From University Dropout to PhD in Computer Science
‘My story is a story about hope in a hopeless situation,’ said PhD graduate Dr Mervin Chetty.
‘It is a story of success against the odds and victory for the underdog. It’s a story about inspiration, about persevering through struggles and about believing that there is light at the end of the tunnel.’
Chetty’s road to academic achievement was paved with adversity. The divorce of his parents when he was eight meant that poverty and hardship were constant companions for his mother, himself and his two siblings. ‘In any broken home, especially those affected by the chains of poverty, the chances of success for the children are slim with academic success at the highest university level a distant dream!’ said Chetty. ‘Yet, I was the lucky one and ended up going to university.’
It took Chetty 10 long years to complete his Bachelor of Science undergraduate degree in Computer Science. ‘Making ends meet was a constant strain. To help out financially we started a tuck shop. It was opened literally to earn bread and milk for the day. While I studied, I attempted to build the tuckshop but doing both proved impossible and for the next decade I was in and out of university.’
In 2010 he went back and completed the third year of his BSc degree. ‘Going back was a difficult decision to make,’ Chetty recalled. ‘All my friends had left and I didn’t know what to expect. I also didn’t know how I would cope academically as my academic performance had been poor. However, I was determined to complete what I had started.
‘I knew I had the ability so I turned the tables on failure and completed my final undergraduate year with an 86% average.’
This achievement secured Chetty a university scholarship to pursue a BSc Honours degree in Computer Science, which he completed in 2011 despite very difficult personal circumstances.
‘The experience of completing my Honours whilst watching my personal life crumble around me made me realise that I could do anything if I put my mind to it,’ said Chetty.
Thus motivated, Chetty successfully tackled his Masters in Computer Science within the minimum time of one year. His research, which addressed the issue of water scarcity in agriculture using computational techniques, attracted a lot of academic attention. The highlight of the year was undoubtedly when he was named runner-up for the prestigious Theodor Stewart Medal at the annual Operations Research Society of South Africa (ORSSA) Student Competition in Stellenbosch.
From then on there was no stopping the talented computer scientist and this year he graduated with his PhD. His thesis, titled: “The Enhanced Best Performance Algorithm for Global Optimisation with Applications”, was supervised by Professor Aderemi Adewumi from UKZN’s School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science. Chetty said he was indebted to Adewumi. ‘Without him, I would not have achieved this success,’ he explained. ‘He has simply been exceptional throughout the years. He believed in my abilities and has been a great motivator. I drew strength and inspiration working with him.
‘I am grateful to God that through it all, I somehow seem to have beaten the odds,’ said Chetty.
‘In the end, I challenged myself one academic step at a time. From being a university dropout, I now have my PhD. So if you have failed do not despair. Even in difficult circumstances there is hope. You can always go back and complete what you started – I did!’
Chetty is currently writing a book and hopes to open his own Information Technology business one day.