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SAEON Graduate Student Network ends 2008 on a high note


Learning from the best - Prof William Bond, A-rated ecologist from UCT introduces GSN members to the interesting and complex aspects of fynbos (Picture © Sally Hofmeyr)

- Lukhanyiso Vumazonke, member of SAEON's GSN Coordinating Committee


In February 2008 the SAEON Graduate Student Network (GSN) Coordinating Committee met at the University of Cape Town (UCT) to discuss and plan the programme for the year.

Two newly elected committee members, Angela Mead and Lukhanyiso Vumazonke joined Nikki Stevens, Musa Mlambo, Diane Southey and Dirk Snyman who had been serving on the committee since the beginning of 2007.

During the meeting, some GSN key issues were discussed but the main focus was the planning and organising of the annual symposium. After a successful GSN Student Symposium at UCT in 2007, the committee decided on organising a 5-day workshop for 2008. The workshop, dubbed Indibano, was held from 24 to 29 August at de Hoop Nature Reserve in the Western Cape. The reserve is well known for its fynbos vegetation. Thus, the timing and location of the Indibano coincided with the newly formed SAEON Fynbos Node.

The committee did not waste any time in handing over responsibilities to the new members. Angela and Dirk teamed up to organise catering and accommodation for the Indibano, Lukhanyiso and Musa handled the abstracts, stationery and travelling, while Diane and Nikki drew up the budget proposal for funding and communicated with students via email.

First SAEON GSN Indibano

The Indibano (meaning a "get-together" or "gathering") was aimed at providing postgraduate students with experiential training and insights into the different aspects of long-term ecological research (LTER) of the Earth systems and biodiversity. This included on-site training in the field to graduate students from a range of different disciplines.

The key objective was to expose students to the world of fynbos ecological research, marine protected areas, LTER, statistical R package, environmental economics and scientific presentation skills.

The three programme speakers - Prof William Bond of UCT's Botany Department, Dr Res Altwegg from South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and Dr Beatrice Conradie from UCT's Economics Department - gave lectures, workshops on data analyses, tips on presentation skills and advice on science careers.

Nineteen participating students gave talks on their projects, including the GSN committee members. Attendance certificates were handed out to each student. Winners of the top three presentations received certificates and prizes. Students were requested to complete a short questionnaire at the end of the workshop to ensure that this year's workshop would be even better than before.

Guts, brains and panache

In October last year Dirk sent a notice to all GSN members for nominations to serve on the new committee. A total of eight nominations were received. Members were required to vote for the top four candidates whom they think would have the guts, the brains and the panache to take the SAEON GSN forward. Members's vote also served as a renewal of their GSN membership.

The new committee members for 2009-2010 are Batandwa Alperstein, an MA student from UCT's Department of Economics, Shannon Hampton, a PhD candidate from UCT's Department of Zoology, Trevor McIntyre, a PhD candidate from Pretoria University's Mammal Research Institute, and Brian Mubiwa, a PhD candidate from the University of Johannesburg's Department of Geography, Environmental Management and Energy Studies.

Outgoing committee

Members of the SAEON GSN wish to thank Dirk ("the dird"), Musa, Nikki and Di for their sterling work. We would like to wish them well in their new adventures and hope they will keep in touch with the GSN.

What the future holds

A planning meeting will be held early this year to plan and organise activities for the year ahead. The GSN committee will continue creating awareness among graduate students about SAEON programmes and especially encourage participants from "non-traditional" fields such as social studies, economics, public health and environmental education to participate.

The new committee members will also work closely with Angela and Lukhanyiso to ensure the transfer of necessary skills.

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