Heightening Awareness about Diabetes at the Core of MSc Research

Research aimed at raising awareness about diabetes so that more testing can be done and measures put in place to help sufferers, formed the backbone of Ms Nina Grundlingh’s summa cum laude MSc degree in Statistics.

After completing her secondary education at St Mary’s Diocesan School for Girls in Kloof, Grundlingh registered at UKZN with the intention of majoring in pure and applied mathematics. However, in her second year she was attracted to statistics and its application in other fields, going on to graduate with a BSc majoring in Applied Mathematics and Statistics.

She did her honours degree in 2018, being one of the first to undertake a project in Data Science which enabled her to delve into unstructured real-world data for the first time. Her results were presented to Altech Netstar, which she found hugely rewarding and motivated her to pursue an MSc in Statistics.

After being exposed to the Data Science project during her honours work, and having two parents working in the medical field, it was natural Grundlingh was drawn towards biostatistics.

Grundlingh’s master’s degree involved working with survey data and applied machine learning techniques (decision tree, random forest and Bayesian neural network) to evaluate the risk factors and classification of diabetic status.

Her research was funded by the SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and supervised by Professor Temesgen Zewotir and Ms Danielle Roberts.

Grundlingh explained that a large percentage of South Africans were pre-diabetic or diabetic and unaware of this status. Diabetes is a metabolic disorder and it has recently been found that those with metabolic disorders suffer worse if infected with diseases such as COVID-19 than those who do not have a metabolic disorder.

Grundlingh’s research aim was to raise awareness of diabetes so that more testing could be done and measures put in place to help those with pre-diabetes and diabetes. She attributed her success to having a balanced life, which included a good support structure of family and friends and a healthy dose of triathlon that helped to refresh the mind.

Zewotir praised Grundlingh for her hard work and passion displayed throughout her undergraduate and postgraduate studies. ‘Within a year she successfully completed her MSc studies summa cum laude and her research was conditionally accepted for publication in a Q1 international public health journal,’ he said.

‘Nina was a pleasure to supervise and has a very bright future ahead of her,’ agreed Roberts.

Dean and Head of the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, Professor Delia North said Grundlingh excelled during her honours year, winning second prize in the National South African Statistical Association Honours Project Competition in 2019.  ‘Nina is very focused and hard-working, which coupled with her insight and excellent statistical ability, has led to her receiving many accolades. We are very proud of her achievements and look forward to watching as she blossoms into a world class Data Scientist,’ said North.

Grundlingh has been accepted for a PhD in Analytics and Data Science at Kennesaw State University in the United States starting in August 2020. She is looking forward to connecting with other academics outside the realm of statistics, so she can bring these skills back to South Africa to advance data science education at the tertiary level.

She is currently working at Master Maths as a Grade 11 and 12 tutor and enjoys the time spent with learners.

Grundlingh thanked UKZN’s Discipline of Statistics for affording her all the opportunities that have inspired her to keep pursuing academia.

Words: Leena Rajpal

Photograph:  Supplied