Gaurav Khemka

Gaurav Khemka

PhD (Actuarial Studies)

On the point of graduating with his PhD and looking forward to continuing his career at ANU as a lecturer in Actuarial Studies, Gaurav Khemka looks back on his arrival at ANU to undertake a Master of Actuarial Studies with some amusement:

“To be honest, when I first came here, I thought Canberra was terrible – I hated it! But now, I love it and I’m never going to leave Canberra. I come from a city (Kolkata in India) that has almost as big a population as Australia. So I came to this place and there was nobody. It was a huge culture shock. But it really grows on you – it’s beautiful, it’s calm and it’s peaceful.”

If Canberra took some getting used to, there was no doubt about his decision to come to ANU to study:

“I had a choice between Australia and the UK, and then between University of Melbourne and ANU. And I chose ANU because (at the time) it gave me the best actuarial masters degree possible (in terms of exemptions) between Australia and the UK.”

Having completed his graduate degree, Gaurav faced decision time again.

“I had a four month period figuring out what I wanted to do. The choice was, do I want to go into the corporate world and earn lots of money, or do I want to be in the academic world and have that lifestyle – where the money doesn’t compare but you can spend more time with your family and do things you actually like.

“It’s obviously a personal choice, but for me it was something like happiness or money and I chose happiness. As an academic you can research what you are interested in, not what you are forced to do. So you have some freedom of expression, which for me is very important. And I don’t take orders very well!”

The decision was also helped by some early experiences as both research assistant and tutor.

“I do enjoy teaching and the interaction with the students, so I decided I wanted to be a lecturer, and you really need to do a PhD if you want that career.”

Gaurav duly started his PhD in 2009, continuing to tutor all the while, and then began lecturing this year. His thesis examines the impact of economic changes on the health of the Australian population: changes in mortality rates, frequency of visits to the GP and fluctuations in the number of disability income insurance. His findings show that Australia runs counter to the norm in that during economic downturns when unemployment increases the mortality rate increases, people visit their GPs less and make a greater number of claims on disability income insurance. Whilst there are other countries in the world (notably Sweden) that show the same trend, for the majority, we actually see those same increases during economic upturns.

“What we found was that maybe one of the reasons for this is the high social security expenditure in Australia,” Gaurav explains. “In countries with low social security expenditure, the trend goes the other way. For example, in the US during economic upturns you see an increase in the number of people dying. The argument is that where there is low social security expenditure, people tend to work more during economic upturns to make up for the fact that in a downturn they might be earning less. Hence they have less leisure time, may make poorer lifestyle choices (less exercise, increases in smoking and alcohol levels, poor diet) and a greater likelihood of getting sick. Where there is high social security expenditure as there is in Australia, people know that even if they become unemployed, they are still going to be able to feed themselves.”

As for the PhD process, Gaurav describes this as “very smooth” and he pays tribute to his supervisors (Associate Professor Steven Roberts, Dr Tim Higgins, and Dr David Service) and other colleagues in the Research School of Finance, Actuarial Studies and Statistics for their support and willingness to help.

“I feel the best way that you can get any PhD done is to really take ownership of it, that you and nobody else is responsible for it, and you need to do whatever is necessary to get it through. But I had great relationships with my supervisors. They always gave me the time and I could use them as a sounding board – that’s very special in a PhD program. There are days when you are on the road and you get stuck on a simple, silly problem. You really need to get that sort of thing sorted out quickly – and they helped me do that.

“Of course, there were times when I wanted to just give it all up - when you think you don’t know what you are doing or seem to be making no headway. Everyone I have spoken to goes through that phase and you just have to get through it. And I have had great support and encouragement from everyone – it’s a very friendly school – especially during those times. Also, PhD study is very focused here – they want you to finish your PhD in three or four years, and I think that’s a really good thing. They expect you to finish quickly, but they give you the resources, and the support to do so.”

Updated:   14 October 2015 / Responsible Officer:  CBE Communications and Outreach / Page Contact:  College Web Team