Computer Science Professor Rated NRF C1 Researcher
Associate Professor in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science (SMSCS), Professor Nelishia Pillay, has been awarded a C1 rating by the National Research Foundation (NRF).
This is the first NRF rating for Pillay who has been at the University for 16 years.
Now teaching and doing research in the Discipline of Computer Science, Pillay was first attracted to the discipline because of her love of problem solving but was particularly intrigued by the area of artificial intelligence: the idea of getting computers to think intelligently and perform high level reasoning and problem solving.
After obtaining her PhD in Computer Science at UKZN, Pillay joined the staff where her research areas include hyper-heuristics, combinatorial optimisation, genetic programming, genetic algorithms and other biologically-inspired methods. Pillay has published in these areas in journals and has presented at national and international conferences.
The allocation of a C1 rating from the NRF indicates that Pillay’s research outputs are recognised by her peers as being of a distinct and consistently high quality, and demonstrate her ongoing engagement with her field of inquiry.
Pillay has served on programme committees for several national and international conferences and is a reviewer for various journals. She is also a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Task Force on Hyper-Heuristics with the Technical Committee of Intelligent Systems and Applications at the IEEE Computational Intelligence Society (CIS), and was instrumental in establishing the Nature Inspired Computing Optimisation Group (NICOG) at UKZN, which supports and promotes postgraduate research.
Within NICOG, Pillay plays an important mentorship role to students doing their postgraduate studies. The group currently comprises three student assistants (two undergraduates and one honours student), two Honours students, six Masters students, five PhD students and one postdoctoral researcher. The group is the recipient of an NRF grant lasting from 2014 to 2016 to support Pillay’s research and postgraduate student supervision in the area of ‘Evolutionary Algorithm Hyper-Heuristics’.
NICOG is Pillay’s main area of focus in terms of supervision and research. The members of NICOG are currently examining the application and theory of approaches taking analogy from nature to solve Computer Science problems. Examples of these applications include timetabling and scheduling, computer security, game playing, data mining and automatic programming. The research also includes high performance computing for the implementation of nature inspired methods that are computationally intensive.
Speaking of receiving a C1 rating from the NRF, Pillay described it as one of the moments in her career that she is most proud of. ‘It gives me the confidence and incentive to aim higher and achieve more regarding the international impact of my research.’
Despite being a remarkable rating to be awarded upon first application, receiving such a high rating has only inspired Pillay to aim even higher in her next rating by increasing the international impact of her important work.
Pillay, whose work has played a vital role in the SMSCS, says the University’s support in the area of research, for example by giving awards for productivity, and College scholarships for postgraduate students and postdoctoral researchers, has enhanced and enabled her work.
‘The high standard expected by the University regarding research output makes one competitive both at a national and international level,’ said Pillay of the University’s admonition to produce top-quality research, a policy which drives her to do her best and aim higher in her research and supervision.
Pillay also works in the area of Computer Science education, which has essentially involved the identification of learning difficulties encountered by students studying Computer Science and the subsequent development of methods to assist them in overcoming these difficulties.
‘I intend continuing with this research,’ said Pillay. ‘While this has previously been mainly aimed at the first year level, I am currently investigating this for a third year undergraduate course in Artificial Intelligence which forms the foundation for Honours modules in this area.’
Academic Leader in Computer Science at SMSCS, Dr Aderemi Adewumi, congratulated Pillay on her outstanding achievement and well-deserved recognition, calling it a boost for both the Computer Science Discipline and the School.