Career Corner: Actuaries

The first time I heard about actuaries I thought they were people who did some stuff with birds. Maybe I was confused with an aviary, a place where they keep birds? Nonetheless, I was wrong.

Actuaries deal with numbers, not birds. They may deal with birds, if they are calculating financial risk for an aviary.

And that, is primarily what actuaries do. They calculate, using mathematical models, financial risks for companies and help the companies minimize the cost of risks. They mathematically calculate the chance of future events occurring and then plan ways to prevent unwanted events. If these undesirables end up occurring, actuaries figure out to reduce their impact. I guess you could think of actuaries as financial superheroes, they predict the problems, try to stop the problems, and then if they can’t stop the problem, do everything in their power to alleviate the consequences of the problem. Actuaries do a lot of business with insurance agencies, though their expertise is also used in many other areas.

Actuaries need to be strong in business, statistics, and most importantly mathematics. I personally love math. Calculus is currently my favorite class of the ones I am taking. The fact that math is not up for debate, there is an answer or there is not, draws me to it. There is always a way to either find a solution or admit there is no solution.

Alas, this is not a math appreciation post but a post about actuaries. Time to get back to business (no pun intended). My calculus teacher recommended to my mom that I be an actuary, as did my dentist and a few others.

It takes a lot to become an actuary, however, but the rewards are fruitful. Actuaries are in high demand and always needed. They never have to worry about losing their job because companies always need someone to determine risk. Actuary science is also a very lucrative job. My dentist said his son’s friend entered with a starting salary of $80,000 with no internship experience under his belt.

All these benefits come at an initial price, though, because there are a lot of tests needed to become certified. Many people give up because the math gets too complicated or the stress becomes too high. It takes a special kind of person, but maybe that person is YOU.

Actuary science is often a forgotten career path, but one not to be understated. If you love math, it could be an option for you; I know I am looking at it as an option for me. Who knows, maybe one day we will be crunching numbers together (at an aviary, of course).


To learn more about actuaries:

Scientist Spotlight: Mileva Einstein-Maric

Anyone could tell you who Albert Einstein is. School children know his equation  without even knowing what the letters mean. Einstein has become synonymous with genius. I mean, there was even a TV show “Little Einsteins”! But contrary to what you may be thinking this post isn’t about Einstein, at least not Albert. This post is highlighting the less popular but equally important Einstein: Mileva Einstein-Maric. She was his first wife and had no blood relations to him, unlike his second wife who is justifiably pointed out to be his double-first cousin.

Mileva was born in 1875 in Austria-Hungary (present-day Serbia). Coming from a wealthy family, Mileva’s father got permission for Mileva to enter an all-boys school where she received the highest grades possible in physics and mathematics. After falling ill, Mileva decided to move to Switzerland where she attended the “Girls High School” in Zurich. Once she passed the Matura-Exam, Mileva began studying medicine at the University of Zurich. However, she soon transferred to the Zurich Polytechnic where she met Albert Einstein. Mileva was the only women out of a group of six students for a physics-teaching course.

Initially, Mileva did well in her course but ended up failing the final teaching diploma exam because of the math part. Mileva worked harder and planned to retake the test but found out she was pregnant with Einstein’s baby. Three months into her pregnancy, she failed the exam again without any improvement to her score. Mileva ended up abandoning her studies and little is known about this daughter, Liserl. It is though the child died or was given up for adoption.

Albert and Mileva married in Swtizerland at a simple ceremony only witnessed by the original members of the Olympia Academy, Maurice Solovine and Conrad Habicht. The pair went on to have two sons but ended up divorcing after about 15 years. As part of their settlement, Mileva received all Albert’s Nobel Prize money and invested it in real estate.

However, throughout their marriage Mileva remained an asset to Albert. She discussed his papers with him and possibly contributed to many of his theories. There is a lot of controversy surrounding how much Mileva actually worked with Albert to develop his famous works. Was she truly a part of the process? Or was she just a wife supporting her husband? Scholars have speculated this for years and continue to examine their correspondence and relationship. Whether she directly contributed or not, Mileva and Albert both shared a deep love of physics and math. They must have bounced around ideas with each other and she probably influenced some of his ideas.  She was a very smart woman who might just have gotten too caught up in love to complete her degree, but I think she deserves a lot of credit. Perhaps she had the ability to do more but was caught in her husband’s shadow.

More about Einstein’s first wife:

Why do I love STEM?

I think this blog has been around long enough to address a pretty fundamental issue…why I love STEM. To provide some insight, here is my answer to an application question about what interests me about STEM:

STEM is the way of the future. I was interested in the STEM fields way before “STEM” was a buzzword. Ever since I could remember, my mother would buy me various science kits from the local education store because I have always had in interest in learning how things work and performing different experiments. As I have gotten older, I have learned that there is much more to STEM than making geodes or building circuits. I am interested in STEM not only because it is our key to understanding human life but it is also our way to improving human life. Countless new discoveries are being made in STEM fields every day. With STEM, the soldier that lost his leg fighting for the freedom of his country is given a bionic leg (printed on a 3-D printer) to finish the New York City marathon. If predictions come true, that same soldier can live comfortably in a lunar village. With STEM, the possibilities are endless and that is one of the things that entices me. I want to be part of this innovation. I know that the dedication and passion I have makes me a perfect fit to discover a cure or create a new invention. STEM gives us the power to change the world and shows me that there is nothing stopping me from being the next Stephen Hawking or Marie Curie.

Career Corner: Biomedical Engineering

Biomedical engineering: What is it? How do I get involved? Why is it so popular? If these questions have been on your mind lately about the field referred to as BME, you are not alone. I have the same questions and so do a lot of other people.  So, why not have a blog post to discuss it?images-2

Biomedical engineering combines engineering with biological sciences to create devices, software, and equipment to use in medicine. For example, pacemakers and joint replacements are products of biomedical engineering, as well as different systems used to deliver drugs. Biomedical engineers are responsible for researching, testing, and implementing new tools and devices to combat health issues.

What makes BME different than other engineering disciplines is that it puts a big emphasis on life sciences. It is a true combination of science and mathematics, therefore, you need to be strong in those fields. For success in the BME field, you need to truly love both science and math and be adept in both.


Many schools have started to offer BME programs for undergraduates. Unlike other majors, most colleges have BME students apply for the BME program at the same time as applying for the school itself, because the program is so rigorous and students need all four years (or even more) to get everything done. Also, because BME has become so popular, it is difficult to transfer into a program.


BME is an engineering field dedicated to improving human health. Biomedical engineers work every day testing and implementing new procedures and medical equipment for use in labs, hospitals, doctors’ offices, and other healthcare places. The field is continuing to grow each day with new advancement. Who knows? Maybe you or I will be the next BME superstar.


Scientist Spotlight: Hyaptia

This blog post is going back in time, all the way to the 300s A.D. That’s right, I am going to be talking about Hypatia, “the Egyptian wise woman.” Born to Theon of Alexandria, a well-known scholar and one of the last members of the Library Alexandria, she learned a lot from her father. He instilled in her the importance of Greek culture and, being a mathematician and astronomer himself, placed a special emphasis on the mathematical and astronomical traditions.

Living in Alexandria allowed Hypatia to be surround herself with intellectuals. She worked with her father on theories about the solar system and she created a new version of the hydrometer.

Like her father who preserved Euclid’s Elements and commented on Ptolemy’s Almagest and Handy Tables, Hypatia gave commentaries on Apollonius of Perga’s Conics (geometry, Diophantus of Alexandria’s Arithmetic (number theory), and an astronomical table. Unfortunately, her commentaries have been lost, though people have tried to reconstruct pieces of them.

Hypatia was on of the first recorded women to teach and study math. People traveled from all around to hear her lectures. One aspects of her teaching was Neoplatonism, a “pagan” view. I don’t want to get into the aspects of the philosophy here, but due to the strong tensions between Christians, Jews, and Pagans at the time, Hypatia was killed by a group of extreme Christians.

During Hypatia’s life, she was the world’s leading mathematician and astronomer. She is pictured in Raphael’s famous work “The School of Athens” and was mentioned in an ancient encyclopedia called the Suda. She has become a symbol for both the Enlightenment and Feminism.


In this numbered picture of “The School of Athens”, Hypatia is #9

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Have Changed the World, Rachel Ignotofsky

Scientist Spotlight: Cori Bargmann

Cori Bragmann, born on New Year’s Day in 1961, grew up in Georgia. Her parents were both translators at the Nuremburg Trials. Her father went to graduate school in the United States and became a professor at the University of Georgia after working at IBM. Cori grew up in “an academic household.” Her family was always reading, writing, or playing music.

In junior high and high school, Cori’s favorite class was always science. Instead of going to the pep rallies, she would spend her time in the chemistry lab.  When she was 17, Cori worked in a laboratory making fly food.  The lab director took a liking to her and introduced Cori to Sidney Kushner in the Genetics Department. Cori ended up working in Kushner’s laboratory and studied bacterial genetics and RNA metabolism. She also learned about molecular biology. The work she did in the laboratory gave her a base for her future research.

Cori attended the University of Georgia and received her undergraduate degree in biochemistry before heading to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for graduate school. She entered MIT in 1981, just “as molecule genetics was exploding.” It was at MIT that Cori studied cancer cells in Bob Weinberg’s lab and was part of some big innovations in the field. Some of Cori’s research led to developments in the treatment of breast cancer.

In 1987 Cori received her Ph.D. from the Department of Biology and stayed at MIT to do some postdoctoral research. She started to do some work with the human nervous system. In 1991, Cori travelled cross-country to work in the Department of Anatomy at the University of California, San Francisco. She learned neuroscience here and studied worms. Though worms seem unhelpful to the study of human genetics, Cori is using them to analyze how the correlation between genes and behavior. Her work is leading her to discover the root causes of diseases like Alzheimer’s and autism.

Cori currently works is the Torsten N. Wiesel Professor in the Lulu and Anthony Wang Laboratory of Neural Circuits and Behavior at Rockefeller University. She has won the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences and Franklin Institute Awards. Cori also began the Brain Research Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative which is attempting to uncover what causes things like Alzheimer’s, autism, and depression.

To learn more about Cori:

Scientist Spotlight: Kira Larson

In June 2016 I attended the New Jersey Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership Conference and one of the guest speakers was a bridge engineer by the name of Kira Larson. Kira’s talk captivated me and I saw a lot of her in myself, so I wrote her a thank you note at the end of the conference. Later, I connected with her on LinkedIn and we have been in contact ever since. She was even kind enough to let me visit her engineering firm, HNTB. I got to sit in on a meeting and get a glimpse of what a bridge engineer does. It was a very educational experience and made me seriously think of engineering as a future career path for myself.

I am currently taking a course called Principles of Engineering and one of our assignments was to interview an engineer. I chose to interview Kira and, being an editor on the school paper, I have to say she was an awesome interviewee! With her permission, I decided to publish the interview so all of you can read about her!

What is your specific degree and how does it relate to your current position? 

I have a Bachelor of Science in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Princeton (in 2008), and a Master of Science in Civil Engineering with an Emphasis on Structural Engineering from Columbia University (in 2009).  My position now is Structural Engineer at HNTB Corporation in Parsippany, NJ.  My degree is directly related to my work; structural engineering is really all based on physics and the forces in members, which was largely what my courses were about.  At both schools there was a big focus on designing structures to be efficient, economical and elegant, and I try to remember that every day at my job!

Pease explain your particular engineering field, your current job title, and your duties. 

My field of structural engineering is bridges; I design and detail new bridges and work to rehabilitate existing bridges.  My job title is Structural Engineer II, and I am responsible for performing calculations and choosing the materials and sizes of members needed to make a bridge stand up.  For a given project, I will work under what’s called a Project Manager, who manages the project as a whole, and I will supervise more junior engineers, who will check a lot of my work and perform smaller design tasks.  When we design a bridge, first we look at the geometry – e.g. how long does it need to be, is it straight or curved or skewed, how high does it need to be, and how much room do we have to build.  Then we design each member from the top down, starting with the beams and the deck, to the abutments that the beams sit on, to the foundations that hold the structure up below ground.  (If you remember my speech!) to make sure they will not fail when loaded by cars, trucks, impact from a vehicle accident, wind, earthquake, extreme temperatures, and more.  If you look under a typical NJ bridge, you’ll likely see a concrete deck sitting on steel beams, with smaller steel members called diaphragms spanning between the beams.  Every dimension of concrete and every piece of steel – from the width and depth and thickness of the beams, to the number of bolts connecting the diaphragms to the beams, to the amount of rebar inside the deck, is calculated by the engineer.  Once the design is complete, we put together a set of plans, which tells the contractor all of these sizes we’ve designed, and shows them how the bridge is supposed to be put together.  We also put together an estimate of all the materials used in the bridge, and how much it will cost, so that our client (some of our larger ones are the NJ Department of Transportation or the NJ Turnpike Association), can properly estimate how much the bridge will cost.  All these pieces come together in our submission, and then the project can be built!

 What is your average work schedule, what does your day look like?

The average schedule at my office is 8am to 5pm, with an hour for lunch, but the start and end times can vary.  Since my daughter was born a couple years ago, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to work part-time here, and spend more time with her at home.  I typically work 24 hours a week (Mon – Thurs from 9-3), but sometimes more as needed (like this week!).  My day is typically defined by a to-do list of items for the various projects I’m working on.  When a project first starts, it is largely about running calculations to get all the sizes we need.  Today, as I mentioned, we are working on finalizing our plan set for the bridges on I-80 and the designs are already complete.  So we are finishing drawing up different pieces of the bridges in CAD and making sure everything is shown in a way that a contractor will be able to use our plans and fully understand how to build every part of the structures.

 Starting with high school, please describe your educational background chronologically:

Ramsey High School, 2004

Princeton University, BS, 2008

Columbia University, MS, 2009

 Would you do anything differently if you had to start over?

I wouldn’t!  From a young age I loved math and loved problem-solving.  Today I get to do that every day at my job!  Because I was always passionate about those topics, I was able to enjoy the whole journey. 

 Finally, what advice would you give to me as someone interested in pursuing a career path similar to yours?  

The best advice I can give will sound familiar to you from HOBY – find your passion and start building that foundation!  So if you feel passionate about a career in engineering, start soaking up information, job shadow, and learn more about the field.  And also learn more about yourself, what do you love to do and in what setting do you do your best work (StrengthsFinder2.0 is a book I love for this!).   You don’t have to know all the answers today of what you want to do, but if you make decisions day by day that honor your passions, you will end up in the right place.  At first my major at Princeton was Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, but I realized that I wasn’t excited about my courses, so I switched to Civil Engineering, and loved it.  Don’t feel stressed like you have to have it all figured out – wherever you go to school, if you make decisions with both your heart AND your mind, it will lead you to where you were meant to be.

I received a “Road Map to Success” from one of the Corporate leaders of my firm that I have hanging in my cubicle and has really inspired me, and I’d love to share it with you:

  1. Act with integrity ALWAYS
  • Be the same person at work, school, or home
  1. Be willing to do anything, anytime anywhere
  • Have a can-do attitude and never stop trying to discover and learn, choose every day to be a happy person as people will always want to be around you!
  1. Find and emulate successful people
  • Be a sponge
  1. Get involved in your community
  • Help others and begin building your relationship network
  1. Always be a hero at home
  • Spend quality time with family and keep your commitments
  1. Focus your career on creating value NOT money
  • Creates a strong work ethic and a success-oriented mindset
  1. Always read for self-improvement and growth
  • Expands your thinking and gives you great talking points
  1. Take responsibility for your career development
  • Find mentors, go after your goals, and do not expect others to be responsible
  1. Get outside your comfort zone
  • Challenge yourself
  1. Become a detailed note taker
  • Ability to repeat spoken information is powerful



Scientist Spotlight: Sylvia Earle

The ocean is something that has fascinated many, including Sylvia Earle. Sylvia  was born August 30, 1935 in New Jersey. At age 13 her family moved to Florida and she received scholarships to Florida State University. Sylvia learned how to scuba dive and began studying botany to better understand marine ecosystems.

Sylvia received both her M.S. and PhD. from Duke University. Many scientists were impressed with the amount of detail Sylvia used in detailing aquatic plant life for her dissertation as no one had ever been so specific before. Since this detailed feat, Sylvia has made it her lifelong goal to document every species of plant found in the Gulf of Mexico.

Sylvia has spent over 7,000 hours underwater and even lived in a structure 50 feet underwater for two weeks. This underwater stay gained her fame and even a ticker-tape parade and a reception at the White House.

She has explored the ocean in all shapes and forms from photographing shipwrecks to walking the ocean floor at “a lower depth than any human before or since.” She most recently set a record for also diving at a depth of 1,00 meters. Keep in mind this was in 2012 when Sylvia was seventy-seven years old.

Sylvia has served as the Chief Scientist of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and has over 22 honorary degrees. She founded Deep Ocean Exploration and Research, Inc., Mission Blue and SEAlliance, and served as chair of the Advisory Councils of the Harte Research Institute and the Ocean in Google Earth. Sylvia has led hundreds of ocean expeditions and was named the 2014 Glamour Woman of the Year along with many other honors such as the International Seakeepers Award and the 209 TED Prize.

Sylvia’s work in ocean and marine vegetation has been some of the most impressive in her field. Though her work may not be in the typical laboratory, Sylvia’s impact on the scientific community will be making waves for years to come.


To learn more about Sylvia and her ocean adventures:

Computer Science Workshop

I’ve been holding off writing this post because the computer science workshop didn’t actually happen. It was scheduled for October 24, and I had everything planned, but no girls showed up! It was the last workshop and I was so excited to do a fun wrap-up with the girls, but no one came. I was a little disappointed, but I totally understood that it was nothing against me. Before the workshops officially started, the librarian braced me for nobody showing up. She said it would not necessarily be because of what I was doing, but most likely because there would be a lot of sports games or other club meetings. I was lucky that it was only the last workshop that no one came to, and that for every other one I had a steady number of either 4 or 8 girls.

Since I was not able to do this workshop “in person”, I figured I might as well share my plans with all of you! Hopefully someone will get some use out of it 🙂

For my beginning, I planned to talk about Ada Lovelace and give a brief intro into computer science:

How many have heard of computer science? Basically, computer science and computer programming deals with telling a computer how to run. It is building the software from the computer so it knows how to react when certain buttons are pressed. 

Do you understand how computer science works? Just like humans speak different languages, there are many different languages computers understand. There are so many different computer programming languages out there and you can program a computer in anyone of them. Just like human languages, the same action can be represented by different names. Today instead of delving into the different languages we are going to focus on one of the underlying parts of computer programming: binary. Data in computers is stored in a sequence of zeros and ones. 

Does anyone in your family work in the computer science industry?

I was also bringing in a fan used to cool down a computer, and two circuit boards, one from a telephone and one from a CPU, to show the girls what goes on inside our electronics.

The first activity I had planed was binary cards. Bascially, I had 2 sets of 6 index cards, and the index cards either had 1 dot, 2 dots, 4 dos, 8 dots, or 16 dots. I wanted the girls to recognize the pattern that each card had double the amount of dots as the next. After, I was going to explain how binary works by flipping the cards over. If the dots were showing, that was represented by a one, and if the dots were not showing, that was represented by a zero. After seeing where all the ones and zeros are, the girls would add them up to see what the binary numbers represented. If there was a 0 for 16 dots , a 1 for 8 dots, a 1 for 4 dots, a 0 for 2 dots, and a 1 for 1 dots, that would make the number 13 because when there is a 1 one for a particular number place, that number is “turned on” and is counted, if there is a 0 , that number is “turned off” and does not count. After the girls understood this concept, I was going to ask them to use the cards to make different numbers for me.

The next activity I planned was binary worksheets. I printed two worksheets from a website( and I hate not being able to give credit, but I have them in PDF form and am not able to attach them so you can see the actual worksheets 😦 However, the first worksheet was about sending secret messages. Tom was trapped in a department store and decided to send a message for help using binary through the Christmas tree lights. The worksheet provided lines of binary with boxes up to 16 and when there was a Christmas tree in a box that meant the number was turned off. The worksheet provided a number that corresponed with each letter of the alphabet, and the girls would get that number by adding the binary numbers of each line. Hence, each line represented a letter.

The other worksheet I printed was about E-mail and modems. It explained how comuters use binary, a high-pitched beep for 1 and a low-pitched beep for 0. The sounds go by really fast that they only accumulate to the screeching sound we here when a modem is connecting to the internet. The worksheet posed the task to the girls that using the same message as Tom, they were to send an email message to their partner through the way computers send messages with the sounds.

If we had more time, I was going to do the “shifting pyramids” checkers game. I think it is best explained on this website:

At the end of the workshop, I planned to share the different careers in computer science:

App Developer

Software Architect

Computer Systems Analyst

  • Analyze data processing problems to improve computer systems
  • Develop and test system design procedures
  • Enhance system compatibility so information can be shared easily

Computer Programmer

  • Create and test the code that allows computers to run properly
  • Analyze user needs and develop software solutions
  • Write computer programs to store, locate or retrieve data

Web Developer

  • Write, design or edit web page content, or direct others producing content
  • Identify and correct problems uncovered by testing or user feedback
  • Back up website files for immediate recovery in case of problems

I was also going to share some fun facts-

Only 8% of the world’s currency is physical money, the rest only exists on computers.

Mary Kenneth Keller, the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in Computer Science in the United States also earned a Master’s degree in Mathematics and Physics, helped develop computer programming languages and she was a Catholic nun.

 In 1936, the Russians made a computer that ran on water.

Computers used to take up an entire room. 

If Facebook were a country it would be the third largest in the world.

To close, I was going to share the tales of Grace Murray Hopper and Annie Easely.

Well, that’s what I had planned for the computer science workshop! I hope maybe it inspired you to explore computer science more!

Scientist Spotlight: Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Jocelyn Bell Brunell, née Susan Jocelyn Bell, was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1943. She is regarded as a great astronomer and astrophysicist, but it didn’t always seem like she would enter a highly academic field. When Jocelyn was 11, she took a British examination required for all who wanted a higher education. Jocelyn failed. At this, her family sent her to a boarding school which was lacking some science equipment but had a promising physics teacher.

Jocelyn ended up studying physics at Glagsgow University and received a doctorate in radio astronomy from the University of Cambridge. At Cambridge, Jocelyn worked with Anthony Hewish and helped him construct a large radio telescope to study quasars. It was when she was reviewing the printouts from the telescope that she noticed a “bits of scruff” like radio signals that were too regular and too fast to have originated from quasars.

Hewish and Jocelyn worked for moths to determine where these signals were coming from and even jokingly thought of the possibility of Little Green Men trying to communicate with earthlings. After using more specialized and sensitive equipment, Hewish and Jocelyn discovered that the radio signals were come from collapsed stars, donned “pulsars” by the media.

Despite her part in their discovery, Hewish and Martin Ryle were awarded the 1974 Nobel Prize for Physics for the discovery of pulsars, not Jocelyn. She did not really mind, however, because at the time of the discovery she was a student and did not think she would have been eligible because of her status anyway.

After her time at Cambridge, Jocelyn taught at the University of Southhampton and researched gamma ray astronomy. She also became a professor at the University College of London in addition to performing research and teaching in x-ray astronomy at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory. Jocelyn taught at the Open University and studied infrared astronomy at the Royal University in Edinburgh. She was appointed dean of science at the University of Bath and also became a visiting professor at Oxford.

Jocelyn was named Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1999 and Dame in 2007. She became a member of the Royal Society in 2003 and served as president of the Royal Astronomical Society and later on served as president of the Institute of Physics.


To learn more about Jocelyn: