Christ Church Crest

Zi Wang

“ I enjoy mathematics because it is precise and objective. It reflects my personality as being composed and analytical. I believe all questions have definite answers, and when we try to approach them, no value judgment should be involved – just as mathematicians dealing with numbers. ”

Looking back to what I wrote at the beginning of my UCAS statement, I was shocked by how one’s view of mathematics could be changed, almost totally unconsciously, during the 3-year study of the Mathematics and Statistics course at Oxford. Events may come into realization with a certain, and possibly “definite” or “deterministic” as thought by many, probability. However, from a modern Bayesian view, this probability may involve some “dynamics”: the probability does change over time as we build up observations. Statistics, which can be regarded as the process of “model selection, parameters fitting and inference of the unknown”, deals with uncertainties by making certain sense-making hypothesis at first, followed by highly critical and analytical justifications and proofs which are just as precise and objective as the work done in numbers. Unfortunately, these hypotheses are almost always subjective, and even if we do have overwhelmingly convincing reasons to believe they are good, opposite conclusions can still be obtained in some cases. “How to lie with statistics” is not only the name of a popular book among statisticians, but also provides a life-long challenge for us: what truly lies behind the numbers?

The Mathematics and Statistics course at Oxford gives the students a solid foundation in both mathematics (1st year) and statistics (2nd year), before more in-depth topics in statistics were examined in the 3rd year. Yet, what makes Oxford stand out is the flexibility it offers to its statisticians: the options “actuarial science”, “life-time modeling”, “graph theory”, “biological network analysis”, “financial mathematics”, “mathematical ecology and biology” each contains excellent extended materials which is beneficial for both academic and profession motivated students.

Each summer, the statistics department provides funded studentships for those who are keen on academic research. I was one of the scholars in 2009 and I did an 8-week project on “Biological network comparison using graphlet degree distribution”, which was first introduced less than 2 years ago at that time. Only 3 months after completing the project, I was able to meet the author of the original paper and discuss it with her after a speech she gave in Oxford!

As a classical music fan, the joy I gained from music in Oxford has been equal to my enjoyment of mathematics. Here we have numerous concerts every day featuring works from complete Beethoven cycles to Mahler’s magnificent symphonies, performers from the amazing student orchestras to the prestigious Berlin Philharmonic. Besides musical life, it was also in Oxford that I made my debut as a drama director and had my first flight in a glider as the pilot.

Oxford, the university, the city of dreams, would always be my first choice to study mathematics and statistics if I’d ever be able to choose again.

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