By Margie Rosenberg
The Society of Actuaries' (SOA) Web site states that the purpose of the Education and Research section is to "facilitate expanding the knowledge base of the actuarial profession, promote ties between business actuaries, academic actuaries and actuarial educators, and seek ways to support and encourage actuarial education and research." In this article I will discuss one new SOA initiative aimed at creating synergy between academics and practitioners. One goal, as I see this new initiative, is to build bridges between industry and academia so that we leverage our talents and expand our learning horizons.
A first step is to focus on the new SOA Doctoral Stipend. The SOA Web site summarizes the program to increase the number of academic actuaries. Eligibility for the program is for those (i) "enrolled fulltime, have recently been admitted or are currently applying to a qualifying doctoral program at a North American University" and (ii) "hold a Fellowship–level actuarial credential or are either pursuing Associateship or Fellowship of an accrediting actuarial organization (i.e., SOA, CAS, CIA, FA, IA, or IAA)". Stipends will be $20,000 per year and renewable for four years. The idea of the program is to supplement the income of those enrolled in a doctoral program and to increase the numbers of credentialed academics in actuarial science.
My question is how do we increase the supply of academic actuaries with industry experience? In my opinion, the profession is hoping to expand on the numbers of academic actuaries who have a practical side to them and can integrate the theory into practice. It is absolutely crucial to have theoretical actuaries push the limits of knowledge, but we also need academics to translate the theory so that industry actuaries can bring this knowledge into the workplace.
I see these new academic actuaries as teachers, of both on‑campus students, as well as off‑campus practitioners. As such, these academic actuaries need to be good communicators to those with different backgrounds. Where do we find such people? How do we provide encouragement for industry actuaries to return to school for their PhD? Is $20,000 + tuition + health benefits + university stipend sufficient? At my school, University of Wisconsin-Madison, we are currently offering new PhD students a package that we value at $50,000, separate from the SOA program. Our nine‑month stipend is $15,000. In one sense, these PhD students can realize $35,000 (the SOA stipend + the university stipend), plus tuition and health benefits.
As an academic myself, I see that we need to increase the supply of academics. I entered academia in 1994 after working in industry. I thought there would be a need for professors due to the retirement of the then current group of whom I refer to as “legends.” That need has not abated. Programs are springing up across the country. This year I counted 13 schools with needs for actuarial faculty.
There is a need for faculty to participate in various aspects of the SOA, from being on section councils, to serving on Project Oversight Groups (POGs), helping with the education system needs, and conducting research. As with other disciplines—health care as one example—academics play a prominent role in helping move their profession forward in the development and integration of new techniques. We have a perspective that needs to be represented when issues are discussed.
As such, I ask the question, how do we create a larger supply of academic actuaries? I personally think that we need to recruit people and market the academic career path. A career in academia may not be for everyone, but it is a viable career path and one I strongly advocate.
I want to thank you for being a member of the Education and Research Section. And I would like to hear from you so that the council can best represent the opinions and interests of all members. I welcome your comments and ideas.