. to pursue a career as an actuary?

  1. Jan 26, 2013 #1
    I hope to have my Ph.D. in math by the end of the summer. My dissertation is in mathematical physics. But I feel woefully under-qualified for academic positions - I've made excellent grades in all my math classes, but I don't really think I love math as much as some of the people I tend to meet at conferences, and working on my dissertation is (quite frankly) a real drag; not just because I don't particularly find the subject very interesting, but mainly because I just don't think I'm very good at it. So I'm considering other options - namely, industry positions - but my computer skills aren't that great, and I don't think I could ever be competitive as an applicant to work in finance (unless I improved my computer skills).

    Soooo...how about taking some actuary exams? That's something I think I could do pretty well at, pretty quickly. But is it weird to be someone with a math Ph.D. who's taking actuary exams? I was always of the understanding that mostly master's-in-math people did stuff like that. Am I going to have a hard time finding a job because I'm "overqualified?" (Note: I don't for a second believe I actually *am* overqualified, but my resume might get shredded if this is the standard way math Ph.D.s are viewed in the actuarial field.)
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 27, 2013 #2
    I'm assuming you're in the US in this post; if you're in Canada, the advice is similar but the market for actuaries is so saturated that you should probably just look elsewhere. If you're elsewhere in the world, the information in this post may not apply.

    In the US it is unusual to be taking exams with a PhD, but it isn't unheard of.

    You are right to think you may be seen as "overqualified". I've seen those in hiring positions make salary assumptions about people with PhD's that are several times actual values.

    You'll run into other biases. The biggest is that you're just working there until you get the university job you wanted. Others include that you'll be unwilling to do menial work, that you'll get bored at the job, or that you'll be difficult to get along with. None of these are fair, but they often come from actual experience.

    You can overcome these objections. Handle them in a positive straightforward way in a cover letter, for instance. Be ready to discuss them briefly in an interview. Keep it simple; for example: "I enjoyed my time as a student, but have absolutely no intention of ever working at a university." You can expand a little if they ask - don't say you can't get a job, but you can say that the jobs available don't interest you. Don't say anything negative.

    If the only problem you have is that you obtained a PhD, then you've got a lot going for you. Your two biggest problems (that I know of, given your post) are that you have no exams written and I'm betting you have limited to no office work experience. So some of the difficulties you'll run into looking for work in the actuarial field aren't because you have a PhD, but because you haven't done other valuable things necessary to get a job in the field.

    So yes, I think it can absolutely make sense for a math PhD to pursue a career as an actuary, assuming they know what they're getting into. That's an important step: know what you're getting into.

    Best of luck, and I'd be happy to try and answer any questions you have.
  4. Jan 27, 2013 #3
    Sounds to me like you may have a lower opinion of yourself than others do.
    Give that some consideration.

    Do you like working alone, doing stuff yourself, or do you like working with people?? That's fundamental and not an easy question for most of to to answer. Have you taught at all?? Did you like that or not?

    Do you REALLY REALLY like this work?? Fine if you do, a bad choice if you don't.

    One of the results of education is realizing how much you don't know. So what? you have proven beyond any shadow of a doubt you can learn..a LOT!!

    I would worry less about what others think, about what you can 'do quickly' and give some thought to what you love to do. Go try that. You can always change your mind.

    [In my own case while I was getting a MSEE, many years ago, I happened to get a summer job at AT&T in an introductory management program. I had 12 people working for me and helping them was a lot like helping students in EE labs where I had been a lab instructor. I REALLY liked the work with AT&T. So I took a few management courses my last semester and went into general management....completely changed career direction before I even got started.

    Just this morning my daughter mentioned an Opthamologist at her office started as a general medical doctor, did not like it, and switched to Opthamology.

    Whatever you decide to do, you are NOT making a lifelong commitment!!
  5. Feb 8, 2013 #4
    Re: Does it make sense for a math Ph.D. to pursue a career as an actua

    Where are you? In the UK this is a fairly common route for maths PhDs.
  6. Feb 9, 2013 #5
    Re: Does it make sense for a math Ph.D. to pursue a career as an actua

    He doesn't like doing math that much, so he's not likely find anything he REALLY REALLY likes.

    This happened to me, I REALLY REALLY liked physics/maths up to postgraduate level, but then fell out of love with it. Like most people I could only find postgraduate work in less sexy areas, and the work became very detailed and technical, like actuarial work without the big wage.

    It's probably best to aim for work you can stand doing which has a good wage... rather than hoping for something you REALLY REALLY love. Then do, or look for, what you REALLY REALLY love in your spare time...
  7. Feb 9, 2013 #6
    Re: Does it make sense for a math Ph.D. to pursue a career as an actua

    Maybe you are just the kind of person that likes anything :)

    I've done some lab instruction and found it tedious. I liked programming more, and it paid better, so I moved into that area to make money in a "bearable" way.

    I can imagine "bearing" actuarial work, if it's as I imagine it... simple sums, setting up spreadsheets, doing a few programming-like tasks... though I'd try and find an actual actuary to get the real low down!

    I do REALLY REALLY like many things ... music, films, food, novels, sports, walking, women, talking... but not any that coincide with "making money".
  8. Feb 9, 2013 #7
    Re: Does it make sense for a math Ph.D. to pursue a career as an actua

    Quite the opposite. I have to consider what I am doing relevant, worthwhile.

    This is an example of what I was trying to say: if you don't like what you are doing, move along and do something different. Maybe even plan on changing careers every ten years? Some people like working along, others with others; finding which you like is what's important. And that can change as you get older.

    Another perspective on all this comes with the expression to the effect that
    Lying on their death bed few people ever think "I should have spent even more time at the office"......
  9. Feb 10, 2013 #8
    Re: Does it make sense for a math Ph.D. to pursue a career as an actua

    Well, I enjoy doing math; it's just that I find my dissertation topic tedious almost to the point of madness. This is probably a common affliction, but it doesn't change the fact.
  10. Feb 10, 2013 #9
    Re: Does it make sense for a math Ph.D. to pursue a career as an actua

    I like working as an actuary a lot. Many (but not all) of the duties I have are interesting to me, and I feel like I play an important part in the company and society. These two aren't unrelated; if all I did was what I was told, my job would be pretty boring. Because I value what I do, I look for ways to do it better, and that allows me to be creative in my work process.

    I'm sure there are boring actuarial jobs out there. I'm also sure some people just sit around and do what they're told, which I think always ends up pretty boring.

    The fact that the work is commonly perceived as boring by people who have never done it is fine with me; you are all welcome to maintain that opinion. The lack of supply is one reason I'm paid as much as I am to work in a job I enjoy.
  11. Feb 12, 2013 #10
    Re: Does it make sense for a math Ph.D. to pursue a career as an actua

    Not that being an actuary would be bad, but you might just want to beef up your computer skills and open up the number of possible careers you can pursue. Although, I think that depends on what you mean by "beefing up" your computer skills. I think if you can program at the level of the 2 introductory undergrad programming courses schools typically offer (enough so you know how to work with objects and thus most programming libraries), you're probably golden.
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2013
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