School of Mathematics, Statistics & Computer Science

Risk Determinants of Lung Function in Young Children Explored by Data Scientist

On top of earning his Master of Science in Data Science degree, Mr Phelelani Siboniso “PS” Ndlovu is the joint winner of the FNB Data Science Master’s Award for the best Master’s in Data Science student for 2023 at UKZN.

Ndlovu’s dissertation, supervised by Dr Danielle Roberts, focused on predictive modeling and ranking of risk determinants of lung function in young children in the Durban area. ‘By employing a blend of statistical and machine learning techniques, I aimed to identify the key drivers behind lung function in young children, considering gestational, prenatal, environmental and socioeconomic factors,’ he explained.

The motivation for his research stemmed from personal concerns for his daughter’s well-being. ‘Learning about the impact of environmental factors on lung function in children sparked my interest, especially as I anticipated moving to Johannesburg. I wanted to ensure a healthy environment for my daughter’s future,’ he explained.

‘The obstacles Phelelani faced during his thesis makes his accomplishment all the more inspiring,’ said Roberts. ‘He worked on data from the School of Public Health but due to delays in data collection and validation by the data collection team, he only received the data in late December, but still managed to complete his thesis for submission by the deadline at the end of Jan. His work ethic and dedication were really impressive.’

Ndlovu joined the Master’s in Data Science programme at UKZN because it offered a unique approach that integrates real-life industry techniques with skill development. The programme, spearheaded by Professor Delia North, emphasises practical applications in data analytics and modeling.

His goal is to use his data science skills to contribute positively to society. ‘I believe South Africa has vast untapped data resources, and my aim is to harness this data to drive meaningful change. I’m currently exploring potential topics for my PhD research, focusing on areas where data science can make a significant impact,’ said Ndlovu.

He credited his father as his biggest source of inspiration: ‘His unwavering belief in me and his insistence on excellence have propelled me forward. I owe much of my success to his guidance and encouragement.’

In his spare time, Ndlovu enjoys playing Call of Duty or ‘lamenting over yet another disappointment from Manchester United.

‘I hope that UKZN continues to inspire greatness and cultivates ambition in future generations, just as it did for me when I joined in 2017,’ said Ndlovu.

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Sethu Dlamini