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Engineering Electrical engineering vs actuary

  1. Mar 11, 2010 #1
    So heres the rundown:
    I just got into the electrical engineering department. However, ive already taken some intro EE classes (intro circuits, intro DSP, intro logic design) and even an advanced one (devices, transistors) and i really didnt like any of them at all.

    However, i am also a math minor and ive loved all the classes, which are just the basics: calculus, multivariable calculus, DE, Linear algebra, intro to analysis.
    Now my school doesnt have an official actuarial science program, but most people who go into actuarial sciences graduate with a BS in math and take stat, econ, classes on the side.

    IF i go into EE, i know that there is a good chance i wont like it. However, if i go into math, i dont know if i will like it. Ive taken some intro and some higher level math classes and i loved those, but will i like the upper level probability and statistics classes required for actuarial exams?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 12, 2010 #2


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    I'm pretty sure you can past papers off the respective actuarial society website to give you indicator of what you're likely to expect.

    The UK system (the same one used in australia) has 8 Core Technical exams. They deal mostly with applied stats to insurance finance but there are also business/accounting, economics, financial math along the stats.

    After that you specialize into an area like life insurance, general insurance, investments, superannuation or banking aside from a few other minor areas like health.

    In australia actuaries have to do a Part II which focuses primarily on risk management and the actuarial control cycle. I'm not too sure about the US counterpart.

    If you really understand the math behind whats going on then you should do fine. A big thing against actuarial is that you are doing a tonne of math but its only applied mainly to insurance and thus you may end up learning a tonne of formulas, processes and results without having the necessary "deep" knowledge to know why it works, how it was derived etc.

    I recommend if you want to be actuary to learn the maths and why it works and how it works before you do it. The stats you need to know include your basic probability and statistics include inference and hypothesis testing as well as markov modelling and applied probability and also Generalized Linear Models and Stochastic Processes. Apart from stats you will also need to do Financial math that covers things like annuities but if you're comfortable with all the stat work you need to do, then you should be ok with that module. Theres also financial economics which covers things like derivatives and associated things.

    With the actuarial education they cram so much stuff into the modules as well which is why i suggest you do something which emphasizes understanding of the math like say a math or physics or possibly even engineering but I would recommend a good math program.

    My advice for choosing actuarial would be that you like applied math and statistics, you're a good communicator and like public speaking, you like the idea of working in insurance (or possibly other financial areas), you like studying, and you really have to love problem solving (like most math oriented careers). The math is more a formality than everything: you will need a lot of other skills to complement it. It wouldn't hurt to join your local toastmasters to get up and do some public speaking.

    In terms of the degree it is so specialized that it sometimes might be hard to get a related job where you might be competing with say strong science graduates (ie maths or physics) especially if they are honors or PhD students who have very deep understandings of math which is why I recommend you doing such a program (although a PhD in math might be overkill if you are set on being an actuary).

    Also another thing I should mention is if you want to be an actuary get exposure to some computer science subjects or learn how to do mathematical modeling through say something like R, MATLAB, VB or C++.

    Hopefully someone in here is an actuary that can give you some better advice.
  4. Mar 16, 2010 #3
    I like what Chiro said. I would put less emphasis on learning material and more on passing the exams, but that may be due to location different (I’m in the US). In the US, it’s all about passing the exams, and as long as you have a strong calculus background the study materials can give you everything you need, and no class will replace them.

    Note that the actuarial field (in the US) is special because you don't need a degree in actuarial science to enter it. This is very valuable, because it means – with some additional labor – that you can play two fields at once. Get your degree in math, EE, or stats, and while you’re at it take a few actuarial exams.

    A topic that comes up on actuarial outpost with some regularity questions whether a degree or masters in actuarial science gives a candidate an edge – the short answer is no. The long answer is that it depends on the person hiring - some value it, most don’t care, and some even frown upon it! I strongly suggest you get a different degree, as it will give you flexibility that’s needed in today’s environment.

    Some other notes that come to mind:

    1) As an actuary, you are not a mathematician. You’re a sophisticated businessperson who knows more math than they’ll ever use on their job.

    2) The most important tool currently available to actuaries is excel. A few in modeling don’t use this as much, but for most it’s the hammer and nail of their work. SQL and VBA are valuable things to know. In the end, though, you need to present yourself as someone who can learn new things more than you need to be someone who knows a few things.

    3) The entry level marketplace for actuaries is really, really bad right now. If you were considering nursing, I’d tell you not to switch. However, I can’t really say entry level actuarial is worse than entry level engineering in the US - it's probably better. All you have to lose is 600 or so hours of study and $600 or so of study and test fees, which is small stuff compared with a whole degree. That’s what’s great about being able to take the exams on the side. There’s really not a lot of risk in exploring this career choice.

    Hope this helped.
  5. Mar 16, 2010 #4
    The pay is great later in life as an actuary but so is almost every job. Getting an entry level job using an EE degree will be much easier than with some actuary exams + whatever degree.

    I gave up being an actuary a couple of years ago (most likely due to the start of the U.S. recession (around late 2006/early 2007) after I couldn't find an entry level position to get into the field.
  6. Dec 1, 2010 #5
    Thought I'd resurrect this old post, as I'm currently working in electrical engineering and thinking of a career change to becoming an actuary.

    The thing I've found about the work I've been involved in as an elec eng, is that there is not enough theory and maths behind what I do to keep me interested. As a bit of background, I'm working in a consulting office in a design role.

    There is a lot of maths taught at uni as part of EE programs, but not all fields use this in everyday work (exceptions that come to mind are fields like electromagnetics and signal processing).. Most design jobs are just focused on practical considerations (safety, cost, installation, operations, maintenance) and a bit of the mathematical theory (but not much) is used to determine equipment requirements. So far the most complicated maths I've used in my career is some basic formulas in uni textbooks.

    I've found myself working alongside former electricians that have never been to uni, which is not the career I want for myself (not trying to sound harsh, they have a wealth of practical experience and are good at what they do, but I didn't study Fourier transforms to be doing this sort of thing).

    The thing that has appealed to me about being an actuary is the maths/modelling work and also the big-picture type thinking, which I am missing in my job at the moment. I've got to do some more investigation however...

    Anyone else got any thoughts?
  7. Dec 1, 2010 #6
    I've worked as an electical engineer and have worked closely with electrical engineers (as a test engineer and software engineer) throughout my career. My area of work has been embedded systems. My observations are that the design phase does not generally require calculus nor any other advanced math courses. I'm not talking about component design and fabrication. I have absolutely no experience in that area of engineering.

    I have one suggestion that may be a little off topic. Since you love math, have you considered a career as a finance analyst?
  8. Jan 4, 2011 #7
    You may already be aware of this, but the first thing anyone interested in actuarial work needs to understand is that actuaries are not mathematicians or scientists, they're sophisticated business people. If you aren't interested in business, specifically insurance, then it's hard to imagine how you will enjoy the job (though there are some angles one might take. . .).

    Goodluck in your research.
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