Mathematician’s Inspirational Story

PhD graduate, Dr Sicelo Goqo hopes his story will inspire young school-leavers to study Mathematics and follow it as a career.

‘I was raised by a single parent in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal,’ said Goqo. ‘I lost my mother at the tender age of three but that never stopped me from dreaming about improving my quality of life.’

Goqo’s philosophy is always to work hard to achieve goals. ‘Life is short so we should make the most out of every tough situation,’ he advised.

‘My love for Mathematics began in Grade 8. I was inspired by a fellow student who was very good at the subject and always wondered what he did that was different from others. I found out it was simply hard work.’

Goqo attributes his early success in school to his Mathematics and Physics teachers, Mr Zwane and Mr Hlubi of Osizweni High School where, as the only learner who took higher-grade Mathematics in his matric class, he was able to achieve an A-grade in the subject.

Goqo pursued undergraduate studies, majoring in Mathematics on the Mafikeng campus of North-West University. His hard work was rewarded with a bursary from the South African Nuclear Human Asset Research Programme (SANHARP) that allowed him to complete his Honours and MSc degrees in Applied Mathematics at the University of Cape Town.

‘These areas allow me many opportunities to indulge in my passion for devising new and improved techniques to solve complex differential equations that model various natural phenomena,’ he said.

Goqo’s PhD thesis, supervised by Professor Precious Sibanda, Professor Sandile Motsa and Dr Sabyasachi Mondal, was titled: Spectral Quasilinearization Methods for Boundary Layer and Cavity Flow Problems.

‘The thesis presents computational simulations of mathematical models that arise in the study of fluid flows,’ explained Sibanda. ‘The emphasis is both on explaining the physical phenomena described by the transport equations and in evaluating the accuracy and convergence rates of four new and recent spectral quasilinearization methods for solving differential equations.

‘The coupled nonlinear boundary layer and cavity flow equations are solved numerically with collocation applied independently in space and time.’

Over the years, Goqo’s love for Mathematics and teaching has inspired him to provide extra revision classes on Saturdays for his first-year students. He is also the South African Tertiary Mathematics Olympiad (SATMO) team leader on UKZN’s Pietermaritzburg campus.

Goqo is grateful to his supervisors and international collaborators. ‘To be successful in this journey one needs mentors. Professor Sibanda always encouraged me to work hard and explore and discover myself in the research field,’ he said.

Goqo also attributes his success to his supportive family, colleagues and friends, and especially his father. His academic journey would not have been possible without assistance from sponsors including SANHARP, NRF Thuthuka, Teaching Development Grant (TDG) and the University Capacity Development Programme (UCDP).

‘The generosity of these sponsors gave me an opportunity to travel, present my research in different parts of the world, undertake research collaborations and attend conferences in countries such as the USA, India, Italy, Tunisia, Botswana and Swaziland,’ he said.

During his PhD studies, Goqo had the opportunity to co-supervise four MSc students with Sibanda. Moving forward, he aims to strengthen his research career and international collaborations.

He had the following words of advice for aspirant students: ‘Always work beyond the scope that is given.’

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Gugu Mqadi