At an early point in my college career, I was given the opportunity to work as an undergraduate research assistant. I saw this as an opportunity to fill a place on my resume, have a small (but constant) cash flow while in school, and as a way to add to my knowledge base. I believed that in very minimal ways this would benefit my actuarial career. Indeed, I was wrong. Research is integrated in an actuary’s career daily! It can be used to answer new questions, update changing information, such as ACA, as well as improve results for studies and tools already being implemented.
The first lesson I learned as a research assistant was that there is always a need to look at data validity. Check your sources and check for reasonableness. If you or your organization are gathering the data, then always look for possible variables. You want to keep the conditions as consistent as possible, as the resulting data will be the base for your research. Outliers can make a huge impact, but there should also be ways to account for them.
The second lesson I learned was that it is okay for your assumptions to be wrong. One of the first projects I worked on turned out to have results opposite of what we expected. This could halt research, or it could put a new perspective on what you are looking at and turn it in a whole new direction. Either way, you should not let your own stubbornness bend your data, as it may be tempting to perform your research in a biased way. Research should be done completely unbiased for the sake of true data.
The third lesson I learned was that peer review is necessary and is best if used periodically during the progress of the research being performed. When you’re heavily involved in a project, it is easy to make a small oversight. This can have varying levels of an impact on the results. When working on my own projects, I often first take a break from my work and go over it again after a day or a weekend has gone by. This allows for me to clear my head and look at it with a refreshed mind, instead of one that had been working on the project with the same mindset all day. After this, it’s best to find a peer reviewer. This should be someone who can understand what is going on with the project and someone who has more or at least as much experience as yourself. Peer review will not be as beneficial if the person reviewing does not understand the material. This process will help to eliminate errors as the research continues and therefore save you time and errors in the long run.
While in college, I think it is a major opportunity to get involved in research. Even if the research does not necessarily pertain to the actuarial field you are pursuing, the skills gained from the research will directly translate into your career as an actuary. This is a valuable experience that can greatly shape the transition from college to an internship or job. Take advantage of this as early as possible!