16-year-old student starts PhD in Beijing
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16-year-old student starts PhD in Beijing

By Tom Hancock

Zhang Xinyang is one of many students across China starting their first semester at university today. But not many students have attracted as much attention as Zhang, who is entering the Beijing University of Aeronautics & Astronautics’ Mathematics PhD program at the tender age of 16.

Most Chinese students Zhang’s age are just starting high school, but Zhang is already used to college life. He started university aged 10, and began a Masters program at 13. “My Masters thesis defense was really tough,” Zhang told one Chinese newspaper.

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Zhang, pictured right, with two University officials.

According to reports, Zhang completed his university entry forms by himself, but will continue to live off-campus with his parents.

Zhang has been called “China’s youngest PhD student” by the Chinese press, but he’s a couple of years short of being the youngest in the world. American born Alia Sabur received her PhD in Materials Science and Engineering at the age of 18, after entering the program four years earlier. Fourteen-year-old Gregory R. Smith began a PhD program in mathematics at the University of Virginia in 2003.

In 2008, Oxford University gave 17-year-old Chinese-Indonesian  student Horatio Boedihardjo a place on its math PhD program.

Asked whether he had any regrets about missing out on schooling with his peers, Zhang said he most regretted not experiencing the pressure of China’s university-entry examination system with other students.

“My future lies in teaching and research,” he said. “I don’t need any special treatment.”