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Our amazing internship experience

By Leila Nefdt, Jethan d’Hotman and Fisokuhle Mbatha, SAEON Egagasini Node
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The DST/NRF internships provide young science professionals an opportunity to expand their knowledge and skillset as well as provide many other experiences not generally offered during studies.

Over the past financial year the SAEON Egagasini Node had three DST/NRF interns on board, all with slightly different backgrounds and focus areas.

Leila Nefdt, a Biodiversity and Conservation honours student at the University of the Western Cape, worked with Dr Lara Atkinson in the Marine Biology field and with the node’s education officer, Thomas Mtontsi, who provides science support to schools adopted by the node.

Fisokuhle Mbatha, an Applied Marine Science Master’s student from the University of Cape Town, split her internship working with Dr Juliet Hermes on transformation in the workplace and with Thomas Mtontsi, assisting with the node’s various outreach programmes.

Jethan d'Hotman, a BTech Oceanography student from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, primarily worked with Dr Juliet Hermes and Tamaryn Morris on the Agulhas System Climate Array (ASCA). 

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Fiso (left), Leila (right) and Thomas Mtontsi in Sutherland for the Minister of Science and Technology’s Imbizo

Fiso (2nd from left), Leila (3rd from left) and Thomas (right) at the Imbizo with the Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor

Leila (left) putting her skills to practice out at sea on the DAFF Demersal Survey along the West and South Coast

Opportunities

Throughout the year, many different opportunities became available to the interns. They were all given an opportunity to participate in last year’s ASCA/SEAmester cruise, where each intern had a specific role to play. Jethan assisted in the planning of the cruise and was the shift-leader and CTD (conductivity, temperature and depth) operator. Fisokuhle led the dissolved oxygen sampling. Leila participated in the SEAmester programme as a student and attended lectures and practical sessions for the duration of the cruise.

Later on in the year, the University of Cape Town hosted the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists, where experts were invited to judge the participating learners’ science projects. Fiso, Jethan and Leila offered their expertise to the judging panel.

Jethan was given an opportunity to gain data management and processing skills through a Partnership for Observation of the Global Oceans (POGO) short-term fellowship. He spent a month at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton and the British Oceanographic Data Centre in Liverpool. He has also been working with data provided by surface drifters in the Agulhas Current. The results from the study will be published later this year.

Both Leila and Jethan participated in the Global Change Conference hosted by the University of KwaZulu-Natal last year December. Jethan presented posters on ASCA and his drifter study. This opportunity provided them both with great networking opportunities.

Leila relished the opportunity to assist Dr Lara Atkinson with biodiversity-related projects, mainly in connection with the completion of the invertebrate identification guide, which will assist future cruise participants in the identification of species collected during demersal trawl surveys within South Africa. Leila also assisted the Iziko Museum and the South African National Biodiversity Institute with the completion of the SeaKeys and various other projects.

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Leila participated in the Global Change Conference hosted by the University of KwaZulu-Natal

Jethan presented posters on the Agulhas System Climate Array and his drifter study at the Global Change Conference

Leila and Fiso with SAEON MD Johan Pauw and other delegates at the International Conference on Research Infrastructure

Both Leila and Fiso worked with the monitoring teams from the adopted SAEON schools, assisted Thomas with exhibitions to create awareness of marine science (Scifest Africa and the Minister of Science and Technology’s Budget Vote and Imbizo), and the logistics planning and implementing of workshops and marine science programmes for learners.

Fisokuhle was given an opportunity to lead a potentially sensitive project, “Transformation in the workplace”. The project often took her out of her comfort zone, dealing with issues such as confidentiality and ethics, which are definitely not taught in typical marine science courses!

Our advice to young professionals who are considering starting an internship: “Always take the initiative in every task assigned to you, be hungry to learn, be ready to walk the extra mile and always remember the three L’s - “Lead, Learn and Laugh”.

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Jethan was one of only six successful applicants for the POGO-SCOR Fellowship - an opportunity to gain data management and processing skills

Leila uses SAEON’s invertebrate identification guides to explain what kind of life can be found in the benthic regions around the South African coastline

Fisokuhle (right) demonstrates ocean physical dynamics (air-sea interaction) to a group of fascinated learners at Scifest Africa in Grahamstown

What’s next?

Fisokuhle will be starting another internship at the South African Deep-Sea Trawling Industry Association and is hoping to start her PhD in 2018. Both Leila and Jethan are starting their Master’s degree. They will also continue assisting SAEON when needed.

A big thank you to the DST and NRF for allowing us the opportunity to participate in a life-changing internship at the SAEON Egagasini Node. Thank you SAEON for enriching us with the knowledge and skills to understand our offshore marine systems. Many thanks to all who played a part in contributing towards our learning experience throughout the internship.

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