PhD a dream come true for Rejoyce Gavhi

Dr Rejoyce Gavhi. (Photo: Anton Jordaan)

When it comes to perseverance, dedication and excellence, Dr Rejoyce Gavhi is a prime example. The 28-year-old, who was awarded a PhD in Mathematics at Stellenbosch University’s (SU) third March graduation ceremony on Wednesday, 28 March, was diagnosed with cancer in 2009 but managed to complete her studies despite undergoing exhausting treatments.

In 2008, she passed her Master’s degree in Mathematics cum laude (81%) and in March of that year she started doing research for her doctorate. However, in early 2009 she was diagnosed with cancer. The treatments that she had to undergo became a considerable stumbling block in her study career, but she never gave up hope.

“My progress during the second year of my PhD research was interrupted by a cancer diagnosis which required regular hospital treatments. I nevertheless continued my research with determination. After the treatments, I started working very hard to make up for lost time,” she says.

On Wednesday evening, Gavhi’s hard work finally paid off when she was among 531 graduates, including a record total of 43 doctoral candidates, who received their degrees at the graduation ceremony of the Faculties of Science, Engineering and Health Sciences. “I am excited and grateful about this achievement and it’s a dream come true for me,” she says.

In 2010 Gavhi received the Rector’s Award for Succeeding Against the Odds and she says this was a major help in her road to success. The Award goes to students whose performance is outstanding relative to the context within which their academic career has developed and recognises the role that challenges such as disability, poverty and limited opportunities played in their achievements.

“I was very grateful for the award which reduced financial constraints in the final year of my PhD. I also felt honoured to be recognised for the hard work I put into my studies.”

These days Gavhi is doing fine healthwise and in May this year she will be off to Canada where she’ll continue her studies at the University of Alberta. She will do a Post-Doctoral Fellowship in the Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences there for one year, with an option to extend to two years.

Gavhi, who hails from Khalavha village in Limpopo, says academic qualifications do not seem to be very important to black women in South Africa. “This is especially true in Mathematics, where many black women think that mastery of such a technical subject is only for the well-educated, and is out of reach to them. Hence there exists a significant need for someone to encourage them and by pursuing my post-doctorate I want to serve as a kind of role model to them.”

On Thursday, 29 March, students in the Faculties of Arts and Social Sciences, Law, Theology and Military Science will receive their degrees at the last of SU’s March 2012 graduation ceremonies. Two honorary doctorates will also be awarded at this event. The Internet entrepreneur and venture capital specialist, Mr Roelof Botha, will receive the degree of Doctor of Commerce (DComm), honoris causa, for his imaginative and visionary entrepreneurial spirit.

The degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), honoris causa, will be awarded to Mr David Piedt, a respected community leader from Oudtshoorn and former chairperson of the KKNK board, for his dedication to the education sector and the promotion of Afrikaans.