Department of Statistics

Tong Zhu, China: Statistics PhD student


"The reason I chose Auckland was my supervisor."


Tong’s research focuses on stochastic processes. For his thesis, entitled Optimal Control, Paradoxes and Phase Transitions in Stochastic Networks, he is exploring ideas and techniques from Markov random fields, statistical mechanics, dynamical systems, interacting particle systems, graph theory and applied probability.

How did you come to be living in New Zealand?
I came to New Zealand in 2002 to complete high school as preparation for a foreign university. I knew only a little bit about the country then. I knew there were no snakes in New Zealand, and that was good enough for me!

How important was the University’s worldwide ranking in your decision to pursue postgraduate study here?
Not very important. While a good ranking might matter for an undergraduate student, it has less impact on postgraduate students, I think. By that time, we already have some ideas about the direction of our research and the potential researchers available.

How important in your decision were the researchers and research topics available in the Department?
The potential research topic and supervisor were the key factors. The reason I chose Auckland was my supervisor, Ilze Ziedins.

I am comfortable here in our department. It is important to study, work and live in a place you feel comfortable in. A good relationship or, at least, good communications between you and your supervisor are also vital to your research.

How important was Auckland’s lifestyle, diversity and amenities in your decision to study here?
Very important. From the age of 11, I studied at an international boarding school 400km from my hometown and at 17 came to New Zealand to study. I feel secure and comfortable here in Auckland after nine years; that’s the longest I have stayed in any city. I want to stay in Auckland despite the fact that weather here is very changeable – sometimes you get five seasons in five minutes!

I think Auckland is the best place for PhD studies as it is quiet and relaxed with few distractions. It has the perfect balance of a big-city life and small-country comfort. Most Kiwis are quite friendly and open-minded.

What are your main interests outside your study?
I am quite a sociable person. I enjoy good food, wine and company. I love watching tennis. I enjoy reading. I practise yoga and go swimming as often as I can.

What questions do you think potential postgraduate students from overseas need to ask when making decisions about where to study?
They need to look at their financial support and the job market. Most international students would compare the cost of living in each country and the potential income they could make after graduation.

How have you funded your study?
I have received a scholarship from the New Zealand Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (NZIMA) and a University of Auckland Postgraduate Tuition Fees Bursary.

Have you been employed as a teaching assistant in the Department?
Yes, I have, and it has brought me great benefits at several levels. It certainly helps financially. The hourly rate for a teaching assistant is substantial compared with other potential part-time jobs in the market. It also prepares you for the academic world if you are interested in being a lecturer or research fellow after your study.

Tong Zhu is from Yangzhou in China. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Arts with First-Class Honours from the University of Auckland.