“Follow your heart” does not translate perfectly to Chinese. 听从你内心的声音 may be the closest. But by following her heart and switching her major at Illinois Tech to applied mathematics, Tianci Zhu, from Dalian, China, found a place to excel and a professional path.
In her research, she also has learned to approximate the future with pretty good certainty—something she is doing now, as she prepares to go to graduate school in mathematical finance and perhaps to a career as a quantitative analyst.
Zhu began her studies at Illinois Tech in business administration, which is one of the most popular majors in the United States. “But I changed to applied mathematics after I took several applied mathematics courses,” Zhu said. “I think it was a better choice for me.” Today, Zhu has a nearly perfect grade point average and has consistently made the dean’s list each semester.
Zhu also has excelled in her research projects. “It is important to do research,” she advises. “It will give you a lot. Work with a professor. Maybe secure a stipend for research in the summer. When you do research, you work on real problems and you use tools like Latex and MATLAB. It is very helpful.”
In summer 2015, she worked with Fred Hickernell, chair and professor of applied mathematics, and his Ph.D. students on the GAIL (Guaranteed Automatic Integration Library) research project. GAIL is an open-source MATLAB package that provides a suite of algorithms for integration problems in one and many dimensions. Zhu did pricing options using Monte Carlo methods and updated GAIL with functions to price digital, basket, and American options. She also presented this work in a department seminar, co-authored a report about it, and presented a poster about it both at IIT and at a major mathematics society meeting.
In summer 2016, she worked again with Hickernell, this time on research on the Heston stochastic volatility model, which captures how the volatility of an asset price may vary with time. She presented weekly updates to the research team, presented her work during the 2016 Brazil Scientific Mobility Program poster session, and co-authored a report on the work.
Zhu also recommends getting involved in mathematics competitions, and she participated in several mathematical modeling and codebreaking competitions. She received the “Meritorous Winner” award with her teammates in the 2016 Mathematical Contest in Modeling, an international competition; First Place in the 2014-2015 weekly problem competition held by the department; and other recognitions.
Zhu also worked as an assistant in the department, tutored other students in math, volunteered as a translator, and assisted with commencement.
But her favorite part of her experience at IIT has been research, she said. “I can learn a lot—things I cannot learn in class, problems where I can apply what I learn in class,” she said. It has helped to round out her studies and prepare her for graduate school and beyond.