Netherlands-born Dr Michael Hoefnagel received a PhD at the third graduation ceremonies of Stellenbosch University (SU) on 11 December. Hoefnagel's parents moved to South Africa when he was still a toddler and raised him and his siblings in Hermanus.
After school, he worked as a carpenter in a factory in Salt River, Cape Town, where he spent most of his free time creating mathematics problems and learning about and exploring mechanics and physics.
Hoefnagel says that he was fascinated by applied mathematics and physics, and hoped he could pursue university studies in these subjects. “I was interested in knowing how a refrigerator works, planes fly, and how satellites stay in orbit."
During his first year at SU, Hoefnagel took phyics and applied mathematics, and in his second year changed his major to Computer Science. Learning to program a computer, he says, was the best thing that he had done during his undergraduate studies. After his undergraduate studies, he went on to pursue postgraduate studies in mathematics.
He did most of his research for his master's thesis while in Italy and, after good reviews on presenting his research in Belgium, he was advised to upgrade his master's thesis to a PhD dissertation.
This year, while completing his PhD thesis, Hoefnagel got the opportunity to lecture the first-year course in mathematics, which gave him lecturing experience for five months. Hoefnagel says that the overall highlight of his time as a student at SU was having an experienced and supportive supervisor who helped him through the various problems that one encounters in mathematical research.
“The highlights of my time here at Stellenbosch University was the opportunity to do independent original research. Often you have ideas that lead nowhere. Luckily, under the guidance of my supervisor, we were able to produce a good contribution."
From the 1st January 2019, Hoefnagel will be employed as a lecturer of mathematics at SU and will be lecturing Mathematics Bio in the first semester.
“I feel good about graduating, and I am glad to be taking a more serious step to professionalising myself as an academic. I am also very excited about my future career as a mathematician."