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SAEON GSN Indibano celebrates 6th anniversary in style!

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A delegate views the posters on display (Picture: Melissa Boonzaaier)

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The GSN's new logo portrays the connectivity between postgraduates and researchers across various disciplines around the globe

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SAEON's Dr Charles von der Meden talks to the students at the SeaTech Laboratory in Cape Town about SkiMonkey II, which was used to obtain underwater images on the SA Agulhas II voyage earlier this year (Picture: Melissa Boonzaaier)

By Sindiso Chamane, External Relations, SAEON GSN

This year's annual Indibano, organised by SAEON's Graduate Student Network (GSN) Committee, has again been very successful.

The event was held at the Kirstenbosch Research Centre situated in the beautiful Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town.

The aim of the Indibano (meaning "gathering" in isiXhosa) is to equip postgraduate students with useful skills as part of a workshop, encourage students to present their research on long-term observation data (as the core mandate of SAEON) and create a platform for networking with students from various universities in South Africa.

Usually, SAEON fully sponsors about 20 students from various disciplines (within long-term monitoring research) and universities in South Africa to present their research projects at the Indibano. However, the standard of abstracts and relevance of the research to SAEON meant that a new record of 33 delegates from 13 South African academic institutions attended this year's Indibano.

The decision was made by SAEON's head office to meet the increasing demand for this much needed platform for the best emerging scientists from different fields of specialisation, with a common purpose of conducting long-term monitoring research. This was a great success and everyone left Indibano 2013 richer in knowledge and networks.

Official opening

On Monday, 19 August, delegates arrived in Cape Town for the official opening of the Indibano in the cosy environment of the Empire Café in Muizenberg. Melissa Boonzaaier (Committee Coordinator) welcomed all the delegates, and highlighted the mandate of SAEON and the importance of integrating researchers in similar fields (long-term monitoring) across various disciplines and institutions.

The following day, the conference was opened by Carmel Mbisvo from the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). Carmel set a very positive tone as her talk focused on career paths and opportunities for researchers in South Africa. She emphasised the need for researchers to continue to do "actual research", further pointing out that researchers can make it into well-recognised positions without going into management.

The next speaker was Dr Nicky Allsopp, Manager of SAEON's Fynbos Node, who gave a presentation on SAEON's history, the six SAEON nodes and their research tasks and mandates. Thereafter, delegates were given the opportunity to present their research, in an oral or poster presentation format, with Dr Genevieve Thompson (SAEON Fynbos Node) and Dr Charles von der Meden (SAEON Egagasini Node) as adjudicators.

This year's conference theme "Observing our changing ecosystems" was well incorporated into the delegates' presentations. Their fascinating research presentations resulted in discussions and emphasised the need and importance of long-term monitoring research in various disciplines. The possibilities and benefits of a multidisciplinary approach to effectively carry out long-term observation and monitoring of environmental changes were highlighted through various discussions during the workshop.

Communicating research to a wider audience

The third day of the Indibano began with a science communication workshop facilitated by Lorenzo Raynard, Science Communications Unit Manager at the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA). Lorenzo was accompanied by two of his colleagues - one an information and computer science specialist and the other a journalist. The theme for this workshop was "Communicating your research to a wider audience". The workshop covered various methods of engaging and communicating one's research to a wider audience, and specifically to non-scientists.

Among the methods covered, was developing a media engagement strategy to profile one's research findings and to effectively use social media such as blogging and Twitter to showcase one's research. The key message to take home from the workshop was that, to effectively communicate research, one has to know one's target audience well and present one's research accordingly.

The workshop also touched on "citizen science", which involves the participation of the public to aid in, for example, biodiversity accounts such as iSpot and BioBlitz. Citizen science has the potential of making long-term monitoring research more successful with limited resources.

After his presentation, Lorenzo facilitated an activity where the delegates were divided into groups and had to discuss ways of effectively publishing research aimed at intriguing, and engaging with, the public.

Fynbos walk

In the afternoon, delegates went for a walk through the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens led by Dr Jasper Slingsby, a scientist at the SAEON Fynbos Node. He was accompanied by Dr Lloyd Nackley, a post-doc at SANBI. Dr Slingsby talked about some of the long-term monitoring projects the Fynbos Node is involved in, and some ecological and evolutionary adaptations in Fynbos in the context of global change monitoring. Dr Nackley talked about his work on carbon dioxide and plant physiology.

Meeting leading researchers

A diversity of guest speakers at the Indibano catered for the diverse fields of interest among the delegates. One of the highlights for the delegates was meeting these leading researchers in an informal setting.

The guest speakers were:

  • Dr Silvia Mecenero (postdoc at SANBI), a co-founder of the GSN and GSN alumni. She told delegates how the experience she gained as a GSN committee member has helped her during her career.
  • Professor Guy Midgley, Chief Director of the Climate Change and Bioadaptation Division at SANBI. He gave a vibrant presentation on climate change, explaining how the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere is giving trees a competitive advantage in the savannas.
  • Mr Mduduzi "Mdu" Seakamela, Marine Mammal Scientist with the national Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and 50|50 field presenter, who gave a motivational presentation about his career path, his research project on Cape fur seals with the University of Cape Town (UCT) and encouraged students to continue with their postgraduate studies.
  • Professor Edmund February (UCT), who gave an inspirational talk on his experiences during his career path. Prof. February took delegates on a journey of climbing the most challenging mountains in South Africa, USA and France. While showing his pictures of his many climbing experiences, he stressed how important it is to have fun with whatever you do in life.

 

Launch of the new GSN logo and website

At the GSN Committee's first planning meeting in April 2013 (Cape Town), the committee decided to reinvent the GSN branding in view of the increasing interest in the GSN as a networking platform and the growth the committee and the GSN have undergone. The committee harnessed this creative energy to create a new GSN logo and website.

The graphics of the logo portray the connectivity between researchers (students and established researchers) across various disciplines across the globe, which is why the round shape was chosen. The colours of the logo (blue and green) are typically associated with nature - sea and land (vegetation) and are in line with SAEON's long-term environmental monitoring on both sea and land.

The new GSN website is now running. It is more interactive and user-friendly for GSN members in similar fields/disciplines to connect with each other. Additions to the website include an attractive new look, discussion forum page and joining page (as opposed to the traditional excel sheet that had to be filled out).

The new logo and website were officially launched on the evening of the third day of the Indibano by GSN Committee members Emma Gray and Tanja van de Ven at the UCT Club. The launch was well received by the delegates.

Award-winning presentations

After the launch, the GSN Committee and SAEON's Beate Hölscher, along with adjudicators Drs Genevieve Thompson and Charles von der Meden, announced the winning presentations. It was highlighted that the presentations were of such a high standard that the adjudicators had a tough time selecting the best oral and poster presentations.

Dr Charles von der Meden's view on the quality of the presentations was: "Throughout the diverse research presented, the consistently high quality of work made it clear just how much effort, enthusiasm and dedication is being put in by post-graduate students all over the country."

A total of five awards were presented to the winners. The three adjudicators' awards were:

  • Best Oral Presentation - awarded to Tercia Strydom from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) for her presentation entitled "The effect of long-term fire treatments on soil infiltration and crusting in semi-arid savannas in the Kruger National Park".
  • Runner-up for Oral Presentation - awarded to Feroza Morris (UKZN) for her presentation entitled "Improving the understanding of spatial distribution of rainfall".
  • Best Poster went to Tristan Duthie (UKZN) for her poster entitled "Modern pollen dispersal and deposition rates of vegetation communities of the Cathedral Peak area, KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg".

Delegates were also given an opportunity to vote for their favourite oral and poster presentations. The two prizes were:

  • Students' Choice for Best Oral - awarded to Claire Davis (UCT) for her talk entitled "Recent trends in vegetation change in the Namaqualand region of South Africa: An approach combining repeat site photography and remote sensing".
  • Students' Choice for Best Poster - awarded to Nanette van Staden from North West University for her talk entitled "The composition of the herbaceous layer of Syenite koppies of Cleveland Nature Reserve: unique or not?"

     

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    The award winners, GSN Committee members and adjudicators. Back row, from left: Drs Genevieve Thompson and Charles von der Meden, Beate Hölscher, Sindiso Chamane, Laura Danga, Tlou Masehela, Manqhai Kraai, Tanja van de Ven, Emma Gray and Nanette van Staden. Front row, from left: Melissa Boonzaaier, Claire Davis, Tercia Strydom, Tristan Duthie and Feroza Morris (Picture: Melissa Boonzaaier)

    Indibano 2013 ends on a high note

    The Indibano ended on a high note with an excursion to the SeaTech Laboratory in Cape Town's Waterfront led by Dr Charles von der Meden. The delegates learned about the latest state-of-the-art technology used for oceanography, deep-sea sampling techniques, observational data collection and engineers working together with scientists to design equipment needed for various sampling methods.

    Delegates were then transported back to the airport and various locations in Cape Town. Delegates agreed that the Indibano had been a great success and everyone left richer in knowledge, networks and communication skills.

    Not forgetting...

    On behalf of all the Indibano 2013 delegates, the GSN Committee 2013/14 would like to thank the sponsors of the event (the NRF and SAEON) as well as SAEON staff Johan Pauw, Beate Hölscher, Eva Mudau, Drs Amani Saidi, Nicky Allsopp, Jasper Slingsby, Genevieve Thompson and Charles von der Meden for their assistance and invaluable input. Other organisations involved were SAASTA, SANBI and the Department of Science and Technology (DST).

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    GSN Indibano 2013 delegates, including the GSN Committee as well as SAEON staff members Beate Hölscher and Drs Nicky Allsopp, Jasper Slingsby, Genevieve Thompson and Charles von der Meden at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Cape Town (Picture: Melissa Boonzaaier)

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