Q&A: Former Math Teacher to Actuary

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In our article From Teacher to Actuary, we broke down what to expect when transitioning from a teacher to an actuary the steps necessary to change careers. Today we interviewed the co-founder of Teaching Alternatives, Luke Dauparas, on how he transitioned from a former math teacher to an actuary.

What is your name and title?

Luke Dauparas, Senior Actuarial Analyst 

What grade level and/or subject did you teach?

I taught mathematics at the high school level for 5 years. I’ve taught Geometry, Algebra 1 & 2, Discrete Mathematics, and AP Computer Science Principles.

How long were you a math teacher?

I was a teacher for 5 years. I also coached soccer for various high school teams and spent time as a club coach.

What did you like about teaching? Alternatively what originally drew you to teaching?

While I was in high school I was fortunate enough to have a teacher that helped me to enjoy mathematics. After finishing university, teaching was a logical step for me. I was enthusiastic about the subject and wanted to help other young students have the same success that I had with math. I think that math faces frustration from students partly due to the difficulty to cover all the material and some students having bad experiences with math teachers.

What made you want to pursue a career outside of teaching? 

I spent the first five years of my career at three different schools teaching five different classes (preps). At my first job, I was part of a “reduction in force” due to a school closing in my district. My second job was not a good fit for me. My third job turned out to be fantastic, however, I had already started directing attention to switching into the actuarial career in the hope of something with more of a balance and better compensation. Anyone that has spent time working as a teacher knows how difficult it can be to teach a class for the first time. I found myself rather burnt out after the first 3-4 years because of how much stress and pressure I was under daily to prepare for all my classes.

What step did you take to become an actuarial analyst?

During my time as a math teacher, I had already completed a few classes in a master’s program. I decided to take a risk and work as a teacher part-time while finishing my master’s as a full-time student. I started completing actuarial exams during this time and working other jobs to supplement my income. Once I had finished with my master’s I continued working as a teacher while searching for jobs as an actuary. It took one year and a half to finish my master’s degree and find a job.

How did you find your current job? 

After submitting many applications through LinkedIn and GlassDoor, attending several job fairs, and exhausting all contacts in my network, I received a call back from an insurance company looking for an entry-level analyst. The job was focused on building infrastructure using a programming language called R, and the team was focused on the Risk Adjustment program introduced by the Affordable Care Act. I was called for an in-person interview after a phone interview. The position had rather specific requirements they were looking to fill and luckily I was deemed a good fit. I received an offer about two weeks after giving my in-person interview.

What changes did you have to make on your resume?

I had to switch the context of the entire resume. I found a way to put a corporate spin on all of my skills and experience. The first change was to list my exam progress at the top of my resume. By this point I had two exams completed, I listed both of these at the top.

Secondly was my professional experience. I listed all my teaching positions and for each job I held (3 in total). I tried to come up with different ways that I had taken initiative, dealt with difficult parent-teacher-student situations, or any technical or communication skills that I had used while on the job. For example, instead of writing about how I plan my lessons for differentiated instruction, I would focus on how I communicated with parents.

The last piece to my resume was a skills or projects section. I listed various personal projects I had done to hone my technical skills. as well as basic skills needed to get the job done

What is a normal day like for you?

I am currently the lead on my team’s Risk Adjustment Data Validation model. The model predicts the outcome of a yearly audit on our Risk Adjustment Program. This audit can have huge consequences for our balance sheet. In addition, our executive leadership needs to know how much cash to leave on hand to pay any potential expenses from the audit.

One of my main responsibilities is maintaining a model that calculates estimates for Risk Adjustment. I have to ensure that our model has up-to-date data every day, perform general maintenance on the source code, and help educate other departments on Risk Adjustment. The biggest component of my job is helping to build the infrastructure of the model that we use. Data that insurance companies collect and then process is very messy, it takes work to extract the data and transform it into a format that will work with our model. 

How did your career as a former math teacher help you in your current role?

There are so many things that translate from my former teaching career. Probably my biggest asset is being able to learn new skills. My job leaves a lot of room for individual growth and the company rewards anyone that can step up to a new problem. I’d say the second biggest asset, especially in the actuarial field, is my experience with explaining abstract concepts. After being a teacher for so long, I find it easier to educate other employees on how our department works.

What do you like about your current role? 

There are many things to enjoy about my current job. The work and hours are a lot more flexible than teaching which helps me strike a good work-life balance. I also enjoy the merit-based aspect of the job. Raises and professional development are far more concrete and limited in teaching. I think there is far more room for salary growth as an actuary.

What would you change about your current role? 

Our company still prefers its employees to come into the office (during non-COVID times). I would prefer it if our company allowed its employees to work from home more regularly. There are a lot of companies that already have actuaries who work from home and it provides great flexibility. 

How has your current role affected your lifestyle?

I’m less stressed, I take more time off (I never have the dreaded substitute teacher conundrum), and I spend more time on my hobbies. All in all, it has been a very good transition for me.

What is your advice to a current teacher wanting to transition to an actuarial position?

Making this change requires dedication and a step backward. Make sure this is something you are willing to do. Start looking at actuarial exams and thinking about taking all the necessary steps to start applying for jobs. The initial step backward can be scary at first, but for many people the change is refreshing. Teaching can wear you down and having a fresh start can give you a new perspective.

Would a former math teacher be a good fit for this role?

Yes, one main requirement is enjoying work with data. More entry-level actuaries are expected to work directly with data. As we progress there will be an expectation on actuaries being more comfortable with predictive analytics. Generally, you will succeed if you can handle the nitty-gritty aspects of the job and are self-motivated. The industry is going through rapid growth and uncertainty, so you need to be able to adapt and think on your feet a little.

What are your short-term and long-term career goals?

Short-term: Spend 3 years at first job learning as much as I can while getting my Associates with the Society of Actuaries (ASA). I have completed six of seven tests required to earn my ASA in three years. 

Long-term: I want to create a strong set of skills that will make me employable in not just the actuarial field. I enjoy the programming aspect of my job and would not rule out another switch to some type of software development.

Any questions? Leave a comment below or connect with Luke on LinkedIn. Check out From Teacher to Actuary for further in-depth information on changing careers!

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