I make sure I am there when a student needs me, I listen to student feedback and try to make sure each student gets the most out of the course.
How do you make sure that the course is up-to-date and relevant? What have you had to update this year?
This course is different from the other MSc programmes the School offers in the sense that it has been established with educating students for the particular profession of actuary in mind. The course has been carefully designed to strike an optimal balance between a strong mathematical grounding in all the topics relevant for 'financial risk management' - in particular from the fields of Probability Theory and Statistics – and more 'vocational' ingredients.
Every year there is a moment where we look carefully at the course, and decide based on information from all possible sources – such as student feedback, our own ideas, feedback from the actuarial profession, alumni of the programme, feedback from industry - whether any changes should be implemented.
What kind of balance do you strike between teaching facts and developing skills?
I think within mathematics it is mainly about developing skills and insight, and there is not really such a thing as 'facts'. In our teaching it is mainly about mathematical concepts and how to apply them. In addition to discussing theory we aim to use interesting examples and stimulating exercises – taken from actuarial practice as well. Basic exercises to help students understand and apply the theory, and more challenging ones to help them develop their mathematical insight.
How does research feed into the syllabus?
Our School is a very strong research institute. In particular, within the MSc Actuarial Science programme the two dedicated actuarial scientists we have in our School (of which indeed I am one, and Dr. Ronnie Loeffen is the other) are active researchers who also publish papers, visit conferences and have PhD students.
This means that in the courses we teach we always look for possibilities to include recent research. Research output plays an important role in the dissertation phase of the programme, where each student writes a dissertation on some topic that builds upon the material that was discussed during the taught phase. The topics we carefully select for the students consideration are taken from research output, where a suitable mathematical level, practical applications and, of course, attractiveness are important criteria.
How do you make sure that the course meets the needs of industry and business?
Our programme offers a clear perspective towards a career as actuary, or, more broadly, as 'financial risk manager'. As such the programme is accredited by the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, which means it offers students a lot of the skills they would otherwise have to gain from studying with the actuarial profession directly. As the programme is designed in close collaboration with the industry, it teaches skills relevant for a future career in this buisness.
Furthermore, I worked for an insurance company before I returned to academia, so I have recently worked as an actuary and witnessed the fundamental changes going on in the insurance industry. This profession is changing rapidly as the insurance industry modernises. One of the drivers for this is a shift from an 'accounting perspective' to a 'market based perspective' in all of the work they do. However, this 'market based perspective' requires quite advanced skills from a modern actuary, particularly in the fields of probability and statistics.
For example, a modern actuary can't get away with using a simple constant interest rate anymore, it now needs to be a so-called 'term structure of interest rates' – which is a rather complicated probabilistic model trying to incorporate all possible future evolutions of the interest rate. For many of my actuarial colleagues, who didn't have much of a background in probability and statistics, these developments were a tough cookie to swallow.
This course is designed with exactly these modern needs in mind: by combining relevant statistics and mathematical finance modules with modules concerning more traditional actuarial topics we feel students are very well prepared for a career as a modern actuary.
What are the course highlights for you?
Mathematically speaking I'm mainly a probabilist and hence whenever I get to teach my students some beautiful probability I get very excited! Besides that I really enjoy the whole process of getting to know the students and working with them throughout the year to make it an enjoyable and worthwhile experience.
What distinguishes this course from similar ones in other institutions?
There are not so many other possibilities to do an MSc in Actuarial Science in the UK. I think the mix between a strong grounding in relevant maths and vocational elements we offer is quite unique in the UK and distinguishes us from the few other available choices.