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Our young Dr of Maths

by Alexandra Brown

Giang Nguyen is one of Australia’s youngest PhD recipients. Photo by Nigel Parsons at the Mawson Lakes ‘Experience 1 Studio’ which was officially launched this month.UniSA graduate and now researcher, Giang Nguyen is a mathematician as well as an interesting statistic.

Not only is she UniSA’s youngest PhD graduate but at just 23 years of age, she is also the second youngest person to complete a PhD in South Australia. And to top that off, she is ranked as Australia’s number three female chess player.

Dr Nguyen completed a Bachelor of Applied Science, Honours and PhD in Mathematics in a little over six years by fast tracking her high school education and bachelor degree.

With an English language education in her sights, almost nine years ago Dr Nguyen bravely came to Australia from Vietnam by herself to complete Year 11 at Glenunga International School.

"My parents wanted me to have an English education because the qualifications would be better recognised," Dr Nguyen says.

Instead of doing Year 12 at school, Dr Nguyen completed a diploma in Information Technology at Eynesbury Institute of Business and Technology. Credits from this diploma meant she was able to complete her Bachelor of Applied Science (Mathematical and Computer Modelling) in just two years.

After finishing her studies, Dr Nguyen began work as a researcher for UniSA, continuing to research in areas relating to her PhD topic, the Hamiltonian Cycle Problem. According to Nguyen this is about getting people to places they need to go without visiting a place twice. This is directly related to the better-known Travelling Salesman Problem, which is to go to places in the shortest amount of time.

In October this year Nguyen will take her skills and know-ledge overseas to complete a two year post-doctorate position at Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium.

She will be working on stochastic processes, which, despite sounding confusing, actually just means "random".

"The behaviour of the stock market is an example of a stochastic process as it is a random process that changes everyday," she says.

"It is about making sense of all the chaos."

In Belgium, Nguyen will be making sense of the random-ness of queuing, including physical queues at places like a bank or a supermarket, and virtual queues such as those in telecommunication and internet servers.

"Through studying stochastic processes and queuing theory, we can determine, for example, whether banks should have three or five tellers and therefore save money on staffing."

Despite her father being a maths professor, Dr Nguyen didn’t always plan to be a mathematician.

"I wasn’t intending to study maths until I was doing my Diploma in IT and I had one maths subject," she says.

"I had a really good teacher who is now at UniSA, Garry Lockwood, and I liked the subject so he said why not apply for a scholarship at UniSA."

Dr Nguyen was awarded a scholarship and went on to enjoy opportunities for the practical application of mathematics during her studies.

In the final year of her Bachelor degree she did a year-long industry maths project. Nguyen worked in a group of five students to reorganise Woolworth’s regional distribution centre.

"We created a system for them to conveniently allocate their products within the warehouse," she says.

"It is good to see that what you are doing is not just on paper, it can have an actual application that is useful for people. It was a really good experience."

On top of her scholarly attributes, Nguyen is ranked Australia’s third best female chess player.

"Studying math and studying to play chess are related because you have to apply the same sort of logical processes and you train yourself to think in the same way."

When asked if she could use her mathematic genius to conquer the game of chess, Nguyen humbly replied, "I wish I could, but I don’t think so".

Dr Nguyen says she will continue to work in research and after completing her post-doctorate overseas would love to come back to Adelaide.

"If I can come back to work in academia in Adelaide, I definitely will," she says.

"UniSA will be my first choice because I love the working environment at the School of Mathematics and Statistics and I’ve grown attached to it over the past six years."