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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Make hay while the sun shines

Summer means the great outdoors is beckoning. Jessica Elkin looks at the upside of working through it when there are interns to lean on

Intern - student July 2014
©Phil Wrigglesworth

As a kid, summer was the best time of year. For starters, you didn’t have to go to school. This entailed all sorts of other advantages, such as lie-ins, no exams, summer holiday telly, and never needing to wear anything stifling or tedious to put on and button up.

It’s not the same nowadays. No long holidays, for starters. Nice places become clogged with families on days out, which must be frustrating whether you are part of this maelstrom yourself or not. When you’re having a bad day already, everything becomes more difficult and tedious than usual. 

For Londoners, entering any tube station is like descending into the pits of hell. Plus, like most grown-ups, I am convinced that those were endless halcyon days of clear azure skies before the weather got permanently rubbish circa 2005.

As actuarial students, summer sees a spate of early procrastination followed by increasing concern and stress over how much of your study notes you’ve yet to cover. “We’ve got how long till exams?”… But this student page isn’t about that, so sorry to bring it up.

Worker bees

As well as the above, of course, summer heralds the commencement of internships at many companies nationwide. The more jaded of readers – missing the long summer holidays that university signified – may derive a sense of bitter satisfaction at the arrival of interns in their workplace. Fresh-faced youngsters trading in the best part of their university holidays for a slice of working life, and some actuarial seasoning on their CV.

If you’re one of these youngsters waiting to get started, you might like to check out the profession’s ‘Get a taste of actuarial work’ page on the ‘Becoming an Actuary’ section of its website. You can find accounts of internship experiences by various students, including a helpful page by Barnett Waddingham where three interns list what they wish they’d known before starting their placement.

If you’d like to be one of these youngsters, there’s information there on actuarial employers and the sorts of experiences they offer. You could always speculatively apply for such opportunities, as even firms that don’t offer a paid internship programme may allow you to get some work experience for a week or two. A cursory Google will tell you all sorts of things that will help you when applying, and many employers’ websites have careers blogs that are useful and informative.

Nobody puts Baby in the corner

For those of us already embedded in an actuarial firm and career, the question becomes how to give interns not only the best possible experience while they’re working alongside us, but also a useful and realistic insight into the work that we do. If it’s not for them, best that they know sooner rather than later. How much control you personally have over this may vary. Some companies may offer specific work programmes whereas for others the interns are accepted onto teams as though regular graduates and placed under the warm feathery wing of a current student.

It’s easier to utilise an intern over the course of a few months than it is to work with a short-term work experience student, if only because learning actuarial skills takes a lot of trial and improvement, and a week or two may not give as full a picture of the day-to-day job as you’d like. 

To this end, I personally like to alternate between giving the student work to do and letting them see what I am doing. The latter is always impressive and important.

The other important function of an intern is to lighten the workload of everyone else when it’s a bit heavy. Forget getting them to make tea for everyone – I look forward to being able to delegate to gain more breathing space, and then I can make the tea myself. It’s good to keep them busy, and interns may be pleased to find that they are actually a valuable member of the team, and not merely boondoggling*.

So, while the season may not be what it once was to you, due to lacking blissfully long holidays rife with lie-ins and ice cream, you may at least have an intern to lean on. This may be especially helpful towards the end of summer when exams loom threateningly on the horizon. Cheery thought, isn’t it? A nice silver lining in the ever-cloudy British summer.

*Boondoggle: word of the day meaning “to do work of little or no practical value merely to keep or look busy”. Never let it be said that this page is not educational.