Mary A. Weiss- Q&A: Reflections on her career

Mary A. Weiss, Ph.D. retired as the Deaver Professor of Risk, Insurance, and Healthcare Management at the Fox School of Business and Management of Temple University, and she retains the same title as an Emeritus Professor. She is a Past President of ARIA and the prestigious Risk Theory Society, where she is a lifetime member.   

Mary was the editor of Risk Management and Insurance Review and a Co-Editor and then Senior Editor for the Journal of Risk and Insurance (JRI). Her research, consisting of over 30 articles, has focused on financial services conglomeration, efficiency measurement of insurers, no-fault automobile insurance, reinsurance, regulation, and underwriting cycles. Her research has appeared in the Journal of Risk and Insurance (JRI), the Journal of Law and Economics, Journal of Business, Management Science and many more journals. Her articles have received awards from the Journal of Risk and Insurance, the Casualty Actuarial Society and more.

We sat down with Mary to discuss her bodies of work, fondest memories of being an ARIA member and what advice she would give to other faculty and students.

While reading your resume, I noticed the research you’ve done is quite extensive. What are representative examples of 3 impactful papers and where has your research led you today?

I think the best place to start is my very first research project, which was on loss reserving practices for property liability insurance companies. I started this project when I was a graduate student as a term paper, and it was eventually published in the JRI as my first research paper.

I’ve had a major stream of articles created around efficiency and productivity measurement for life insurers and property liability insurers beginning with an article published in the JRI based on my dissertation. Many people felt that you couldn’t conduct research around measuring efficiency and productivity for insurers because output is intangible. For example, just how do you measure what life insurers produce?   A whole new stream of insurance research began, and others began to conduct research in this area too.

Another major research theme is automobile insurance. An interesting paper in this area, and one that I did with my husband, showed that no fault automobile insurance leads to less careful driving, as evidenced by an increase in the number of fatal accidents in no-fault states.  This paper was published in the Journal of Law and Economics. This was a very difficult research project because we needed some means to attribute driving behavior with no fault.  Other areas in automobile insurance regulation I’ve conducted research on is around rating and practices that help to suppress rates for higher risk drivers. One interesting conclusion from these research studies is that if you charge rates which are not reflective of actual driving behavior, it will lead to higher insurance premiums in the long run.

Is there any body of work you are most proud of?

The article that I am most proud of is my original loss reserving paper. This article has been very well cited and after that article was published, I think it spurred a whole stream of articles on loss reserving behavior.

As you’re headed for retirement, are there any best practices, words of advice or tips you’d like to share with other faculty members or students from your time as a professor? What are some of your favorite memories of being a professor?

I think it’s important where possible to have a personal connection with students. That doesn’t mean that you’re their best friend, but if you somehow communicate that you care about what is going on in their life, it can make a big difference. You don’t want to come off as intimidating. You want to be accessible and understanding to the extent that you can be.

It’s important to get the students thinking, by getting them involved in discussion. When you are teaching and talking non-stop, after a certain point, all a student hears are words, and they are not actively connecting the dots between thoughts to arrive at a conclusion for themselves. If they can think things through for themselves, they are more likely to learn. This will be a challenge for many faculty members with our new way of learning, online. It’s harder to get students involved since you can’t see them, and thus, harder to make that personal connection. If you are doing online learning, it’s very important to have a large number of office hours so your availability is high. If you show that you have the time available, it is an indicator that you care whether they’re learning or not.

I’ve also worked with many Ph.D students as their dissertation advisor.  I like working with them because they are very eager to learn and have a lot of energy.  I always emphasize with them that it is important to reason out their hypotheses carefully, making sure to be able to support hypotheses with theory or prior research.  I feel it is very important that they be able to put together a dissertation document that is very clearly written.  I think that sometimes Ph.D. students don’t understand that if they produce a poorly written document with inadequate explanations or poor English usage, journal reviewers may become impatient and look on the article unfavorably, even if the underlying ideas are good.   Sometimes Ph.D. students are in a rush to get a publication and send in an article to a journal before it is ready.  It is always important (regardless of your career stage) to get feedback on research from others knowledgeable in the field, and this is especially true when you are starting out.

A favorite memory of mine from my time as a professor, is working with a Temple student to convince him to pursue a Risk Management and Insurance major. He initially was hesitant to proceed with it.  However, I was able to encourage him to join a field trip to a broker’s office.  The student was appropriately impressed after the trip, although he was very disappointed to learn that the trip wasn’t for extra credit. Even so, he decided to proceed with the major, and it was a very proud moment for me.   He became the student president of the Temple chapter for Gamma Iota Sigma, the national insurance fraternity, and is now successfully climbing the career ladder at a major brokerage firm.

What are some of your fondest memories from your time at ARIA?

The greatest thing about ARIA is the people in it. It’s a very friendly group. When you go to the Annual Meeting, it’s usually the only time you get to see these people. It is a time to catch up with classmates you went to grad school with, catch up with co-authors, engage with future co-authors, etc. Most times, you may only see your co-author at the Annual Meeting. Sometimes, you only see your own colleagues at ARIA because everyone is always in and out of the office in your department!

Is there a fun fact you’d like to share?

I love dogs, all dogs. We have three Shetland sheep dogs and they are absolutely beautiful. I love to cook as well. Since I’ve retired, I’ve been cooking a lot and trying new recipes.