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Youngest NWU math doctorate: 'I'm not the only one who can do this'

Lehlohonolo Phali is the youngest NWU graduate to hold a PHD in applied maths at age 28.

Lecturer at the North West University Lehlohonolo Phali received his PHD in applied mathematics at a graduation ceremony at the Mafikeng campus on 5 May 2016. Picture: Supplied.

JOHANNESBURG - Lehlohonolo Phali, who has just become the youngest graduate at the University of The North West to receive a PhD Degree in applied mathematics, says anyone is capable of pursuing the qualification if given the opportunity.

The 28 year-old has received a flood of congratulations from South Africans who have taken to social media to share his achievements, following his graduation ceremony at the Mafikeng campus yesterday.

This dude, Lehlohonolo Phali, has just received PhD in Applied Maths at NWU. He's only 27 years old pic.twitter.com/UXs0wf0g1a

Once so often we are inspired. Well done Dr. Lehlohonolo Phali. https://t.co/nSkMP8XU94

Phali, who grew up in Sebokong in Gauteng, registered as a student at NWU in 2005 with the sole purpose of studying mathematics.

He says despite the financial challenge faced at home, he stuck it through for a number of reasons.

"Although I wasn't planning to go this far, I knew I wanted to go the extra mile and I think I was lucky to get the kind of bursaries I got. But ultimately I'd say it's because of the fact that we do not have enough researchers in South Africa and applied mathematics is a scarce skill, but I have always had a love for it since primary school"

His mother, who is a single parent, and his late supervisor, Professor Matthew Kambule, played significant roles in influencing his decisions.

PHD graduate and now lecturer Lehlohonolo Phali celebrated his graduation ceremony with his family on 5 May 2016. Picture: Supplied.

While he managed to receive funding for his postgraduate studies from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa), Phali believes there is not enough money being invested in postgraduate mathematics students.

"Let's give them enough to make them want to study because you find that they offer you a bursary that pays a R5,000 stipend to a Masters student and by then you find that the student already has responsibilities at home, because you know we come from homes where they going to have to depend on you, so the reason you want to leave school and go to work is because you want to cover some of the responsibilities"

He says a lot of his friends have had to leave university at honours level because they thought studying further was not a 'sustainable' move.

Phali is currently a lecturer at his alumni and hopes to qualify for a senior lectureship in order to supervise post-graduate students. He will also be publishing articles in the near future.

In his experience as a tutor and motivational speaker to high school pupils, Phali says he has found that some pupils have a desire to excel at the subject despite under performing.

"I think learners are taught how to answer question papers and that doesn't help them to think independently. So I help learners understand concepts so that they could answer question papers on their own."

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