January 22, 2015

Meet Statistics summer scholar Yiying Zhang

yiyingEvery year, the Department of Statistics offers summer scholarships to a number of students so they can work with staff on real-world projects. Yiying, right, is working on a project called Modelling Competition and Dispersal in a Statistical Phylogeographic Framework with Dr Stéphane GuindonYiying explains.

 “The processes that govern the spatial distribution of species are complex. Traditional approaches in ecology generally rely on the hypothesis that adaptation to the environment is the main force driving this distribution.

“The supervisors of this project propose an alternative explanation that assumes that species are found in certain places simply because they were the first to colonise these locations during the course of evolution. They have recently designed a stochastic model that explains the observed spatial distribution of species using a combination of dispersal events (i.e., species migrating to new territories) and competition between species.

“In this project, I will run in silico [computer] experiments and analyse real data in order to validate the software Phyloland that implements our dispersal-competition model.

“To validate the model, we will randomly generate ‘true value’. Then we will use the model to make estimations of the true value. If the estimated values match the true value relatively closely, then the model is reliable.

“I am doing a BCom/BSc conjoint degree. My majors are Finance, Accounting and Statistics – 2015 is my fourth year. I am planning to do an Honours degree in statistics, so this summer research project is a very valuable experience for me.

“I enjoy statistics because it brings me closer to the real world. Sometimes, things are not simply what we see. Without data, we would never have convincing evidence about what is really happening. The amount of information out there is massive and statistics can help people tell how reliable a statement is. Studying statistics has helped me make better use of information and think more critically.

“My plans for summer include relaxing and reading more books. And having plenty of sleep.”



Julie Middleton is an Auckland journalist with a keen interest in the way the media uses/abuses data. She happens to be married to a statistician. See all posts by Julie Middleton »