Sharon, 23, is originally from Hong Kong. She moved to Canada when she was 16. She attended the University of Waterloo for five years (including co-op terms) and graduated with a degree in actuarial science and statistics. She is currently employed as a pricing actuarial associate by a reinsurance company in downtown Toronto.
Stephanie: What made you decide to become an actuary? How did you become an actuary?
Sharon: I think most people have a tough time choosing what to study at university, and it was like that for me. I'd always been good at math and I wanted to continue my education in an area where I excelled, but I thought that most math programs would lead me to a career in academia, which was not I was looking for. At the time, I'd never heard about actuarial science, so I really had a tough time deciding what to study. I was lucky, however, because a friend of a friend was studying actuarial science, and my friend told me a little bit about what it is. I thought, 'why not give it a try?' because I didn't really know what I wanted to do.
I was accepted by the University of Waterloo. Their co-op programs really appealed to me, and I decided to go there to study actuarial science. While I was at university, most of the courses were very challenging and required a lot of problem-solving skills. I soon realized that actuarial science was exactly what I was looking for.
While at school, I started writing the actuarial exams and when I finished school, I had passed four exams. (There are eight exams in total.) I've completed six exams now and am considered an Associate of the Society of Actuaries.
Stephanie: What do you like about your job?
Sharon: I learn new things almost every single day. The work I'm doing is very challenging and I have to use a lot of the skill sets I developed during my years in university. There are always problems I need to solve and there is some client contact, which I like. As I'm working in a reinsurance company, I get to see how different insurance companies work - that is one of the fun parts of my job. Helping clients develop new products is also very rewarding. I like seeing that my comments count and that the work I do actually has an impact.
Stephanie: What is your least favourite part of the job?
Sharon: I think all jobs have their frustrating parts. After solving the problem, there's documentation, and it's the documentation that is the toughest part for me. But I know that it's always important to have everything documented; you'll certainly appreciate the time spent on documentation after a while.
Stephanie: What advice do you have for someone considering becoming an actuary?
Sharon: Make sure you set your goals. Because of the nature of the work and the professional exams you have to complete, you have to be very self-disciplined. You need to like challenges if you really want to become an actuary.
There is a series of exams an actuary has to go through; you may have to sacrifice some of your "play" time in order to succeed. That having been said, the work is very rewarding, and you can get plenty of satisfaction out of it.
Stephanie: What kind of an education do you need to be an actuary? What kind of education did you get?
Sharon: There are a few universities in Canada that have very good actuarial programs. I think studying actuarial science is really helpful if one really wants to become an actuary. I've known people who didn't study actuarial science at university but who wrote the actuarial exams. I'm sure they had to put in some extra effort in order to succeed.
In North America, professional exams are held by the Society of Actuaries and if you passed all the exams and earn enough working experience, you can become a qualified actuary.
I went to the University of Waterloo and majored in actuarial science and statistics. My co-op placements really helped me in understanding the nature of the work I would be doing. It also gave me a taste of which area of actuarial science I wanted to get into. Many people think actuaries only do life insurance, but there are pension actuaries, property and casualty actuaries, actuaries in the investment field, etc. I started writing actuarial exams while still in school, but you don't have to.
Stephanie: What is your favourite number?
Sharon: Well, I don't have one favourite number really. I only like numbers when they make sense.
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