Department of Statistics

Jared Tobin, Canada: Statistics PhD student


“Auckland is the best fit for me”


Jared Tobin is researching machine learning, an area of research at the crossroads of statistics and computer science that uses probability and computational savvy to solve hard prediction problems. In particular, his work focuses on better incorporating information about uncertainty into problems that use large amounts of data.

Machine learning techniques can be applied to fields as diverse as finance, ecology, computer vision, climatology, logistics, and speech recognition, Jared says. “Whether it's Facebook auto-recognising your friends' faces in pictures, or your phone auto-completing your texts, you can bet there is a machine learning algorithm somewhere doing all the work!”

Why did you choose to do your postgraduate study at the University of Auckland?
It seemed like the best fit for me: an internationally renowned, well-ranked institution in a great city with a large and experienced faculty specialising in a broad array of research areas.

How important was the University’s worldwide ranking in your decision to study here?
The University's ranking was indeed a factor when deciding to study in Auckland. Several universities I considered in Canada are highly ranked, and I didn't want to lose that top-ranked 'branding' by moving 'down under'. But, happily, Auckland is well-ranked – notably so in statistics.

How important in your decision to study here were the researchers and research topics available in the Department of Statistics?
Very important. I wanted a large collection of approachable experts in very diverse research areas, and Auckland has that.

Were you familiar with New Zealand before coming here?
I had been intrigued by Australia and New Zealand for quite some time, but didn't really know anything specific about either place (other than, from a Canadian perspective, people speak with funny accents!) New Zealand piqued my interest a bit more than Australia, so I started to learn more about it.

The lifestyle/culture/diversity/amenities of Auckland were amongst the larger factors influencing my decision to study here, and probably on par with the academic factors. I think it's extremely important to be happy with any place that you'll be spending three or more years; the happier you are, the more you can focus on your work.

Auckland is a real melting pot of cultures, and that's something I value highly. Culturally homogeneous areas are great for a visit, but I prefer to live in a place that gives one a real feel for the world at large.

Did you know anyone in New Zealand before you came here?
I had no contacts in New Zealand when I arrived. I had corresponded with my supervisor, but never actually met him. I was lucky to be accompanied to Auckland by my lovely girlfriend.

How have you made friends here?
I've had no trouble meeting people here. There are many like-minded students from around the world, so as long as you're willing to strike up a conversation, it's easy to get to know people. I also try to get out as much as possible; I've chatted with and met people at bars, coffee shops, the gym, and so on.

Has life in New Zealand been as you imagined?
Life thus far in New Zealand has been everything I hoped it would be. I was lucky enough to visit Auckland before starting my programme, so I may have had a better idea than some people about what it would be like.

What do you enjoy most about living in Auckland?
It is hard to pick out a 'most' from the things I like about Auckland. It's a bustling alpha city with a great café culture, the weather is great, it's very multicultural, there is plenty to see and do ... and the coffee … it's amazing, it's everywhere, and it would be a cardinal sin to live here without enjoying it!

What are your main interests outside your study?
I probably fit into the standard PhD student mould of having few interests outside my work. I love to wine and dine, research, travel and exercise. Luckily, the lifestyle of a PhD student allows for all of these.

What questions do you think potential postgraduate students from overseas need to ask when making their decision about where to study?
It's important that you enjoy the city you live in, the university you study at, and the people you work with. Don't feel rushed or pressured to go with the first school that accepts you; with enough searching, you'll find the right place.

How have you funded your study?
I'm still relatively new here, so my start-up costs have largely been funded by savings and student loans. I'm only now turning my sights towards scholarship applications, but there are a great many offered in both general and specific research areas.

Update (November 2018)
Jared Tobin completed his PhD in 2017 and now operates a technical consulting company specialising in functional programming, distributed systems, cryptography, and language engineering. He lives in Auckland.

Jared Tobin is from St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. He holds a BSc in Statistics and Economics and an MSc in Applied Statistics, both from Memorial University, Canada. He worked as a senior policy analyst with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador for two years until immigrating to New Zealand in 2011.