Small town boy in the big city

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Dr Shelvin Chand with his proud mum. Picture: SUPPLIED

More than talent and intelligence, we need someone who believes in us. That is the view Dr Shelvin Chand clung on to as a young boy in Lautoka.

Though his name may not be synonymous with the local academic arena, he waves the Fiji flag proudly internationally as one of the first and youngest Fijians to earn his Doctor of Philosophy (PHD) at 27 years old.

Dr Shelvin, 32, is an ex-scholar of Natabua High School and Lautoka Primary School.

“I work in the field of Machine Learning (ML) and mathematical optimisation which are both branches of Artificial Intelligence (AI),” he said.

“AI is the field of computer science dedicated to creating systems that can perform tasks requiring human-like intelligence.

“Within AI, ML focuses on teaching computers to learn from data without explicit programming. For instance, ML powers applications that recognise objects in images or suggesting movies based on preferences.”

Over the years, the ‘proud Waiyavi boy’ used ML with mathematical optimisation to solve complex problems in several different topics such as scheduling, robotic design, forecasting, pricing, supply chain optimisation and more.

“People in this line of work study either computer science, mathematics or statistics, if not all.

“Its complexity involves hours of sitting in front of a computer writing code. It can be fun, rewarding but also challenging and even frustrating at times. Based on my professional experience, you can see that now everyone is embracing AI, from the government all the way to fast-food chains.

“Leveraging AI allows them to unlock previously untapped opportunities for growth.”

The AI expert credited his parents especially his mum for believing in him. Both worked in supermarkets all their lives.

“My mum in particular worked as a cashier. Everything I have achieved is for her and because of her. She motivated me to be the best.

“Nobody in our family had even gone to university before me so to even dream of winning a gold medal or doing a PhD and travelling the world was a dream come true.

“When I told my mum I wanted to do all those things, she encouraged me and believed in me. She would say, you can do anything you set your mind to.”

Dr Shelvin scored the second highest mark at Natabua in his final year and secured a scholarship to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Information Systems at USP (Laucala Campus). It took him three years to complete his undergraduate studies and awarded the USP gold medal for computer science.

The reward as a full scholarship by USP to do a Master of Science in Computer Science he completed in June of 2014.

“After completing my Masters at USP I returned to Lautoka where I worked as an assistant lecturer at the University of Fiji before leaving for Australia in March 2015 to start my PhD in Computer Science.

“I got admission and a full scholarship from the University of New South Wales, ranked in the top 20 globally. I was only 24 at that time. I graduated in 2018 when I was only 27.

“My PhD research focused on combining ML and mathematical optimisation (Both of which are branches of AI), to solve complex scheduling problems.”

Dr Shelvin published his PhD research in a number of high impact factor journals and also presented it at world renowned international conferences in US, Canada and Singapore.

At present, he has 20 research publications under his beat (journal and conference papers) with almost 700 citations.

Amid his PhD studies, he took up a short internship in Quantum Computing at the Los Alamos National Lab in US, which is the site of the Manhattan Project.

This is where the first atomic bomb was invented. He travelled to Europe and back to Australia

having worked at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIRO) for two years and then in late 2021 joined Domino’s Pizza, one of the largest fast food brands in the world.

He works as the lead data scientist involved in leveraging and solving complex business problems and to allow stakeholders to make data-driven decisions.

“I grew up in Waiyavi. I love coming back and spending time in Lautoka just to witness how the city has evolved.

“This place shaped my personality and made me appreciate the small things in life. The Sugar City will always be my home and I hope I can come back for good when I retire. “Honestly I am still a small town boy at heart.

“I don’t let these things (achievements) get to my head. For me this whole experience, above everything else, has helped me grow and evolve as a person and meet so many amazing people. That in itself is priceless.”

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