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An Actuarial Science Student’s Year in a Pandemic

By Taylor Geppert

Actuary of the Future, March 2021

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On an unsuspecting spring morning, I hugged my friend goodbye for spring break and said I’ll see you in a week. Little did I know that it would be many weeks even months before I would see my friends face to face again. A week home from school turned into a semester of online classes riddled with technical problems and confusion. One thing was certain, life was changing, and the future was unknown.

Although I may have a biased opinion, students were among the most impacted of individuals by this pandemic. Virtual classes posed a challenge for many as teaching methods changed and at-home distractions increased. At first, it was fun to not have to wake up and walk to class; however, I found myself wishing I needed to make the 20-minute trek to the business building twice a week to see the faces of my classmates. Each day blended in with the next and it was really hard to not lose motivation to study. When the spring semester was approaching finals week, it occurred to me that there were some positives of having to adapt to all these changes.

Classes and information became more accessible. I had the ability in most classes to re-watch lectures and clarify anything I missed in my normal notetaking. Learning was more flexible. If something urgent came up during class time, I knew I could always come back later and fill in the information I missed. The stress of test taking was minimized. Although family could sometimes be a distraction, I wasn’t distracted in the classroom by other individuals taking an exam. I didn’t have to see when others were finished and worry that I was behind. Even though I never imagined taking my sophomore spring college classes online, it was a unique experience that helped me learn more about my own studying habits and what I needed to do to focus and learn.

Although I hoped the pandemic would pass by the time summer approached, I quickly realized this new reality was going to last longer than I hoped. Summer internships were canceled or shortened for some students and others were lucky enough to have a virtual internship experience. Even though that was also less than ideal, it showed how companies were able to quickly adapt. Working from home became the reality for many and will most likely be utilized more and more even after individuals are allowed to return to the office. I hope we will never have to face a situation similar to this, yet we now have protocols for how to respond in the event that it ever does happen.

As a new semester and recruiting season approached, my school’s actuarial science club was faced with another challenge. How do you host recruiting events and a career fair in a pandemic? In prior years, students and recruiters gathered in the business building atrium and waited in lines to talk to each other. With social distancing protocols this year, the career fair shifted to an entirely virtual platform that let recruiters chat through messaging or video chat. Recruiters could talk with interested students for roughly eight minutes and request additional time if desired. While moving to this digital platform made me apprehensive, it allowed me to see how we could improve the career fair in the future.

In person, the career fair is crowded. Students can see the lines and have no good estimation of how long they will have to wait. Similarly, it can sometimes be hard to find the company you would like to speak to next because the crowds of people make it harder to see where companies are situated. The virtual platform that my club implemented this year allowed ways to combat these issues. Students could join the waiting rooms of multiple companies at once and speak to the recruiters whenever they were available. With estimated waiting times, it was easier to gauge how long it would take to speak to all the companies that you wanted. Personally, I felt more comfortable talking to recruiters. It was less stressful for me than being in a crowded atrium and not knowing which table to visit next. I was able to talk to all the recruiters that I wanted to, and I learned a lot of valuable insights. As I currently transition into the role of director of Corporate Outreach for my school’s actuarial science club, I will be in charge of coordinating our 2021 career fair and other recruiting events. Although this year has been challenging, I hope I can use what I have learned to make the recruiting process easier for students and recruiters in the future.

Just as the career fair became virtual, the internship interviewing process for most companies also became virtual. Online interviews were unique, and I began to consider how much easier this must have been for companies to recruit. There were no traveling expenses and scheduling conflicts were limited. Although I missed experiencing the environment of the office, I felt like my interviews were more personal. Both the interviewers and myself were experiencing an unprecedented time in the world and that inspired conversations about how our profession and work life will evolve.

As the end of 2020 approached, I realized the pandemic gave me a lot of time to reflect. I learned more about my studying habits, and that change can be a positive thing. I set new goals for myself to stay productive and become more involved in school and extracurricular clubs. I decided to take two actuarial exams over Thanksgiving and Christmas break. Even taking exams was a different experience. New safety measures required test takers to wear their masks at all times and the workers were constantly ensuring that the test room was clean. These were all positive changes. Although there were downsides, the pandemic pushed us all to evolve and find new ways of doing things. Some of these can hopefully be implemented when we are able to return to in-person activities for an even better future.

The future is uncertain, but it is what you make of it.

 

Statements of fact and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Society of Actuaries, the editors, or the respective authors’ employers.


Taylor Geppert is currently a junior at Penn State University majoring in Actuarial Science and minoring in mathematics. She can be reached at tgeppert21@gmail.com.