Alan Xian

Bachelor of Commerce/Science (Honours) – Actuarial Studies, 2015

Thesis project: Individual Claim Liability Analysis Using Markov processes modulated Poisson procedure

Currently Consultant, Taylor Fry

After his 3-year academic career at Macquarie University, Alan was interested in applying an industry perspective to his research skills. Alan’s current role as consultant at Taylor Fry focusses on projects that provide data-driven advice to businesses and governments across Australia and New Zealand.

Alan maintains a close connection to his academic career and still services as an adjunct fellow and lecturer at Macquarie University.

What made you decide to take on additional Honours study?

“To be honest, towards the end of my Bachelor’s degree I wasn’t too sure of what to do at the time and there wasn’t a clear path that I wanted to take.

In my third year of my bachelor’s degree, I became a Research Assistance for the School of Risk and Actuarial Studies and became increasingly interested in the research topics. And after attending a presentation event where supervisors presented their research topics, I thought that it was worthwhile to extend my study for a year to pursue an Honours degree. After all, I would be paid to study in an area that interested me.”

What was your favourite thing about Honours?

The Honours year opened a lot of opportunities of networking and deep learning for Alan.

“Looking back, the best thing about Honours has been the close friends that I made during that year with all research students. In many ways you share the same experience, same or similar courses, similar deadlines, and similar challenges. I still keep in touch with these people today; and actually work with a few of them now!”

“Another area that I really enjoyed about the Honours year is the different type of learning that Honours offered compared to usual undergraduate degree and it was extremely challenging but also much more fulfilling.”

What was some of your biggest learnings from your Honours program?

“Having completed my PhD too, I think that the one-year of Honours is harder than any individual year in a PhD. You do a lot of work to bridge the gap between what people currently know and try to make an indent to progress the research – not an easy task in a single year!”

“But one of the best parts is the help and guidance from your supervisors, who work really hard with you to get you to where you need to be. They provide a lot of guidance and help to accelerate the learning process immensely.”

“It was motivating to have responsibility for your own research question. The year is not easy but having a genuine interest in something that only you were working on helps alleviate some of these challenges.”

How did you come up with your Research question?

“I think this is a thing that gets fleshed out over the year, but my supervisors were very helpful to leverage off at the start. They help guide you on choosing an interesting topical question that is sufficiently broad and but also with enough depth to be dived into. The question also had to be streamlined enough as the program was only for one year.

What are the most important skills you developed during Honours?

“Outside of developing skills in analytics, Honours helped me develop a lot of skills in independent critical thinking.  One of the first things I learnt was how to find answers to questions that were not just a simple Google search away.

I also learnt how to answer questions well. That is, the answers to any question should always depend on external factors – who your audience is and sometimes, what they think the right answer should be. After you have an idea of what the answer should be, learning how to answer the question in a useful and practical way is also very important. I think these skills would be very relevant and transferrable to any job.”

How do you think that Honours helped with your career either when finding your first job or later in your career?

“I mentioned before that I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after my Bachelors, and the Honours program in a sense made the career path choice clearer for me once I finished the program as I pursued a career in academia.

My current role as a consultant in Taylor Fry also allows me to apply the things that I learnt during my Honours year, and so I was learning quite practical things. For example, we use various actuarial techniques to look at how we might accurately predict insurance claims as they come in. This is a key exercise in some statutory actuarial roles and Taylor Fry does a lot of work in that area.”

How does an Honours graduate differentiate against those who have not studied Honours?

“The Honours year offered a different type of learning compared to usual undergraduate study. In an undergraduate degree, you are given information, a process and then assessed on how it works. Whereas in the Honours program, you must extrapolate what you know into new territory. It really gets you to think and teaches you how to look for interesting answers to hard questions. The compressed year of learning was very beneficial in that I became technically better but I also felt that I matured intellectually in a way that I had not in my previous undergraduate years.

It's not just about technical skills gained, but an Honours graduate will also be better versed in communication and presentation skills.”

Any advice for students who are considering taking an Honours year?

“I imagine for many people, there is a lot of uncertainty upon graduation and the Honours program can be an efficient way to get more insight into what you might want to pursue as a career.

Admittedly the Honours year is a lot of work, but it is a genuinely fulfilling experience. There will be a lot of both personal and professional growth during the program which is hard to find elsewhere. It’s a great experience and students should consider Honours as a stepping stone to reach their current goals (if suitable).”

Find out more about the Bachelor of Actuarial Studies (Honours) program