Math and Computer Science

Tim Sweetser '08, Actuarial Assistant

After graduating in May of 2007 with a major in mathematics, minor in physics, I took a job as an Actuarial Assistant with Liberty Mutual insurance company in Boston, Massachusetts. My group works on determining appropriate prices for general liability, workers compensation, and automobile policies for medium-sized commercial customers.

There are two distinct aspects to my job. The first is my day-to-day work, where I spend 95% of my time working in Microsoft Excel. All of our pricing models are based on formulas and tables that are well-suited to the program. These use tons of arithmetic, but nothing more complicated than high-school algebra or basic interest theory. In this capacity, I don't directly use the material I learned as a math major. However, the logical reasoning I developed while studying math has been essential. Studying and writing proofs forces you to think very carefully and thoroughly about each step of the problem you're working on, and the step-by-step reasoning I learned while doing proofs is equally applicable to the tasks I face now, such as understanding a new model that someone gives to me.

The second facet of my job is studying for professional actuarial exams. To become a fully credentialed property/casualty actuary, one must pass a series of 10 exams; the first five are mathematical, and cover probability, interest theory, financial economics, statistics, and other topics. This is where the math material I learned at Clark really proves its worth. I use calculus almost every time I open a textbook, whether it's an integral to compute the expected value of an insurance benefit, or interpreting the derivatives of stock option prices with regard to any of the several parameters that determine the option's price.

The probability course I took at Clark has been invaluable. First, it enabled me to pass the first actuarial exam with very little additional effort, a testament to the professor's expertise and skill at communicating it to his students. Secondly, probabilistic concepts are fundamental to actuarial science, as well as to everyday experience.

The current exam I am studying for includes a lot of statistics: had I not taken such an excellent probability course, I would have a much harder time learning the statistics material. Another course I would like to highlight is my introductory computer science class. Again, it was doubly useful in giving me practical skills, and training me to approach problems a certain way. Regarding the practical skills, I program or look at code almost every single day at work. I am not doing coding tasks as sophisticated as software engineers do, but being comfortable with loops, arrays, and data types gives me a great advantage over my coworkers in this realm.

I also really enjoy programming, something I never knew before my advisor pushed me into taking a computer science class. Secondly, computer science trains you to break large problems into smaller, more manageable pieces. Stating it this way makes it sound simple and obvious, but it's really a profound approach to problem-solving.

Overall, my education in math has been invaluable in two respects. The first is the material I learned, which is a prerequisite to working towards professional credentials. The second is less specific, but no less important: the logical reasoning I acquired in math and computer science courses.