Dr Xiaojun Zhu is an Associate Professor at the Department of Financial and Actuarial Mathematics at the School of Mathematics and Physics.
Since joining Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in 2017, he has led multiple research projects, and received funding from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) and other organisations. He shares with us his teaching experience and tips on applying for funding.
On the shoulders of giants
Dr Zhu received his PhD from McMaster University in Canada in 2015. After graduation, he worked at the university as a data analyst for two years. When he joined XJTLU, he was passionate about research but had no experience in teaching.
“I’m very grateful that our School has a good structure to support academics who haven’t taught much before.
“The School assigns an experienced professor as a mentor. My mentor would observe my lessons and give me constructive feedback on how to improve teaching quality and effectiveness. It really helped hone my teaching skills.
“My senior colleagues, such as Professor Jingming Guo and Professor Yunrui Han, who have both since retired, imparted their pedagogical knowledge to me. They taught me how to explain content in ways students can easily understand and how to better deliver instructions in class,” says Dr Zhu.
“I was standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Now, Dr Zhu has been teaching at XJTLU for six years, and has taught courses to students from Year One to Year Four.
A graduate from the Department of Mathematics writes on Zhihu (a Chinese website similar to Quora) about the learning experience at XJTLU and says: “Statistical Distribution taught by Dr Xiaojun Zhu is well worth it. It’s informative, and explains probability and statistics very clearly. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend his class if you want to study statistics.”
Interest is the best teacher
Dr Zhu loves statistics. “I started my academic career out of pure passion. I enjoy learning and teaching the subject.”
When supervising students, he also tries to ignite their interest in scientific research.
“When students come to me and ask for help, I always encourage them to research a field they’re interested in, read related academic papers and send them to me. Then we will explore the topic and work together.”
Three years ago, a Year Four student in BSc Applied Mathematics reached out to him and said she wanted to carry out a research project related to Covid vaccine clinical trials.
“I only scaffolded her with statistical theories. She’s responsible for literature review and later the final year project.
“In this way, students are motivated because this is something that they have an interest in. I’ll be motivated to study and explore the topic with them, too.”
The student went on to Cornell University after graduation, but Dr Zhu continued the research and expanded the topic into a PhD project that postgraduate students can delve deeper into.
“Scientific research requires self-motivation,” says Dr Zhu. “If you truly like one subject, you’ll devote yourself to it despite challenges.”
Find funding within and beyond XJTLU
Since joining the University, Dr Zhu has received funding from provincial and national bodies, including XJTLU’s Research Development Fund, Natural Science Foundation for Young Scholars under Jiangsu Province’s Research Plan, Jiangsu Higher Education Natural Science Category, NSFC for Young Scholars and more.
Speaking of funding, he says: “The most important thing is to make sure your application is in line with the national strategic plans.
“You also need to explain your ideas clearly in both Chinese and English, and familiarise yourself with academic writing in both languages – it should be formal, accurate and coherent.”
Dr Zhu also suggests that young scholars attend more academic conferences in China to “exchange ideas with other researchers and better understand the current trends”.
XJTLU provides Research Development Fund and Research Enhancement Fund for high-quality projects. The University also encourages researchers to apply for regional and national funding. For more information about 2023 National Natural Science Foundation of China, please email Research Management Office (firstname.lastname@example.org).
By Luyun Shi
Translated by Xiangyin Han
Edited by Xinmin Han and Patricia Pieterse
Photos by Dr Xioajun Zhu