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Students doing it for themselves: SAEON’s Graduate Student Network in 2018

By Amy Marshall, GSN Committee Member
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What makes SAEON’s Graduate Student Network (GSN) both unique and important?

The secret ingredient is the students, science trailblazers, determined to make their mark by ensuring an environmentally sustainable future.

The GSN is a multidisciplinary network of young scientists working across fields such as botany, zoology, ecology, wildlife management, water catchment management and nature conservation. As a network, the GSN enables young scientists to keep abreast of groundbreaking research as well as long-term ecological monitoring by networking with fellow students and obtaining new information directly from subject matter experts on a variety of topics.

Two of the ways the GSN does this is through node-specific activities as well as an annual event known as the Indibano.


A full-day workshop on science communication prepared delegates for the 2017 Indibano’s very own FameLab heat and inspired them to make their science interesting and relevant for a lay audience.

Indibano 2017

One of the key activities within the GSN in 2017 was the 10th Annual Indibano Student Conference, held at the South African Astronomical Observatory in Cape Town from 10 to 15 September. Organised by the GSN committee, the conference aimed to provide a platform for students to network, interact and collaborate.

Students from both terrestrial and aquatic ecology disciplines attended and found the mixing and cross-fertilisation of ideas both uplifting and inspiring. They were asked to present their science in both the conventional means and in a completely different fashion in the form of a FameLab talk, which requires refining their science to a three-minute blurb. This was aimed towards sharing their science in a more public-friendly manner and allowed students to learn and encourage each other throughout the conference.

GSN constitutional changes

The other key achievement for the GSN in 2017 was an overhaul of the constitution at the GSN steering committee meeting held at the SAEON Grasslands-Forests-Wetlands Node in Pietermaritzburg in May 2017. The sentiment among current GSN committee members is that over the past year the network has made some major strides and breakthroughs in how it is run.

Moreover, the constitution was amended so that committee members are SAEON students. This development has improved operations, giving the GSN access to resources such as office space and computers, which make it far easier to plan big events such as the Indibano.

Additionally, this also means node-based activities will become a regular part of the GSN's plans for the upcoming year.


Elated students hiking the beautiful Silvermine in Cape Town. The next Indibano will be held in the Lowveld if all goes according to plan.

Important role of the node sponsors

After the initial changes to the GSN in 2015, even greater progress has been made by securing SAEON staff to mentor and guide the committee members in their duties. These are the node sponsors - key SAEON scientists at the six SAEON nodes who are subject matter experts in their own right and able to mentor and guide the next generation of young scientists as they step up to the challenge.

This major development helps the steering committee members to be more effective in their job, thus serving the GSN more effectively.

Call for new committee members

Three members of the current GSN steering committee - Nasiphi Ntshanga (Fynbos Node), Aobakwe Lenkwe (Grasslands-Forests-Wetlands Node) and Hannah Truter (Egagasini Node) - will be handing over the reins to new committee members in 2018. The GSN would like to thank them for their tireless efforts and the immense energy and enthusiasm they brought to the team.

While they leave large shoes to fill, this affords a very exciting opportunity for SAEON students who would like to be part of this incredible initiative. Any current SAEON students interested in being part of the GSN steering committee in 2018 are encouraged to speak to their node managers or sponsors without delay.


A fond farewell: the three GSN Steering Committee members who will be stepping down this year. From left: Hannah Truter, Nasiphi Ntshanga and Aobakwe Lenkwe with Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng.

What to look forward to in 2018

On that note, what can people look forward to in the year ahead? The short answer is a lot!As mentioned above, node-based activities will be escalated this year. While each node has its own unique set of plans and there are far too many to mention, here are just a few examples across three of the nodes to whet research appetites:  

  • SAEON Arid Lands Node hosted by SANParks in Kimberley: The roll-out of long-term environmental research at the SKA project, a vast Karoo landscape that has never been studied before.
  • SAEON Elwandle Node hosted by the Nelson Mandela University at their new Ocean Sciences Campus: International Coastal Clean-Up by the Elwandle Node where the GSN will organise a coastal clean-up along the beaches of Port Elizabeth during the International Coastal Clean-Up day on 15 September. On 14 September there will be a SAEON-GSN promoted talk on marine waste and its impact on the marine ecosystem. .
  • SAEON Ndlovu Node (savanna) hosted by SANParks at Phalaborwa: The Ndlovu Node is excited to be the potential host of the next Indibano, which will mean any potential attendees have the exciting prospect of an Indibano in the lowveld to look forward to.  

A key GSN development for 2018 - meet Kogie Govender

While 2018 promises to be a cracker of a year, it has already started with a bang in the form of Kogie Govender.

An urgent need was identified for a permanent person to take care of the GSN to respond to queries from both node sponsors and GSN steering commitee members about GSN issues, such as reporting lines. Kogie Govender, SAEON’s Science Engagement Coordinator, has just taken on oversight of the GSN.

Kogie has experienced the benefits of being part of a student network during her studies and is therefore convinced that student networks create opportunities for young researchers to network and collaborate as well as enhance their soft skills. Kogie is passionate about supporting young talented researchers that care about sustaining our ecosystems. The commitment and teamwork among the GSN committee members and their mentors, the node sponsors, is the fuel that drives her to be part of the SAEON GSN team.

On that note, the GSN wishes everyone a productive and groundbreaking research year in 2018. We look forward to engaging with as many of you as possible, either on our social media platforms, at node-specific events, the annual Indibano or as part of our steering committee.

Whatever you do this year, make the GSN a strategic part of your 2018.

Find us on:

Facebook: SAEON GSN
Twitter: @SAEON_GSN

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