College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Quiet Determination a Hallmark of Humble Achiever

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Don’t allow your struggle with research prevent you from appreciating the gift of education – that’s the advice MSc in Mathematics cum laude graduate Ms Zahra Kader has for student colleagues.

Kader registered for her MSc in 2018 under the auspices of UKZN’s Astrophysics Research Centre (ARC), submitting her thesis two years later.  Although she found the research work tough, she was determined to finish what she started.

‘It was a long and difficult road and there were numerous times when I considered giving up,’ she admitted. ‘I would become distracted with trying to get sensible results and lose sight of the bigger picture. It was the curiosity of loved ones, who found my research so wonderfully different, that made me remember how lucky I was to be working in my chosen field of astrophysics.

‘To me, graduating means I have reached the end! It proves that pursuing a master’s degree is not an impossible task.’

Kader’s academic records reveals a gifted woman who has always been among the top of her class. She completed her undergraduate Bachelor of Science degree summa cum laude majoring in Applied Mathematics and Physics and then obtained an Honours degree in Physics, again summa cum laude.

For her MSc, Kader worked on the Hydrogen Intensity and Real-time Analysis eXperiment (HIRAX), which is an upcoming radio telescope array that will map nearly all of the southern sky and consist of 1 024 six-metre dishes in the Karoo. Her research involved theoretical predictions for some of the science outputs expected from the telescope.

‘In particular, I worked on correlating the neutral hydrogen (HI) signal with another signal that measures the bulk motion of electrons to determine whether or not HIRAX will be able to measure this cross-correlation,’ she said.

Kader explained: ‘UKZN’s Astrophysics Research Centre offers vacation projects, which was how I had my first exposure to research at the end of my undergraduate degree. I enjoyed the work and continued with the same topic for my honours dissertation.’

Kader got the opportunity to study in Sydney for two months at the end of her honours course which furthered her experience with astrophysics research. On her return home, she secured a bursary with the South African Radio Astronomical Observatory (SARAO) and eagerly began research on HIRAX under the supervision of Professor Kavilan Moodley.

Currently, Kader is employed as a research assistant with HIRAX and intends to pursue a PhD degree focusing on HIRAX calibration.

Kader’s proud parents, Mr Zubair Kader and Mrs Fathima Kader, said the credit for their daughter’s achievements belonged to her. ‘Hard work, dedication, late nights and tears are all part of the effort that a student has to put in. No-one else can claim credit for that – we are here to share in Zahra’s happiness and satisfaction in reaching her goal.’

‘We hope Zahra will, in her quiet, unassuming way be a beacon of light, proving that women in general have a lot to offer and a great role to play in shaping the world today and far into the future,’ said her mother.

‘My parents played a huge role by giving me continuous support and love. They believed in me, especially when I didn’t believe in myself,’ said Kader.

Words: Saneh Mahlase

Photograph: Supplied