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Recognizing Future Academic Leaders: The Creation of an International Early Career Award in Actuarial Science

By Runhuan Feng

Expanding Horizons, April 2021


This year marks the launch of a new international early career award in actuarial science sponsored by the Society of Actuaries (SOA). It is a much-needed recognition of excellent research by young scholars and future academic leaders in this discipline.

An early career award is a common practice in many scientific disciplines; it recognizes individuals for exceptional contributions at the early stages of their academic career. It is often considered one of the most significant achievements for young scholars and can be a decisive factor for tenure and promotion. Early career award programs set examples of what constitutes excellent research in scientific disciplines. While our colleagues in mainstream disciplines such as mathematics and statistics can apply for early career awards from national organizations such as the National Science Foundation, academic actuaries are not typically supported. This means we may lose talented young scholars in the field when they seek recognition and funding support by shifting their focus to other disciplines. 

While young actuarial scholars face a host of complex challenges, I strongly believe that the early career award can help raise awareness of actuarial science as a scientific discipline and attract young talents to the field. The following summary shows the many benefits—not only for academics but also for the entire profession—of offering an early career award in the actuarial community.

Benefits to Academic Actuaries

A prestigious early career award will greatly support academic actuaries in the following ways:

  • Encourage more young scholars to contribute to the field of actuarial science.
  • Show university administrations examples of top-notch scholars who can have great impact on actuarial practice.
  • Enable exceptional young scholars to attain status while focusing on teaching and research in actuarial science.
  • Show university administrations the strong commitment from the broad actuarial community for scientific discoveries beyond professional training.

Benefits to the Actuarial Profession

A profession cannot prosper over the long term without a commensurately successful community of educators and researchers dedicated to its scientific development. The actuarial profession can reap intangible benefits from the award program in many ways:

  • Increase scholarship in actuarial science from a friendly competition among high-caliber scholars.
  • Encourage the balance of both theoretical development and practical applications by setting criteria of excellence.
  • Shape the direction of actuarial research by recognizing excellence of research in new areas of actuarial practice.
  • Increase manpower in universities for teaching the next generation of practicing actuaries.
  • Support the professional development of academic actuaries as an often-overlooked minority group in the actuarial community.
  • Experience better engagement with colleges and universities by offering support for the discipline of actuarial science.

Benefits to Actuarial Professional Organizations

Many professional organizations—such as the SOA, the Casualty Actuarial Society, the Canadian Institute of Actuaries, and the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries—have long traditions of supporting academics, and their many successful academic programs set examples for actuarial organizations around the world.

This year’s early career award is the first such recognition of actuarial science research anywhere in the world. It offers a historic opportunity to unite actuarial communities around the world in a common cause—the furtherance of actuarial scholarship on a global scale.

Universities are natural grounds for interdisciplinary research. By giving voice to a significant component of the profession—actuarial scientists—actuarial organizations invest in their own future in the scientific community. As many actuarial scholars often interact with other professionals such as data scientists, engineers, and economists, the reputation of actuarial organizations’ active engagement can be spread to many other fields. Since many recipients are expected to become leading authorities in decades to come, their successes are testimonies to our professional organizations’ leadership in shaping the future of actuarial research.

Launching the Early Career Award

It is fortunate that the early career award program has received tremendous support from the Society of Actuaries Education and Research (E&R) section council and the SOA executive leadership. Many academics and practitioners have contributed to the launch of this award. I want to thank all members of the 2019–2021 E&R council for their tremendous support—in particular, Ian Duncan and Jeffrey Beckley, for their generosity of monetary contributions, and Jane Lesch and Stuart Klugman, for their year-long work to garner support from the SOA administration and guidance for compliance and procedures. I would also like to thank the SOA president, Roy Goldman, for his strong advocacy of this award program among SOA leaders.

To ensure the success of this program, the E&R council has been authorized to set up an independent selection committee to review and recommend candidates for this award. Consideration will be given to candidates’ research track record, collaboration with academics and practitioners, and the potential impact of their research work to theoretical or practical aspects of actuarial science. The selection committee is expected to be made up of internationally renowned scholars and thought leaders from the industry. In the spirit of academic freedom, the committee’s selection of recipients will be independent, without any interference from sponsoring organizations. The E&R section council will review the committee’s recommendation only to ensure that the process has been carried out properly.

It is our vision that this award will become the most prestigious award for early career actuarial scientists around the world. I hope we can look back decades from now and find that the early career program discovered lots of rising stars and offered examples of career paths resulting in lifetimes of academic success in this discipline.

Let me end this article with a famous quote from Paulo Coelho: “Talent is a universal gift, but it takes a lot of courage to use it. Don’t be afraid to be the best.”


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.

Runhuan Feng, PhD, FSA, CERA, is a Professor, the Director of Actuarial Science, and the State Farm Companies Foundation Scholar at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is currently the Chairperson of the SOA Education and Research section council. He can be reached at