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Courtney Pitcher: master’s

23 Oct 2018 - 08:45

Courtney PitcherA master’s in computer science by thesis is one way to work through any self-motivation issues you may have Courtney Pitcher has discovered.

After the structured approach of an undergraduate and honour’s degree, the master programme’s flexibility requires a much higher level of self-discipline. Courtney finds working from the Postgraduate Lab in the Computer Science building to be much easier than working from home as it has fewer distractions.

After completing an honour’s degree in computer science at Rhodes, and a stint working at Amazon’s web services, Courtney decided to tackle the little researched area of three-dimensional fingerprints.

Biometric scans of fingerprints are used in many applications, from room access to document security, but fingerprints can disappear, or at least the top level of skin can, for a variety of reasons including age, injury or illness. Courtney’s research looks at the deeper fingerprint layers available below the uppermost skin covering. These are identical and infrared scans of the deeper tissue, that mirrors the ridges on our fingertips, provide a more reliable way of using fingerprint data.

With a supervisor at UCT whose expertise lies in point clouds (a set of data points in space), and a co-supervisor at the University of Edinburgh who specialises in fingerprints, Courtney is delving into an under-researched field he never thought he would.

With little interest in programming at school, Courtney started out studying maths, physics and geology.

“I didn’t realise that [computer science] had scientific applications,” said Courtney. “I took Comp Sci as my elective and then I realised that there is a lot of interesting work that can be done with it.” His school didn’t offer any programming or IT subjects and his first taste of it was as an undergraduate. “It wasn’t until I got to university that I realised it was really interesting.”

Courtney would like to return to study towards a PhD, but for now he is planning on working in the field. His job-hunting strategy is to study interview problems in depth and then apply for his dream job well prepared.