University of Auckland student graduates at just 17

At just 17, Tristan Pang from the University of Auckland is one of New Zealand's youngest-ever graduates.

Tristan with parents Thomas and Elaine Pang

Tristan graduates today with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics and Physics with a near-perfect Grade Point Average.

After completing Honours this year, he will enrol in his PhD and hopes to complete that by the age of 21. He studies pure mathematics, a subject he has been fascinated by since before he was old enough to hold a pencil.

“Maths is an infinite beautiful puzzle waiting to be explored, it is spontaneous and exciting, and that is why I love it,” he says.

“I also admire how maths can be used in other fields such as business, engineering and science. I’m really interested in the way maths is used in string theory for example and part of my goal is to discover maths that can benefit the world.”

Tristan’s family arrived in New Zealand from the UK when he was four years old. By then, his parents understood their son was unusually bright but getting the help and support needed to ensure he could take advantage of his intellectual gifts wasn’t always easy, says his mother Elaine Pang.

“To do the best for your gifted child takes extra time and effort and because it’s not the usual developmental path for children, it can be lonely as a parent at times.”

Despite his ability – the highest grade, A*, in the Cambridge A-Level exam at just eleven years of age - getting Tristan enrolled at university was a challenge. Although he was admitted part-time to university maths courses at 12, the family was told he was too young for such an adult environment and it wasn’t until he turned 13 that he was admitted for full-time study.

For Tristan, it felt like the right place to be.

“When I came to University I felt at home,” he says.

An enthusiastic swimmer, Tristan’s schedule is a busy round of public speaking, teaching at undergraduate level, mentoring, and participating in a specially designed programme under the Kupe Leadership Scholarship he was awarded this year. The scholarship was established to support exceptional postgraduate students who show leadership ability.

Looking ahead, he has his sights set on a career in academia and can’t think of anything he would rather do than research and teaching.

“It’s the perfect career for me, I want to do research and as well, I’ve always liked helping other people so teaching is something I enjoy. As long as I’m doing what makes me happy I’ll keep doing it.”

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