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April 2016

Putting graduate research into practice

At a glance
The challenge

Improper insurance adjustments can cost millions of dollars

The solution

Increase accuracy of risk modelling and prediction of claim severity and frequency

The outcome

Company gains a competitive advantage on insurance risk modelling

What's next?

Continued relationship between Concordia and Aviva to access cutting-edge research

The opportunity to apply research in a professional environment while getting paid for it is a coveted commodity for graduate students.

Luckily, with the help of Mitacs — a national not-for-profit organization that designs and delivers research and training programs for Canadian academics — Concordia students are being given the chance to do just this.

Putting theories to work

Take Sandra Maria Nawar, a master’s candidate who specializes in actuarial science. “At the end of the first year of my program I began doing my research and I really wanted to apply my theories in an exciting business setting,” she explains. “My graduate supervisor told me about the Mitacs program and things came together quickly after that.”

Nawar met with Mitacs representative Jean-Philippe Valois to go over her interests. A match was soon made with Aviva Canada, an insurance company that had worked with Mitacs and Concordia students in the past.

At Aviva, Nawar is using her research to help the company improve its decision making for insurance rates so it can manage costly claims — a process known as risk modelling. “The idea is to give Aviva a competitive advantage in this area by improving their overall accuracy in predicting claim severities and frequencies.”

Her supervisor at Aviva, Charles Dugas — who also happens to be a former Mitacs participant — sees Nawar as vital to improving important processes the company depends upon to stay competitive.

“It’s a fast-paced business and we don’t always have the time to develop and test new ideas,” he says.

“Having a bright, hardworking student examining how we do our business is invaluable. Sandra is also a vital link for us when it comes to the newest trends in research and development that are being discussed in academia, something that can get lost in the daily grind of the business world.”

For students at all stages of research

Nawar’s graduate supervisor, Jose Garrido, a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, is a huge proponent of the Mitacs program. To date, he has referred four students he has supervised.

“For students who are in the early process of their research, a Mitacs internship can give them ideas as to how to further develop their work,” says Garrido. “For those in the later stages, it’s a chance to take their idea and run with it in a way that can benefit a company.”

When it comes to Nawar, Garrido believes her success at Aviva is a direct result of her drive and personality. “Sandra is the type of student who can’t only live in theory, she needed to get her hands dirty and put her research to work. This kind of outlet and experience will give her a great advantage once she graduates.”

Reposted with permission from Concordia University. Photo courtesy of Concordia University.

Mitacs would like to thank the Government of Canada, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, along with Alberta Innovates Technology Futures, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, Research & Development Corporation of Newfoundland & Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, Innovation PEI, the Government of Quebec, and the Government of Saskatchewan for their support of the Accelerate program.