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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries
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The holiday that nearly wasn't

Jessica Elkin looks back to her school days for inspiration on realising the power of people in a group

07 JULY 2016 | JESSICA ELKIN

Finished
©Phil Wrigglesworth
In my formative years, I thought of school as being a dreadful place. It was a sort of awful prison, where you were assigned not even a cell but a bleak, plastic, armless chair. You weren’t allowed to swing back on two of its legs, as was your natural urge, let alone pace about like a regular inmate.

School represented a punishment inflicted on children for the crime of not being old and miserable. Corrections officers roamed to ensure you adhered to strict rules of conduct, like making sure you didn’t do anything so dreadful as write with a biro, or fidget; one such character at my school was a terrifying dinner lady who, it was quite clear to everyone, was a witch.

In religious education class, I was taught that a school, like a church, is not a place, but a body of people. This seemed stupid to me at first. Surely a school is a physical place that you attend. You build a school with bricks and mortar. You can open or close a school.

It was the place where I was locked up for five days a week. The people and the place itself were separate.

Fast forward 17 years and I can get onboard with the concept a lot better; a school as more than just its physical structure. Like a circus troupe is still a circus troupe wherever it travels, and whether there’s a big top there or not. It’s easier to think of this in professional terms. A company is its people, not a list of its premises. The word ‘company’ even suggests this.

And as to a magazine?
A magazine is a physical object that you can hold in your hand, or an app you can swipe. It comes through the post or can be picked up at a shop. But it is also its people – the editorial team, the photographers, the illustrators, and so on. It’s the people who write for it.

We have regular writers for our magazine, but the rest of the stuff that goes on behind the scenes is often a variety of one-offs by people who fancied having a go and then went ahead and did it.

We don’t publish everything sent to us, and some things we like but don’t have room for we will put online rather than in print. However, material from new brains keeps the magazine fresh.

I’d encourage anyone who thinks they might like to write something to get in touch, even if you’re
a student. We publish over various sector areas and also on softer skills and general careers items.

Who knows, perhaps you could be the next student editor! Assuming that I qualify… eventually. Or there’s always the option of guest editing.

Likewise, if you have something to say about the magazine, or suggestions, or even outrage, we’d like to hear from you. There are contact details near the front of the magazine.

And beyond
You could extend this concept to the entire profession – what is it other than a huge body of people? Although it is – in its own words – “dedicated to educating, developing and regulating actuaries”, it is also a huge forum for ideas and communication.

Getting involved with the magazine is just one way to contribute to this. Working parties is another, or you could join a research group and help to put together a paper, or take part in some other volunteering position.

Such activities aren’t just good for the profession but may also be helpful for your career. I know one actuary who worked in pensions for years but, after joining a general insurance working party or two, was able to make the switch into the general insurance sector.

The IFoA website has a whole section, ‘Get involved’, focusing on these and similar endeavours.
I encourage you all to have a look to see if there’s anything you’d find enjoyable or even simply useful. There is even a list of dining clubs.

So long as it’s for a good cause...