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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

A successful conclusion to the Twins Project

One of the aims of the Worshipful Company of Actuaries’ and its Charitable Trust is to support education. The Company’s involvement in the Twins Project started as far back as 2002 when Alan Fishman identified the opportunity to sponsor a research student at the St Thomas’ Hospital Twins Unit. Jamie Singer (pictured) was put forward as a potential candidate for this project.

The main challenge for the Company was to raise the £60,000 required to support the three-year study programme, which would be under the supervision of professor Tim Spector and his senior colleagues in the Twins Unit. A generous offer of support from the family trust operated by a member of the Court of the Company and financial support from members of the livery company secured the funding to last for the full three years.

I acted as liaison between the Company and Jamie, essentially to monitor his progress, to provide personal encouragement and to give regular reports to the Court. I also arranged for successive Masters to meet professor Spector and Jamie as the project progressed.

Howard Waters, a member of the actuarial science teaching staff at Heriot-Watt University, was responsible for reviewing the academic aspects of Jamie’s proposed research programme to ensure that they lived up to the expectations of the Company.

A striking feature of Jamie’s time at St Thomas’ was the tremendous support he received from his supervisors within the Twins Unit and Robert Plomin, the world-renowned expert in twins research. Over the course of his three years of study he had three papers published, so that most of the results that would form the core of his doctoral thesis were formally documented in these publications.

At the end of 2005 the research phase finished, along with our financial commitment to St Thomas’ Hospital. A viva examination followed in early spring 2008 at which Jamie was given the news that the thesis was ‘almost there’ and would require only relatively minor revisions for it to be formally accepted by the examination panel.

The main difficulty with this final hurdle was that he was given an 18-month timeframe to complete these amendments, rather than being forced to make the necessary changes while he still had some study momentum. A very busy time at work and preparing for his first marathon, in London 2008 for charity conspired to delay progress on the thesis, which was not finalised until early 2009. After that final push, however, he finally heard on 1 March 2009 that the award of his PhD had been confirmed, just over six years since he embarked on the programme of research and study at St Thomas’ Hospital.

I was honoured to be asked to attend the graduation ceremony at Southwark Cathedral in the second half of 2009. It was a splendid occasion and a fitting end to Jamie’s sustained and impressive effort.

Looking back, it has been a real privilege being involved in this novel initiative by the Company. I hope that the success of our sponsorship of the Twins Project will convince the Company and the Charitable Trust that the ‘and more’ aspect of ‘money and more’ in our charitable work is just as important as writing the cheque.

If you would like to read the thesis, a copy with a special manuscript dedication to the Company is in the library at Staple Inn.

By Philip Jowett