Summer scholars take on real-world research

27 November 2017

Lucas Chen
Lucas Chen

What are the links between immigration and obesity in four-year-olds? That’s the question Lucas Chen will be exploring for his Summer Research Scholarship.

Lucas is working with social scientists Dr Nichola Shackleton and Dr Barry Milne of COMPASS, the Centre of Methods and Policy Application in the Social Sciences, to explore the “healthy immigrant hypothesis”. This relates to studies, mainly in Canada and United States, that show recent immigrants are generally healthier than the population they leave behind, even though they often have lower socioeconomic status and less access to healthcare in their new country. This hypothesis is thought to be due to factors such as pre-immigration health screening and the fact that the wealthiest and the healthiest in a society are most likely to have the financial and physical means to migrate.

“There has been very little research done in New Zealand on this, and New Zealand has a substantially different immigration profile to North America,” says Lucas, who has just completed his BSc majoring in Pharmacology and Statistics at the University of Auckland. “But New Zealand also has a very obesogenic culture, where fast food is prominent and heavily advertised. So we will be exploring whether there is any evidence for the healthy immigrant hypothesis in relation to child obesity rates here, looking at four-year-olds in particular. Hypothetically, if we do find certain ethnic immigrant groups to be less healthy than the native counterparts, we can strategise for this to help alleviate the problem.”

Lucas will be using information such as country of origin and intergenerational length of residence from the Integrated Data Infrastructure, a large and strictly controlled research database containing detailed data about New Zealand people and households collected by a range of Government agencies.

It’s a perfect project to prepare for an honours degree in Statistics in 2018. “Statistics is fascinating to me and helps satiate my constant hunger for knowledge,” Lucas says. “I love the feeling of discovering information concealed under mountains of data.”

William Cooper
William Cooper

Summer scholars receive a tax-free $6,000 stipend for 10 weeks of supervised research over the summer months. The scholarships, which are open to high-achieving students from any part of the world, offer valuable experience in real-world research and the chance to build networks. 

Eight Statistics students have been successful this year, and another one of them is William Cooper, who has just completed the second year of an engineering science degree. William’s supervisors, Associate Professor Rachel Fewster (Statistics) and Dr Margaret Stanley (School of Biological Sciences), have a database of pet birds reported lost over a two-year period from regular scanning of TradeMe and other websites where lost animals are reported. Their question is whether these records of lost pets successfully predict the establishment of new exotic populations in the wild.

Many of the birds that are lost into the wild end up competing against the native birds,” says William. He’ll be analysing the lost-bird dataset with the graphical software package R, developed in the Department of Statistics and used worldwide.   

William’s work will contribute to the National Pest Pet Biosecurity Accord, which aims to help prevent pets becoming pests: “It’s really cool to be able to put the skills I've learnt at university into practical work.”




The other six Statistics Summer Scholars are:

  • Rishika Chopara (BSc in Statistics, University of Auckland): Species distribution maps from spatial capture-recapture models, working with Dr Ben Stevenson of Statistics
  • Taosha Wang (BA/BSc in Economics, Statistics and Environmental Science, University of Auckland), working with Professor Judi Hewitt of Statistics and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) on identifying environmental degradation in Auckland harbours
  • Ye Won Lee (BSc in Statistics, University of Auckland), working with Ciprian Giurcaneanu of Statistics on dictionary size selection
  • Owen Jin (BCom/BSc in Accounting, Taxation, Computer Science and Statistics, University of Auckland), working with Chris Wild on data-wrangling tools in Shiny and Gtk.
  • David Campbell (Postgraduate Diploma in Statistics in Medical Statistics, University of Auckland), working with Barry Milne and Roy-Lay Yee of COMPASS on the question “Are correlates of loneliness similar across the life-course?”
  • Victor Amaya Carvajal (Bachelor degree in Mathematics, Universidad de Guanajuato, Mexico), working with Professor James Curran on the t-SNE algorithm in R and Python