Esther Lam dances her way to a degree in Actuarial Science

October 18, 2023

There are multiple sides to every person, and no one knows this more than SFU actuarial science alumnus, Esther Lam. Completing her degree has been a complex balancing act, juggling work as a professional dancer with academic studies and two co-op terms.

Lam initially moved to Vancouver to pursue hip-hop dance and was fortunate to land teaching opportunities and compete with one of the most successful dance teams in the country. 

“Dancing feels like my other life, the life I live outside of studying and working,” she says. “It allows me to connect with people in ways that I normally do not get the chance to and it’s also a great way for me to stay fit and active.”

She was drawn to the actuarial science program at SFU because of its flexibility and future career opportunities. “I remember being in advanced math in high school and they brought in an actuary to persuade us into study actuarial science in university,” she says. “It seemed like the perfect challenge for me because the exams could be taken at your own pace which gives you control over your future and how far you would like to take your career.”

While at SFU she had the opportunity to work two co-op terms at Sun Life Financial on the individual health pricing and international valuation teams, helping with model runs, case studies, organizing data, reporting and analysis.

It was challenging at times to keep up with her studies while having a full life outside of school. “Everyone that knew about the life I lived would say things like, "you know you can't keep this up forever", or "we will see how long you last”, she says. “These words were really starting to make me doubt myself especially when my grades started dropping,”.

To get through, Lam had to develop a routine to keep her on track and leaned on supports available at SFU. She enrolled in the Statistics and Actuarial Science Student Association Buddy Program, which helped her adjust to life at SFU.

“My mentor, Mehak, helped guide me through all the challenges of an actuarial career. She helped me pass my first actuarial exam by providing me with insightful tips and also helped me land my first co-op. She really helped push me to keep going in times where I doubted myself.” 

Reflecting back on her experience, Lam is glad she never gave in to the doubt. “Working throughout my degree taught me so many valuable skills such as networking, communication, and time management,” she says. “I also got an amazing opportunity to tour two cities with a big artist who sold out Rogers Arena and Calgary Saddledome and was featured in an Amazon Prime documentary.”

“As challenging as it was and although I did not perform as well as I had hoped, I am still so very proud of myself for sticking through with all my extracurriculars on top of completing my degree.”

“Balancing school and dance on top of a full-time job seems insane, and it was very challenging at times. However, I think because I truly enjoyed everything I was doing, it made the process a lot easier.”