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A year to remember – two SAEON (Egagasini) interns reminisce

By Jordan Van Stavel and Safiyya Sedick, SAEON Egagasini Node
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Opportunities often give you perspective. Sometimes they even push you off the trajectory you had planned for your life.

The wonderful thing about this is that something which may previously have seemed impossible can now fall within your reach.

This is what the DST/NRF internship experience has been for us. It has given us the opportunity to grow as scientists and working individuals and the chance to form new friendships. For this we have the scientists, technicians, staff and students of SAEON's Egagasini Node to thank.

Egagasini always exuded a friendly atmosphere and the fact that we took every opportunity to bring and share cake with everyone in the office, is one of the traditions that strengthened the bond between us and supported the open-door policy among employees, interns and students alike. This is something we will remember most from our internship.

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Jordan and Safiyya attended a three-day Machine Learning for Ecology course at the African Institute for Mathematical Science (AIMS) (Photo: AIMS)

Many and varied experiences

There was always plenty to do at Egagasini, from our appearance as node representatives at the DST's budget exhibition, to the variety of workshops and courses that we helped to organise or participated in. Very early on in the internship we participated in SEAmester, an at-sea training programme, which was our first time onboard the RV SA Agulhas II.

In preparation for future sea-going opportunities we also completed the mandatory pre-cruise survival and security courses. These were courses that pushed us to our physical limits and had us jumping from a four-metre high platform into a swimming pool filled with icy water.

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Teamwork displayed during a routine Ski-Monkey III calibration at the University of Cape Town in which Jordan and Safiyya participated (Photo: Leila Nefdt)

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Learners participate in a rocky shore activity during the marine science camp in Lamberts Bay, in which Jordan participated (Photo: Dr Thulwaneng Mashifane)

We were also exposed to days of the less glamorous but necessary admin, procurement and organising that come with the office environment. We were often saved from this when the node’s towed benthic camera, the Ski-Monkey III, needed to be calibrated. This would see us leaving our desks for a day, grabbing our wetsuits and heading to the swimming pools at the University of Cape Town.

It was often days like these that made us appreciate being part of such an amazing team, when we would all sit down and eat lunch together after a hard day’s work.

Science engagement and outreach

Another important aspect of the internship was our involvement in Egagasini’s science engagement and outreach programme. Through this we contributed to instilling a love and passion for science into the young and eager minds of primary and high school learners.

These activities were usually conducted through events such as the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists or through school visits and marine science camps, where we would engage with students not only about the science of our own disciplines but the science we see in everyday lives.

Facing the future with confidence

For many people the future may seem quite intimidating, but this internship has given us the knowledge and experience to face it confidently. Jordan will be starting her master’s degree at Nelson Mandela University in the near future and will continue to assist SAEON where needed. Safiyya is currently participating in a month long at-sea training programme in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, where she is gaining experience in the use of acoustics and benthic biodiversity monitoring techniques in the deep sea.

Our experience as interns over the last year can hardly be justified in just a few words. We are eternally grateful to the DST/NRF for this programme. We are further indebted to Associate Professor Juliet Hermes, Dr Lara Atkinson, Ms Tamaryn Morris and Ms Nicole Du Plessis for offering us a place at the Egagasini Node. Not forgetting the many more people that have made this internship a most memorable and enjoyable experience and to whom we are deeply grateful.

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