High Achieving Trio Take Stats in their Stride
Statistics show that Ms Lungile Mkhize, Mr Sibusiso Gumede and Ms Nobuhle Mchunu are no slouches when it comes to academic achievement!
This high-performing trio graduated with BSc Honours degrees in Statistics cum laude – the only students in their Pietermaritzburg Honours class to do so.
They all agreed that UKZN had played a major role in their achievement. ‘I always want to associate myself with the best of the best and since UKZN is a world-ranked university, it was an honour and a privilege for me to be a student here,’ said Mchunu.
Mchunu’s honours thesis was in the area of biostatistics, in particular with reference to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). ‘The knowledge of HIV prevalence and incidence is very important for monitoring the impact of HIV, determining public health priorities, assessing the impact of interventions, identifying high risk populations for vaccines and other prevention trials and for planning purposes,’ she said. ‘The main objective of my research was to estimate the force of infection and prevalence from cross-sectional data.’
Mkhize said she always wanted to do research into the issue of mortality, so she chose an honours topic on modelling survival time data. ‘I looked at models that best describe time to event data, in particular in relation to a study that was conducted in 1973 where patients who had Primary Biliary Cirrhosis (PBC) were treated with a new drug, Azathrioprine, in comparison to patients who were treated with a placebo. My task was to find a model that best suited this data.
‘The goal of any study in Statistics is to be able to forecast and be able to explain the data,’ said Mkhize. ‘With that said it is not always easy when it comes to time to event data, especially since there’s sometimes people who are involved in your study. My study helped find the best suitable diagnosis for people with PBC, while making sure that not many people were lost during the study period.’
Gumede’s honours research project was titled: “Marginal Models for Longitudinal Data, the Case of Generalised Estimating Equations (GEEs)”. ‘I used the longitudinal study’s methodology to analyse the data from a Harvard study of air pollution and health, to assess the health effects of air pollution on children,’ he explained.
‘My research combined two fields, namely health sciences and statistics. From a problem which is based in the health sciences I had to apply complex statistical techniques to come up with meaningful and valid results and a solution. I particularly enjoy this kind of biomedical and bio-statistical research.’
Mchunu has started her MSc in Statistics at UKZN under the supervision of Professor Henry Mwambi, while fellow graduate Mkhize is at the University of Cape Town doing her Masters in Biostatistics.
Gumede is currently employed in Johannesburg but has registered to do his MSc at UKZN on a part-time basis under the supervision of Mwambi and Mr Oliver Bodhlyera.
These statistical boffins still find time to relax with their friends, although their tendency to succeed remains evident. ‘I am a very competitive person so I like to play cards and solve puzzles with my friends, but I make sure and I always win!’ laughed Mchunu.
‘I found the three to be hard working and keen to learn advanced topics in Statistical Science,’ said Mwambi, who is academic leader for research within the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science. ‘It comes as no surprise that they completed their BSc Honours degrees with distinction.’
All three thanked their lecturers (including the late and much-missed Dr Paddy Ewer), supervisors, colleagues and family for their essential support, and singled out their mothers for giving them ‘everything out of nothing’. They encouraged their fellow students to follow their dreams. ‘Anything is possible as long as you believe in yourself,’ said Mkhize.