Mother of Two Completes PhD in Two Years

Kenyan academic, Dr Mary Nabangala Ahuna graduated with a PhD in Electronic Engineering in record time.

The mother of two who is a lecturer in Communication Systems at the Technical University of Kenya (TUK), completed the degree at UKZN in just two years.

Her disseration, titled: A Modelling Approach to Rainfall Attenuation Prediction for Dynamic Rain Fade Mitigation, was supervised by Professor Thomas Afullo and Dr AA Alonge. During her fast-paced PhD, Ahuna published two journal papers and four conference proceedings.

Afullo explained: ‘Wireless communication links undergo deep fading during intense rain storms. Ahuna developed new rainfall exceedance parameters for intense storms, determining that the R0.01 parameter is double the recommended Itu-R value.

‘She determined the occurrence frequency of rain storms using the Markov chain approach. With the backpropagation neural network link for dynamic rain fade mitigation, she developed a model for the estimation of rain cell diameter for site diversity mitigation strategy.’

According to Ahuna’s research, data transmission on communication links operating at high frequencies in tens of GHz (Ku band and beyond) experience down time during medium and high-magnitude rainfall periods. ‘This calls for mechanisms to predict the link state for necessary dynamic fade mitigation techniques to be employed,’ explained Ahuna.

Among other tools, the artificial neural network was incorporated for prediction of attenuation.

Ahuna holds a Bachelor of Electrical and Electronic Engineering degree from the former Kenya Polytechnic University College (now known as the University of Nairobi), a BSc Honours degree in Computing and Information Systems from the University of London and a Master’s in Electronic Engineering degree cum laude from UKZN.

‘The motivation to pursue a PhD programme in telecommunication came from my passion for teaching,’ said Ahuna. ‘I enjoy discovering new knowledge for the purpose of transferring it to my students.’

The impact of her PhD research on society, says Ahuna, is realised in the delivery of quality content to consumers with minimum or zero interruption in the advent of a rain event. ‘Interruptions of programmes such as live matches and prime news don’t go well with sponsors,’ she said.

Ahuna found her PhD journey exciting and refreshing despite the challenges that came with doubling up as a wife and mother. She managed to overcome these by organising her life and ensuring she used her time wisely; spreading her energy between both family and studies.

Ahuna is currently a lecturer at the Technical University of Kenya and in the long-term, plans to continue her research work with the aim of achieving a professorship.

Her passion for teaching and research coupled with her life motto: ‘Focus and determination are the key to success’, will be central to her commitment to mentoring young girls and women to take up Engineering as a career.

Words: Christian Ishimwe

Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal