PhD for Hard Working Lecturer and Doting Mom!

Lecturer in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science Dr Hloniphile Sithole-Mthethwa graduated with a PhD in Applied Mathematics in minimum time, despite working as a lecturer and being a mom to two children – son, Khwezi, and daughter, Bhukosi.

Sithole-Mthethwa, who completed her matric at Edendale Technical High School near Pietermaritzburg, says her passion for mathematics was sparked by two brilliant teachers, Mrs Thandeka Nene and Dr Pinky Mthembu.

She registered for a BSc majoring in Applied Mathematics and Statistics at UKZN because the University’s Discipline of Mathematics had impressed her.

Sithole-Mthethwa then completed her BSc Honours degree with a focus on Biomathematics at Stellenbosch University, where the one-year programme is run in conjunction with the African Institute for Mathematical Science (AIMS) in Cape Town.  It aims to meet the growing demand from molecular biology, systems biology, bioinformatics, ecology, and biomedical science for students and researchers with solid mathematical skills.

She then returned to UKZN to do her master’s degree where she started her first teaching job in the Science Foundation Programme.

After completing her MSc, she was employed as a developmental lecturer in the Accelerated Academic Development Programme (AADP) at UKZN. AADP posts are aimed at young aspiring academics with no or limited experience in academia but with potential and interest to pursue an academic career. Candidates are expected to register for a PhD.

Sithole-Mthethwa’s doctoral thesis was from a theoretical study she did on determining the accuracy and efficiency of recent local linearization methods combined with spectral techniques for solving boundary value problems. Boundary layer flow, heat and mass transport in various non-Newtonian nanofluids were intensively studied. The particular application was on complex non-Newtonian nanofluid models in various geometries and boundary conditions, leading to highly nonlinear, coupled differential equations. The robustness of the techniques was proved and the physical results quantify and show the influence of fluid and surface parameters on the fluid properties, including heat and mass transport.

Sithole-Mthethwa attributes her success to the strong support structure of colleagues, supervisors Professor Precious Sibanda and Professor Sandile Motsa, and family. ‘I am thankful to my Sithole and Mthethwa families for their support. Moreover, I am thankful for my husband Buzani Mthethwa for his support during this whole period,’ she said.

Said Buzani Mthethwa: ‘My wife is a lovely person. She loves God and her family and has a passion for mathematics. She manages to balance her social and academic life and is a good mother and wife. She likes to help other people in maths, cherishing a dream to see more women become mathematicians in South Africa. Through her journey I was also inspired to further my own studies.’

Sithole-Mthethwa thanked the Legion of Mary (IButho likaMaria) within the Catholic Church, for their support and prayers when she was experiencing health problems. She said she was proud of her achievements, which included supervising postgraduate students and having four publications accepted for Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) recognised journals.

She acknowledged the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis (SACEMA), AIMS, UKZN, the University Capacity Development Programme, Teaching Development Grants and her supervisors for various forms of funding and training.

Sithole-Mthethwa aims to continue to excel as an academic, researcher and supervisor in UKZN’s College Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES).

Words: Leena Rajpal 

Photograph: Supplied