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Insurance Jobs for Physics PhDs: Where to look?

  1. Jul 7, 2013 #1
    I'll be finishing my Physics PhD in about six months, and I am looking to leave Physics for jobs in consulting, finance, or at an insurance company. There's been plenty written here about finance jobs, but not as much about the other two, despite them appearing to be some of the major outlets for recent PhDs to get jobs. So, how do I go about getting a job at an insurance company? What type of insurance companies would want physicists, and what type of job listings are they typically suited for?

    Unlike most of the people that branch into these fields, I'm in Accelerator physics rather than HEP, so I don't have exactly the same background with statistical analysis.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 7, 2013 #2


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    I recall a post earlier stating that accelerator physics actually has good job prospects. So I'm curious why you are not considering first finding a job in that area first, especially given that your PhD research is in that field.
  4. Jul 7, 2013 #3
    I know that Accelerator Physics has possibly the best job market of any focus in physics, but...

    1) I've mostly hated the work. Learning a giant stack of overly-specific codes and software in ways they were barely intended for is frustrating, and gives very little meaningful work experience.

    2) Staying the field will STILL require relocating across the country, one or more times.

    3) I want a job which allows me to live in a large city, which rules out Accelerator Physics almost entirely, given how nearly all of the National Laboratories are in terrible locations.

    4) I find statistical work and experience far more general, and interesting. If you lose your job, you won't have to move across the country to find another one.

    5) I'm graduating at the wrong time in the year for Postdoc jobs. If I wanted one, I would have needed to apply ~8 months ago.
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2013
  5. Jul 7, 2013 #4
    Both SLAC and LBNL are commuting distance from San Francisco, and both Fermilab and Argonne are slightly more painful but still commuting distance from Chicago (you'd have a reverse commute).
  6. Jul 7, 2013 #5
    Hi AccAcc. A few years ago I finished up my masters in physics and decided to try something different. I currently work as an actuary for an insurance company.

    I think the right way to approach things is like this: Insurance companies have no use for physicists (with possibly one exception, see later). However, they do routinely employ technically and mathematically skilled individuals. Your goal is to either retool yourself to fit one of those positions, or at least seem very much like someone who could do so on the job. I think being in the right frame of mind about this is important to performing well in the interview.

    Three areas that might be worth considering are as follows:

    • Statistics/data analysis/data mining. These jobs come under a variety of names – some examples are “statistician”, “data analyst”, among others. The motivation is typically that careful analysis of big data sources can result in increased accuracy in claims estimations, risk assessments and fraud detection. The tools used range from basic stats to advanced GLMs.

    • Cat modeling. Here you’re predicting loss amounts (or at least damage assessments) for various catastrophes. This area is more likely to actually employ scientists, so if your area of physics was related to meteorology, they might actually need your physics background. However they also employ statisticians, actuaries and other experts.

    • Actuarial work. Actuaries estimate future contingent liabilities, which is central to the business of being an insurance company. I’ve written about the profession a number of times in the past.

    The only one of these three areas that might be considered well defined is actuarial work, since doing so often involves professional certification. There is plenty of overlap between the three areas.
  7. Jul 7, 2013 #6
    Argonne is the only one there that isn't really bad. From Chicago's south side, you can get out to Darian in ~20 minutes, plus however long it takes to navigate Argonne's winding roads to get to your building. The downside is that the city's southside is not as nice as the north side, with some major concerns about safety (look at a map of recent murders if you need examples).

    Fermilab... not so much. I know plenty of people with hour+ commutes. The highway that pretty much must be taken (88/290) is awful and comes to standstills reliably during rush hours.

    SLAC is a bit too far to commute from San Francisco-proper. From other parts of the South Bay Area, yes, but by my understanding it would be a very long commute from the city.

    Same with LBNL, from my understanding, though the bigger concern for both of the California labs is that ~60-70k isn't enough to actually live in a very expensive city like SF. I've also kind of missed my chance for Accelerator postdocs, if I wanted one, as my graduation date would sync up with applying last fall, which I did not do.

    Thank you, this is very helpful.

    How geographically spread out are the insurance companies? I know Finance is mostly New York with Chicago (my preferred location) a distant second.
  8. Jul 7, 2013 #7
    Insurance is more dispersed than the other types of financial jobs you're interested in. Ironically that's often a drawback I present to people when discussing actuarial work - it is geographically limiting. The vast majority (70-80%, I think) of actuarial jobs are in about 20 cities; in the State I live in there is exactly one city that has any actuaries, and you can just about count them on your fingers and toes. If I lost my job, I'd have no problems finding another one, but we'd be moving.

    So I guess my point is that analytical or data oriented insurance jobs are more geographically flexible than National labs and quant jobs, but it's still restrictive compared, say, to teaching or nursing.

    Also, if you were to try for a job at an insurance company, you initially wouldn't have much control over where you ended up. As an entry level career changer with no experience, you'll be taking what you're given. In the long run you'll have more control.
  9. Jul 7, 2013 #8
    I know Allstate and Travelers both have decent size research/modelling efforts based in Chicago. I'd see if you can find some people in the group you can get in touch with (network!). Predictive Analytics World usually has a conference in Chicago, I'd check to see if it hasn't happened yet and drop in to try to network.

    Also, look at the data science positions that the city of Chicago and Open Data Group have open. Its not insurance, but statistical/predictive modeling type work.
  10. Jul 8, 2013 #9
    Hopefully the third largest city in the country is good enough. I'd be really depressed if, even when leaving my career options open, I still have to relocate yet again to find employment.
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