Woman beats eyesight woes to get PhD

2014-04-29 00:00

SHARMLA Rama, who overcame problems with her eyesight to complete a PhD in sociology, credits her supportive family and colleagues for her success.

Rama, who studied at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Pietermaritzburg campus, received her degree at a ceremony on April 14.

The Northdale resident suffers from a condition called keratoconus, which affects the shape of the cornea. Normally, the cornea is rounded, but due to keratoconus the edges sharpen and vision slowly becomes distorted.

Rama was studying for her masters degree when she opted to undergo a corneal graft to help improve her sight. But there was a downside. The treatment meant that she could no longer read her notes.

Rather than let her give up, Rama’s parents, Angie and Victor, and two classmates, Clare Erasmus and Colin Johnson, stepped in and recorded notes for her; and instead of sitting a written exam at the end of the course, the university allowed her to do an oral one instead.

“Doing my masters was quite difficult,” she told The Witness, “but at that point I also had a lot of people telling me to get on with it and not drag it out.”

With her masters done, Rama embarked on a PhD in 2009 and while her sight had improved, she still found completing the degree a challenge.

“The strain of having to read so much meant that I was getting headaches and I had to go and see my optometrist several times to get help,” she said.

“I ended up using a high-definition magnifier to help me to read books, especially those with very fine print, and on the computer I would increase the size of the words in a document to 150% or even 200%.”

She also stressed that she could never have made it through all her years of studying without the support of her parents.

“They have been my strongest supporters and they have been extremely tolerant because doing a PhD takes its toll on a person,” Rama said.

The 41-year-old, who works as a lecturer in sociology at UKZN Pietermaritzburg, is now looking forward to sharing her knowledge with other sociologists at the International Sociological Association World Congress in Yokohama in Japan in June.

“The congress happens every four years and I’m really excited to be going,” said Rama, who matriculated at Northbury Park Secondary School.

“I’m looking forward to meeting people from all over the world and the people of Japan. They are quite a resilient people and showed that they could rebuild after the tsunami [in 2011]. I’m really hoping I can visit some of the sites …”

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