Taking action to ensure PhD success

18 Apr 2019 - 10:15

Determined to make the most of every opportunity, Samuel Mabakane has earned his doctorate, while working full-time at the Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC).

“I want my daughter to attend my graduation for motivation,” said Mabakane. His wife, mother and mother-in-law will be there too, although he doesn’t have enough tickets for everyone to get into the hall.  It’s a moment worth celebrating as he has earned his doctorate in computer science after six years of juggling a full-time job, family responsibilities and studies.

It was his mother who first suggested he studied computer science. He has always been fascinated by technology, wondering, as a young child, how bank tellers knew how much money they could dispense.

He has been employed at the Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC) for nearly 12 years, and his research is relevant to his daily working tasks. The massive computer systems at the CHPC are used for scientific calculations, and Mabakane’s thesis looked at how to ensure performance and efficiency is maximised.

Entitled Effective visualisation of callgraphs for optimisation of parallel programs: a design study, his research, conducted in collaboration with academics at the Universities of Tennessee and Oregon, developed a system that is used to identify performance bottlenecks within parallel programs.

The high-performance computers are used by many different disciplines, for example, the department of Oceanography uses a module for weather forecasts. These applications can take long periods of time, and Mabakane  works to ensure the applications take a shorter time to produce the output required by the scientists involved.

Brought up in the very small village of Ga-Thaba in Polokwane, Mabakane went to Tshwane to study IT after matriculating. He found city life both challenging and exciting. Coming from a disadvantaged background, he believes strongly in making the most of opportunities.

“Success is about taking determined and massive action. That’s how I define it. You need to take action that is consistent all the time… ensure that you pass consistently.”

 He knew that if he failed anything it would be something he would deeply regret and be unable to reverse.

Studying at UCT has been a great experience and Mabakane has tremendous appreciation for the support he received from his supervisor, and the department as a whole. “Your supervisor is like a co-pilot and you are the pilot of the plane … you need to work closely with each other.

“Don’t ever hide your problems from your supervisor. Be honest.”

The path to achieving his doctorate was not easy. Mabakane believes that when you encounter obstacles – and every doctoral student will – the solution is to work hard, not to take it easy and try to ignore the issue. “When there are problems, that’s when you need to be focus more. A PhD is a very big project, so you are going to be a project manager in something you don’t have any experience with. So take responsibility!”

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