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GSN Indibano 2019 through the eyes of the SAEON interns

By Arno Botha, Jennifer Mohale, Sachin Doarsamy, Tamryn Hamilton, Tsumbedzo Ramalevha and Wynand Calitz
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Collaboration. Collaboration. Collaboration.

This was one of the main messages conveyed at the 12th annual GSN (Graduate Student NetworkIndibano hosted by the SAEON Elwandle Node.

Carrying forward this sentiment, the interns of the six nodes that were invited, decided to write a joint article to share their experiences of what was an incredible week in the scenic and quaint village that is Cape St. Francis.

This year’s Indibano was a special one as it marked the first year that interns were invited – one intern from each SAEON node was selected to attend. This was all made possible thanks to funding from the Foundational Biodiversity Information Programme (FBIP) of SANBI (South African National Biodiversity Institute), facilitated by Kogie Govender, SAEON’s Science Engagement Coordinator.

This great opportunity allowed the interns to share their internship experiences with the students (or future interns?) and other delegates. Below are brief accounts of the experiences of the six interns that attended the 2019 GSN Indibano.

Arno Botha  Marine Biodiversity Intern at the Egagasini Node based in Cape Town, Western Cape


Delegates enjoy a ‘walk and talk’ in the fynbos, led by Dr Alastair Potts (Photo: Arno Botha)

The GSN Indibano, set in the scenic Cape St. Francis, was a memorable experience. Not only were there some incredible talks throughout the week, but many thought-provoking discussions as well, mostly regarding what the future holds for science. Appropriately so, as the slogan for the Indibano was “Our Future. Our Science.”

I certainly enjoyed all the sessions throughout the week and what made them even more enjoyable, was the fact that they were set up to be interactive and engaging, ensuring that the most was made of our time at the Indibano. The student talks were of the highest quality and incredibly diverse as they ranged from the thermal adaptation of corals to analysing fire regimes in Namaqualand.

The whole week was well run and organised by the GSN committee, who deserve a massive thank you. I enjoyed the experience and learnt a lot about a multitude of science disciplines.

The week was capped off by what turned out to be my favourite part – a wonderful field trip in the heart of the Eastern Cape where the ‘living fossils’, also known as stromatolites, stole the show.

Jennifer Mohale  Marine Intern at the Elwandle Node based in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape


Jennifer during a cruise on the SA Agulhas II (Photo: Jennifer Mohale)

“If you want something you never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.” – Thomas Jefferson

The 2019 GSN Indibano offered outstanding opportunities for training in data analysis, lectures on science communication and policy-making, student and intern presentations and field trips led by a variety of experts. As an intern, my personal experience was the best – I learnt how to analyse scientific data, which presented a challenge through usage of R software and QGIS.

The best part about the Indibano was the interactions with other students and interns from different backgrounds, sharing of ideas and working as a team. The field trips added to the scope of my science questions and gave me new ideas for my master’s topic for next year.

I would like to thank SAEON and the sponsors for a great learning and networking platform. Indeed, this was a never-to-be-missed opportunity. I would like to wish all participants the best in their future endeavours.

Sachin Doarsamy  Botanical Intern at the Grasslands-Forests-Wetlands Node based in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal


Representing the Grasslands-Forests-Wetlands Node – from left: Thami Shezi, Tamanna Patel and Sachin Doarsamy (Photo: Jessica Els)

The GSN Indibano was a week filled with learning and all my expectations of the workshop were exceeded. I enjoyed interacting with my fellow interns and gaining an understanding of their tasks at their respective nodes.

The students selected for this year’s Indibano represented a diverse background and created an interesting atmosphere with their talks. I was able to learn a substantial amount during the R introductory course, which will prove helpful during my internship period.

Professor Emma Archer provided a brilliant session on transdisciplinary relations within science. She engaged us to work in teams to bring together varying ideas from different scientific backgrounds.

My personal highlight was the field trip, which took us on an adventure from the source of a river to the sea. We witnessed the importance of the Palmiet reed (Prionium serratum) in catchments, alien plant impacts, dam infrastructure, salt marshes and flooding events on the Kromme river system.

I had limited knowledge about the Eastern Cape and the Indibano opened my eyes to new discoveries such as the stromatolites and understanding the complex relationships within coastal fynbos dune thicket. The GSN Indibano 2019 has proved to be one of the best workshops I have attended due to the good organisation from the committee, interesting presentations, well-planned workshops and diversity of students.

Tamryn Hamilton  Intern at EFTEON, based at the SAEON National Office in Pretoria, Gauteng


The salt marsh in Cape St. Francis that delegates sloshed through during a demonstration by the SAEON Elwandle Node (Photo: Tamryn Hamilton)

The GSN Indibano hosted students and interns from diverse fields, which made the presentations all the more exciting. Each presentation afforded the audience a glimpse into a completely different area of scientific study and the diversity of scientific knowledge within the room was truly inspirational. Especially when we all had to work together.

The Transdisciplinary workshop with Professor Emma Archer was a highlight for me: it introduced some of the issues associated with transdisciplinary collaborations, but more importantly the more profound effect scientific minds have when they work together.

This was echoed by the group discussion about the issue of ‘Climate Grief’ and how scientists as a whole need to work together to change the perception of the problem of climate change by shifting their focus from declarations of change and spouts of life-altering impacts towards improving scientific activism and public engagement.

The GSN Indibano was an eye-opening experience that really brought out the passion for science among the early-career scientists. As an intern, the Indibano facilitated seamless interaction with SAEON Node sponsors, a horizon-expanding amount of networking, fostered stimulating engagement around the topics presented and reminded me what it was that drew me to science.

My take-away from attending the GSN Indibano is that we need to keep in touch with the inspiration that attracted us to science and find a way to share that within the scientific community and the public.

To the GSN Committee and Science Engagement team: Thank you for a job well done and for including the interns!

Tsumbedzo Ramalevha  Biodiversity Intern at the Ndlovu Node based in Phalaborwa, Limpopo


Tsumbedzo during the visit to the stromatolite site, led by Dr Gavin Rishworth

'The grand environmental challenges can only be solved by teams from different disciplines.' This was the message behind this year’s Indibano slogan. A safer and healthier environment that is able to cater for and sustain future population growth will increasingly depend on the knowledge, wisdom and collaboration of future leaders, decision-makers, environmental experts and experts from other disciplines.

The 2019 SAEON GSN Indibano afforded me an opportunity to evaluate my knowledge and understanding of the environmental science field. Workshops such as science communication and a transdisciplinary approach to doing research highlighted the need for an inclusive approach and to communicate our research findings effectively in order to achieve the main goal of research, which is to better human lives.

Organised field activities were an eye-opener to the world-renowned wealth of our environment and how little we know or appreciate it. The Introduction to R and integrating QGIS and Rstudio workshop equipped me with statistical knowledge in research which will be very useful as I plan to further my studies upon completing the internship.

The highlight for me has to be the science communication workshop as this focused attention on how little impact our research findings is having, mainly based on how we communicate them to the public. Winning the Best Presenter prize in the Intern Talks category only added to the wonderful experience I had.

I would like to thank my supervisor, Dr Dave Thompson, SAEON, the GSN and all the delegates I interacted with.

Wynand Calitz  Research Intern at the Arid Lands Node, Kimberley, Northern Cape


Delegates learning about the upper catchment of the Kromme river (Photo: Wynand Calitz)

The 2019 GSN Indibano offered many great experiences and opportunities. As an Eastern Cape local now working at the SAEON Arid Lands Node in Kimberley, it was great being back at our beautiful coastline to experience the sun, surf, and of course the wind. The first of many unique experiences was the introduction to the host node, Elwandle, both their incredible facilities and the amazing work they are doing.

The following two days saw the interns present on their experience working for SAEON as well as the very informative workshops on R. Even though I have many years of experience in R, it was fun and useful learning how to incorporate QGIS into R script.

The talks from the students followed. As someone who has been exposed to several other conferences, I have to say that despite a full schedule, it was never dull, and never did it feel like one topic was over-represented in the proceedings. Here, I take my hat off to the students as well as the committee for their efforts in developing the programme.

For me the highlight of the Indibano was the field trips, which exposed us to various fields of study – from coastal Fynbos/Thicket, to upper catchment studies, estuarine salt marshes and finally the stromatolites along the peritidal shoreline.

All in all, the GSN Indibano proved a phenomenal platform for young scientists to learn, present their work and engage with peers and experienced scientists from various fields. I would like to thank my node manager, Joh Henschel, for allowing me to attend; the node sponsors and SANBI for making it possible for interns to attend; and finally, but certainly not least, the committee who developed and organised the Indibano programme.


We are grateful to have been afforded the opportunity to attend the 12th GSN Indibano. The week certainly was memorable and meeting fellow SAEON interns and learning about the diverse projects being conducted by other nodes was a wonderful experience.

We are thankful for the opportunity to learn new skills, to network with fellow up-and-coming researchers and for reigniting the passion to continue our studies upon completion of our internships.

We strongly encourage students to apply for the 13th GSN Indibano.

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