Department of Mathematics


Meet our graduates

Sir Vaughan Jones: Recipient of the Fields Medal


BSc and MSc (First-Class Hons), University of Auckland; Docteur es Sciences [Math], The University of Geneva

The Fields Medal is often described as the "Nobel Prize of Mathematics". Sir Vaughan Jones received the Fields Medal for his work on Von Neumann algebras which led to fundamental discoveries in knot theory. What does it take to make a significant contribution to a principal discipline that has been a part of the human search for understanding for more than two thousand years. Find out how this kiwi kid became a world leading mathematician in this conversation between Sir Vaughan Jones and Dr Tanya Evans.

 

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Eyal Loz: Software Engineer/ Mathematician, E-Bet Australia


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BSc (Hons) in Mathematics and Computer Science, PhD (both University of Auckland)

In this job I develop casino gaming machines – developing the game mechanics and proving the mathematical game model. I use combinatorial computations in combination with statistics to calculate the expected return to the player of different features of the game. In some cases, the computation requires developing specialised software to analyse the result space of the game.

I like working on projects that require me to think, and projects with a substantial mathematical flavour do just that. Since finishing my PhD, I have worked in a variety of environments that require everyday use of advanced mathematical concepts. That includes optimisation theory for consulting work I did for the tourism industry; automation and algorithms for my work on developing components of an online trading platform; and game theory, financial mathematics and partial differential equations when working as a derivative trader on the Hong Kong Stock exchange.

Qualifications in mathematics don't get you a job per se. Nevertheless, many high-paying and senior jobs in finance, research and development require people with strong backgrounds in mathematics.

If secondary school students asked me what personal and academic attributes it took to succeed in mathematics at university and in the workforce, I’d tell them to work hard, be social and remember to like what they do. And go to The University of Auckland – after all, it is the biggest and best in New Zealand.

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Simon Marshall: Assistant Professor at Northwestern University, Chicago, USA


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BSc (Hons) in Mathematics (Auckland), PhD (Princeton)

I was 17 in 2002 when I won gold for New Zealand at the International Mathematical Olympiad in Glasgow, and that showed me that I had the ability to do mathematics at an international level. When I was younger, I had been quite daunted by the thought that I was entering a subject that had been shaped by some of the smartest people in the world, and that eventually I would have to find something to contribute that they hadn't already discovered. Winning the gold medal strengthened my confidence that I could do that.

I’m originally from Wellington, but these days I am an assistant professor at Northwestern University in Chicago, USA. My current research studies the behaviour of quantum mechanical systems at high energies, using both the traditional tools in this area and methods from number theory. The aim is to prove results that say that high-energy quantum states behave chaotically, or randomly, when the corresponding classical system has this behaviour.

What I enjoy about my career is that I do something that I love that is both creative and rigorous. I travel the world doing it and have colleagues who are as passionate about it as me and who challenge me to discover new things. I also enjoy the flexible hours.

I have two types of work days, those on which I teach and those on which I focus on research. The teaching days are spent preparing and giving a lecture, and doing related things such as holding office hours and writing tests, and I sometimes squeeze in some research as well. When I focus on research I like to sleep in, take naps, and pace up and down a lot, and I usually stay at home to do this work.

If secondary school students ask me what it takes to get a career like mine, I say that they have to completely and totally love mathematics. They also have to be able to focus deeply, solve problems, and recognise patterns. The career prospects are really good – mathematical skills are highly sought after by investment firms and hedge funds, as they need people who can analyse large amounts of data.

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Jennifer Bramwell: Graduate Consultant Statistician, Data Analysis Perth, Australia


BCom/BSc in Economics, Finance, Pure Mathematics and Statistics with First-Class Honours in Pure Mathematics;
Master of Science in Statistics with First-Class Honours

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Maths is used in everything I do. Mathematical maturity provides skills such as logical reasoning, an analytical approach and problem-solving skills, which are fundamental in many aspects of my job.

One of my recent jobs was helping to compile a report on road-crash statistics in Western Australia, like this one. We used data from the Office of Road Safety, which comes from police reports, as well as data from sources such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics and hospitals.

One focus during my involvement is to make the process as automated as possible. I wrote macro to source data from various locations to make up tables, so a table was done at a click of a button instead of manually. This saves a lot of time in the long run, as the classification of crash counts can change many times during the project. I'm also involved in writing code in R to produce the figures and maps.

What attracted me to maths was the fact that it doesn’t rely on memorisation, unlike subjects such as accounting, law, chemistry, history or even engineering. I’m dyslexic, so it’s almost impossible for me to just remember facts – I have to understand things before I can remember them, and mathematics offers just that. It’s a subject learnt by understanding instead of rote-learning.

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John Holt: Compliance Modelling Manager, Inland Revenue


BSc (Hons) in Mathematics, MSc (Dist) in Mathematics, PhD (Michigan)

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I manage a unit of 13 people who build mathematical models to help the IRD make decisions. We’re in the business of informatics and decision theory – combining human expertise and data to reduce uncertainty in decision-making. For example, we might work on property compliance – modelling to identify patterns of behaviour that suggest serial property speculation, which is a taxable activity, or look at the space around GST returns to measure under-reporting and to understand the effect of the economy on GST.

Lately, we have been looking at student loans; borrowers now living overseas are responsible for 80% of overdue loan repayments. We did a micro-simulation – a model of how various components interact – relating to overseas borrowers, looking at more than 20 variables such as how long borrowers have been overseas, what type of degrees they have, and what they have paid in the past. We did forecasts on what the loan book would look like if certain courses of action were taken. This informs both policy and operational decisions.

I am proud of what we do – we make a difference; we transform how the IRD is working and our work has a direct impact on the social and economic well-being of the country.

The sort of people who might be well-suited to this sort of job are not only good at maths, they have a drive to use sophisticated mathematics to address real, meaningful problems. The qualities I value in potential employees are a focus on quality, the ability to self-manage, a drive for results and the desire to continually learn.

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Stuart Laurence: Assistant Professor, the University of Maryland, USA


BA/BSc (Hons) in Philosophy, Physics and Applied Mathematics (Auckland); Master of Science and PhD in Aeronautics (California Institute of Technology)

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Stuart Laurence is one of the few people who really can say that yes, he’s a rocket scientist. He’s spent much of the past five years working in a large-scale hypersonic wind tunnel – hypersonic means the wind tunnel can recreate the effects of Mach 5 (or 6,000km an hour) and above – to investigate the effects on vehicle configurations that one day could be spacecraft entering or re-entering a planetary atmosphere, or high-speed passenger aircraft.

Stuart did this work at DLR, the German Aerospace Centre in Goettingen, central Germany, where he worked for five years until mid-2013. It’s one of the few centres in the world where aeronautics scientists can reproduce the high-energy flows they need.

He has just shifted to the aerospace engineering programme at the University of Maryland, where he will continue his research on hypersonic aerodynamics and propulsion. He has some good advice for those hoping to follow in his footsteps. “It’s important to have a good physical intuition to help you understand problems, as well as the mathematical skills to be able to solve them.

“Patience and the ability to deal with and learn from setbacks are very necessary – things seldom work out as you intend on the first try, so you need to be flexible and willing to try new things. A little bit of creativity is often helpful, too.”

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Tessa Miskell: Risk Analytics Graduate, Westpac


BSc (First-Class Hons) in Mathematics and Statistics, MSc (First-Class Hons) in Mathematics, both Auckland.

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Right from my first year at primary school, I found mathematics really fun, intuitive and interesting – and I still do. At Westpac, I do a lot of statistical modelling and data-mining. Working within a large company is great, as it gives you a lot of room to move around and try new things. Interacting with different business units within the bank gives me a good overall understanding of how banks work – and how the tasks that I do fit into the scheme of things.

I spent six months in market analytics, where everything that we worked on was customer-oriented, which exposed me to a lot of the bank’s front-line processes. Now I’m working in risk, which looks to minimise the amount of risk to which the bank is exposed, through, for example, lending.

People are sometimes surprised when I tell them I studied maths, as it is seen as more of an abstract art than a practical skill for the workplace. However, mathematical skills are not just about solving theorems and drawing graphs – they help you to become a more logical thinker in everyday life.

I was born and raised in Auckland, so The University of Auckland was a natural choice. Looking back now, I'm glad I made the decision to study at The University of Auckland; the Department of Mathematics was fantastic and I met a lot of awesome and interesting people.

I would say to students thinking of studying mathematics at tertiary level that real interest and curiosity is vital. And it's pretty important that you’re passionate about learning and growing, rather than just wanting the piece of paper at the end.

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