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SAEON’s Graduate Student Network gear up to explore new territory

By Zwivhuya Leonard Ndou, GSN Committee Member
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Nasiphi Ntshanga, new chairperson of the GSN steering committee

In September 2016, a new Graduate Student Network (GSN) steering committee was elected to represent the interests of the SAEON graduate student community and to improve the quantity and quality of global change research postgraduate students in South Africa.

The steering committee structure was revamped to represent the six SAEON nodes - Arid Lands, Ndlovu, Egagasini, Fynbos, Elwandle and Grasslands-Forests-Wetlands.

The GSN pursues its mission by promoting a comprehensive environmental observation platform and hubs of research expertise in various biomes and ecosystems of South Africa. The network acts as a formal mediating body between graduate students, SAEON staff, government and other research structures through its elected chairperson and portfolios - committee coordinator; external and internal liaison officers; and marketing and e-media coordinator.

A meeting of minds

The new GSN programme kicked off with all the excitement of having 27 SAEON/NRF-funded students attend the International Long-Term Ecological Research (ILTER) Network’s Open Science Meeting (OSM) at Skukuza in the Kruger National Park in October 2016.


GSN members network with delegates at ILTER’s Open Science Meeting

The GSN side event was an immense success, with graduates in full attendance as well as a number of SAEON staff members. GSN chairperson, Nasiphi Ntshanga, welcomed all new and current members before introducing the revamped GSN committee.

The meeting centred on discussions around possible and feasible ways to shape GSN activities within the SAEON nodes. Ideas were translated into detailed activities aimed at reducing academic concerns and maximising the pleasure associated with graduate studies.

GSN members also discussed where the upcoming Indibano should be held. It was noted that workshops covering research-related areas and skills would assist graduate students and new SAEON staff members to be competitive researchers. SAEON nodes have scientists with years of experience and exposure in their respective fields of study. Having workshops presented by them would demonstrate research excellence in their specific area of expertise.


GSN members and SAEON staff assist learners with vegetation sampling at a New Year Science Camp for Grade 11 learners

Members also expressed their intention of pioneering ways to make science more interesting to learners and teachers within the node communities.

Gearing up for 2017

As part of the GSN programme, node-based activities will be hosted. Despite a busy schedule, the SAEON Arid Lands Node hosted a New Year Science Camp for Grade 11 learners at Good Hope Private Reserve in the Northern Cape.

The event was aimed at preparing the learners for grade 12. Activities encouraged the learners to start thinking about their future careers. They were also exposed to report-writing skills and a practical vegetation-monitoring exercise.

In order to spark their interest in science, learners were divided into two groups for vegetation sampling and identification of the surrounding habitat with the help of SAEON staff and graduate students. Science videos and puzzles were used to good effect to make the learners aware of how interesting science can be.

To all GSN members out there…

Remember the steering committee would welcome contributions for our newsletter. If you would like to become involved in any of the GSN activities, contact the steering committee through the GSN website or email us at;

For more information, go to:

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