Kenyan Mathematics Lecturer Mrs Lucy Chikamai left her husband and four children at home in 2008 to come to UKZN to pursue her doctoral degree in Pure Mathematics. Five years later, she was able to celebrate not only her own graduation, but that of her son Keith, who received his Masters degree in Computer Science from UKZN.

Chikamai’s doctoral thesis, "Linear codes obtained from modular representations of some simple finite groups", was rated highly by its reviewers and has already produced four original articles, one of which has appeared in a peer-reviewed international journal. Another has been accepted for publication and the remainder are under review. Chikamai has also presented her PhD results at the congresses of the South African Mathematical Society and locally at the KwaZulu-Natal Mathematics Conference.

Her thesis presented a unified view of the interplay between the areas of modular representation theory, algebraic coding theory and combinatorial design theory, producing results of great generality and applicable to information theory.

According to her co-supervisor, Professor Bernardo Rodrigues, Chikamai showed "great talent" working with the computational algebra systems GAP and Magma, producing in many instances computational routines which helped describe the properties of the linear codes that her thesis consists of. ‘She has become an expert in using those systems with proficiency,’ he said.

Studying far away from family was difficult for Chikamai, particularly given the fact that she lost her 23-year-old daughter and her mother-in-law during her study sojourn in South Africa. ‘The loss of my daughter was one of the biggest challenges but with the grace of God, I managed to complete my studies,’ she said.

Such personal tragedy meant that Chikamai’s PhD took longer than the three years originally anticipated.

‘At the end of each year, I would go back home for three months, particularly for the well-being of my family,’ she said. ‘In August 2009, my son Keith Chikamai joined me to undertake his Master in Science degree in Computer Science. He completed his studies early 2012.’

Currently, Chikamai is back in Kenya where she has resumed her teaching job at the Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology. Despite the tragedies suffered in her family she has remained true to Mathematics and is determined to conquer her goals. According to her co-supervisor Professor Jamshid Moori, she has shown great devotion towards her family and the subject of her choice: Mathematics. ‘I highly admire her devotion,’ said Moori.

Chikamai is highly appreciative of the support received from her supervisors, ‘It was great working with such high standing respected men in the subject and I count it an honour to have contributed to their grey hairs. You learn more than just the subject.’

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