Dr Melania Nica recently completed her first term at Queen Mary as Senior Lecturer in Actuarial Science. We caught up with her to learn what her highlights have been so far and what advice she has for students that are considering a degree in Actuarial Science.
Dr Melania Nica
There have been many highlights, but I’ll mention two.
The first has been meeting with the excellent, motivated, and diverse group of students at QM. In my first term here, I started by taking over the module that prepares students to go on their placement year, right from understanding their skillsets to going through the application process and thinking about how they will gain experiential learning. When I invited industry speakers to talk about specific personal development, we had students attending from across the School and University, which was wonderful to see.
Secondly, I have really enjoyed the collegial welcome. I’ve enjoyed meeting the exceptional faculty with a broad range of research interests and a strong team of motivated professional services colleagues.
I completed a PhD in Economics at London School of Economics where I worked on applications of economic theory. After the PhD, I stayed in London to teach at New College of Humanities. I then moved to the University of Kent, in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Actuarial Science, where my teaching interests evolved more towards actuarial science. My research interests have also been moving towards finance and insurance, based on application of economic theory. At Kent, I ended up being the programme director for all taught postgraduate actuarial science programmes. I joined SMS in the autumn of 2022. An interesting moment occurred for me recently when one of the first students I taught at Kent came to speak to our QM students with a view to recruiting actuarial interns. This was a wonderful full-circle moment for me.
Actuarial Science is a professional discipline, with standards and regulations. Qualifying to become an actuary confers status on the individual within industry. However, underlying this attractiveness for students is a deeply interesting mix of disciplines and skills that I personally appreciate as an educator. While actuarial science evolved from mathematics and statistics, it has an underlying business logic and relies on some core elements of economic theory and behaviour. This makes it very well-rounded, offering a holistic analytical perspective grounded in quantitative thinking.
My approach to teaching is to encourage the students to think and follow along with me, as enthusiastically as possible (although this may not always be easy!). I try to be as open and friendly as possible, especially encouraging creative questions. Underlying, though, I do think there is a structure to understanding subjects. While this structure might be different from individual to individual, there are common elements. In mathematical subjects, we have the advantage of algorithmic thinking and approaches to solving problems. Wherever I can, I try to make sure the students understand the general approach so that they can solve new problems, not just the ones at hand.
I find that listening to people who are actually doing a specific job offers a different level of insight into a career. It also gives students the advantage of understanding the potential employer’s perspective when employers are evaluating candidates for a role. I invited senior speakers, such as a top hedge fund Quant. I should mention that as a woman, her role was also to be a role model and example for young women. I also invited former QMUL students who more recently embarked on their careers, with the help of our fantastic team at SMS. This helps students identify with peers or those who were very recently in their shoes, and receive candid advice about the challenges, highs and lows of moving to the world of work after university. I have received very positive feedback and high levels of engagement from students for these events.
Students considering a degree in actuarial science should have a strong interest in applying mathematics and statistics to solving real-world business problems. Not only do they receive a sound business-based, quantitative degree grounded in mathematics and statistics, they also have the option to embark on a journey of professional certification. For instance, our programmes at Queen Mary give students the opportunity to obtain exemptions from several professional exams if they perform well on the university course. This is a dual advantage that students might want to look for. It would speed up their professional qualification journey, but also assure them their curriculum meets highs standards from both an academic and a professional perspective.
My suggestion to students is to consider reading some material about the community of actuaries and to understand the world of potential open to actuarial science graduates. In the UK, the professional body is the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA), which is known and respected globally. They have a website and publish an accessible magazine in addition to more rigorous academic journals with new research. They also contribute to policy and regulatory debates when it comes to the world of insurance and pensions, among others. As you know, the financial services industry involves a range of roles and actuaries can work in many of them, including new ones such as data analytics.
Of course, students could also reach out to our school to find out more about the programmes and speak to faculty and students about their individual considerations, particularly on events such as Open Days when we also have taster lectures.
School, Mathematical, Sciences? Ha ha… seriously: Leading, Dynamic and Fun