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Towards a future of change: SAEON Graduate Student Network

By Tamanna Patel, External Liaison, SAEON Graduate Student Network
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Delegates with some of the guest speakers and presenters.

On September 1, delegates from all over South Africa convened at Cape St Francis Resort in the Eastern Cape for the 12th Graduate Student Network (GSN) Indibano.

Several invited guest speakers, which the GSN were honoured to host during the week, explored the Indibano theme, “Our Future, Our Science – Embracing connectedness, networks and multidisciplinarity as we march towards a future of change”.

All workshops were funded by the Foundational Biodiversity Information Programme (FBIP) of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI).

Day 1

The morning’s programme kicked off with the arrival of delegates in Port Elizabeth. After a brief introduction followed by lunch at SAEON’s Elwandle Node, Node sponsor Dr Shaun Deyzel gave delegates a tour of the offices and lab spaces, and explained how the Hyperbaric Chamber works. The Hyperbaric Chamber was acquired by the Shallow Marine and Coastal Research Infrastructure (SMCRI).

We were honoured to have Dr Elizabeth Rasekoala join us as guest speaker for the afternoon. Dr Rasekoala is the President of African Gong, the Pan-African Network for the Popularization of Science and Technology and Science Communication.

The session started with a talk on “Science Communication and Democracy: South African paradoxes, paradigms and imperatives for change”, followed by a workshop where delegates were split into groups to discuss transformation in science communication. After the workshop, delegates made their way to Cape St Francis Resort for the remainder of the Indibano.

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During a tour of the Elwandle Node's premises, Dr Shaun Deyzel  explains how the Hyperbaric Chamber works.

Guest speaker Professor Emma Archer leads the Transdisciplinary workshop.

Day 2

Glenn Moncrieff, data scientist from SAEON’s Fynbos Node, facilitated the Data Visualisation in R workshop. There were three sessions throughout the day, which allowed time for delegates to grasp concepts as well as for hands-on practice with actual data.

Towards the evening, the interns that attended the Indibano each gave a five-minute talk on why they chose to do an internship with SAEON, what their duties or responsibilities are and what they wish to achieve during their internships.

Day 3

The Integration of QGIS in R workshop was facilitated by Hayden Wilson, scientific programme officer from SAEON’s uLwazi Node. There were three sessions throughout the day, which gave delegates enough time to learn concepts and work through examples.

Next on the programme was guest speaker Dr Alastair Potts, a senior researcher at Nelson Mandela University. Dr Potts gave a short talk on Multidisciplinarity, followed by a walk around the Irma Booysen Floral Reserve where he explained the Dune Thicket Fynbos/Dune Thicket Forest mosaic to delegates.

Day 4

Day 4 started off with an exciting Transdisciplinary workshop presented by Professor Emma Archer, another of our guest speakers. Working in groups, delegates had to come up with three of the biggest threats to the environment in Africa and present their group discussions to the rest of the delegates.

Following this workshop, there were three sessions during which delegates presented their MSc/PhD research: 1) Terrestrial, chaired by GSN Chairperson Qondisa Mbekwa; 2) Marine/Estuarine, chaired by GSN committee member Tamanna Patel; and 3) Freshwater and Atmospheric, chaired by GSN committee member Thami Shezi.


Panel discussion on ‘Reshaping our Future’.

Each session was followed by feedback from the panel, which included Dr Gavin Rishworth, Dr Betsie Milne, Dr Shaun Deyzel, Professor Emma Archer, Glenn Moncrieff, Grant van der Heever and Athi Mfikili.

After a day filled to the brim with interesting talks, we closed with a panel discussion on Reshaping our Future, facilitated by Dr Shaun Deyzel. Thank you to Dr Gavin Rishworth, Dr Betsie Milne and Glenn Moncrieff for being part of the panel.

The day closed with a brief talk by Dr Gavin Rishworth on stromatolites in preparation for the field trip the following day.

Day 5

Finally, the day we were all waiting for! The field trip was made up of different stops (see map) along the Kromme River and we were fortunate to have several experts join us. With reference to the map, Stop 1 was along the Kromme catchments where Dr Julia Glenday showed delegates what an intact Palmiet wetland looks like.

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Dr Julia Glenday shows delegates the Acacia mearnsii invasion and clearing site, one of the stops along the Kromme River (Stop 2 with reference to the map).

Delegates walking at the Kromme Estuary site where Dr Shaun Deyzel, Athi Mfikili and Jess Els talked about their and SAEON's research in the estuaries (Stop 4).

Stops 2 & 3: We stopped to view an Acacia mearnsii invasion and clearing site and then at Churchill Dam, a major water supply reservoir. Stop 4: Our next stop was the Kromme estuary and shore, where Dr Shaun Deyzel, Athi Mfikili and Jess Els talked about their and SAEON’s research in the estuaries.

Next on the programme was spotting stromatolites with Dr Gavin Rishworth. Newly discovered in this area, stromatolites are found along a 200-km stretch between Port Elizabeth and Storms River.

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Spotting stromatolites with Dr Gavin Rishworth. Newly discovered in this area, stromatolites are found along a 200-km stretch between Port Elizabeth and Storms River.                                                           

2019 GSN Steering Committee with the Palmiet Wetland in the background. From left: Thami Shezi, Tamanna Patel, Juan Swanepoel, Jess Els and Qondisa Mbekwa.

A prize-giving and braai brought a wonderful day to an exciting close. Congratulations to the award winners and to all the delegates for their top-class presentations!

Award winners

Intern presentations 

  • Best presentation: Tsumbedzo Leonard Ramalevha (Ndlovu Node)

Delegate presentations

  • Session 1: Terrestrial – Best presentation: Megan Brigette Simons; 2nd place presentation: Mpilo Zenzele Khumalo
  • Session 2: Marine/Estuarine – Best presentation: Rudzani Faith Silima; 2nd place presentation: Ross-Lynne Weston
  • Session 3: Freshwater and Atmospheric – Best presentation: Willem Stefaan Conradie; 2nd place presentation: Sarah Roffe
  • People’s Choice Award – Best presentation: Mohammed Kajee

Day 6

With happy hearts and many new connections forged, delegates made their way back to Port Elizabeth to go their separate ways. We hope delegates apply what they have learnt in the Indibano workshops in their research and future careers. We wish all the 2019 delegates the best in their future endeavours!

Special thanks to the Elwandle Node – and specifically Dr Shaun Deyzel and Jess Els – for hosting the Indibano this year and for your valuable contributions for making this happen. Thank you to Kogie Govender (SAEON Science Engagement Coordinator) and Caitlin Ransom (Intern) from SAEON’s National Office for your help with the logistics to make the Indibano possible.

We would like to encourage GSN members to keep visiting our website and social media pages for more incredible opportunities like these.

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