Department of Statistics

Lisa Chen, China: Statistics PhD student


“I can’t get a better supervisor or more interesting research topic.”


Lisa is working on algorithms to find the best decisions users can make in various queueing situations – but particularly when travelling. She focuses on individual selfish routing choice in a class of queueing model and studies its effect upon overall system performance.

You can see it this way, she says: “If everybody decides to take a private car to work by assuming that their travel time will be shorter than via public transport, the actual travel time, in terms of an overall average, is usually longer than expected because the motorways are consequently overloaded – and that’s how we have daily traffic jams in Auckland. In this case, individual (selfish) choice has a negative impact on the overall system performance.”

Why did you choose to do your tertiary study at the University of Auckland?
I came to New Zealand in 2001 to do my undergraduate degree. Apart from all the bright sides about life in Auckland like climate and culture, the strong academic research and healthy teaching environment in the statistics department drew me here.

How important was the University’s worldwide ranking in your decision?
I don’t think university ranking necessarily impacts upon personal academic achievement. I am more interested in the people I work with and the working environment. I didn’t pay attention to university rankings when I applied for a PhD. If I were to look at any university rankings, I would look at them through my supervisor: she graduated from Cambridge.

How important in your decision to study here were the researchers and research topics available in the Department of Statistics?
Very important! I can’t get a better supervisor or more interesting research topic than this.

How have you paid for your study?
I hold a Top Achiever Doctoral Scholarship from the Tertiary Education Commission. I have also worked as a tutor since my undergraduate days. I enjoy teaching and sharing knowledge with people.

Has life in New Zealand been as you imagined?
No, it has not – it is 200% better, if not more! I enjoy the bright sunshine and rugby on the doorstep.

What questions do you think potential postgraduate students from overseas need to ask when making their decision about where to study?
What are your strengths and weaknesses? Be honest with yourself.
What are your career aims? Find the best place to master the skills you need and go for it.

Lisa Chen is from Fujian, China. She has a BSc (Hons) in Statistics and Computer Science from the University of Auckland.

UPDATE:  Lisa graduated PhD in 2012 and went straight to the company she had been working with during her studies – Harmonic Analytics Ltd. She is now the company’s chief analytics officer.