#02 2020

Learning the Ndlovu way: A reflection on my internship at SAEON’s Ndlovu Node

By Tsumbedzo Ramalevha, Intern, SAEON Ndlovu Node

In terms of learning activities and general workload, the Ndlovu Node internship programme reminded me of the qualities of an elephant – large and unique.

These activities inspired me to sleep less and form an emotional connection to my work.

The programme was designed and implemented in a way that ensured long-term retention of scientific methods, best-practice workplace conduct and creative scientific communication, just some of the skills I acquired during the internship.

Below is a brief summary of the activities in which I participated and the knowledge and skills I have gained:

Forb traits database, technical skills, compilation of photo album and data collection

Adaptability, dependability, teamwork, communication, technological literacy and organisational skills, coupled with being ‘coachable’, are some of the transferable skills I acquired, honed and demonstrated during the year of my internship.

I independently developed and maintained the forb traits database and photo album, initiated self-learning of QGIS to a point where I took part in a project investigating plant-animal interaction by manually highlighting animal trails in relation to vegetation type. I also participated in several vegetation samplings and surveys as well as water sampling trips where I learned new techniques, increased my knowledge of plant identification and developed a better understanding of the intricate ways in which nature functions.

Science engagement activities

Understanding how our field of study is perceived by future scientists and the general public is important in positioning ourselves and our research going forward.

I formed part of the team engaging with learners during science camps, National Science Week 2019, the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists, and the SAEON Symposium and SAEON Kids Competition. Participating in science outreach activities was a worthwhile endeavour as I got to polish and practice my project management and presentation skills.

I also honed my science writing through writing articles for SAEON’s eNewsletter. The five articles I have written so far have all been published.

The outreach activities were important milestones in my personal growth and career in two ways. Firstly, they gave me the opportunity to evaluate the impact of my field of study on the general public and whether we are communicating our scientific findings in an understandable manner. Secondly, it gave me the opportunity to learn and understand some of the societally important issues related to my field of study and how these can be researched.


Attending and participating in conferences are some of the most productive ways of developing as a researcher as participants are encouraged to polish their science communication skills and stay abreast of new developments in their field of study and other related fields.

In September 2019, I was one of six SAEON interns selected to attend and share our experiences as interns at the Graduate Student Network Indibano held at Cape St Francis. The highlight of the Indibano was the diversity of topics in which we engaged and winning the award for the best intern presentation.

I also had the opportunity to attend the South African Association of Botanists’ 46th annual conference held at the QwaQwa campus of the University of the Free State in January 2020. The conference afforded me the opportunity to hone my presentation skills as I presented a speed talk and a poster. I also learned more about some of the trending topics in botany and knowledge gaps that need to be addressed.

Remarks from colleagues

“Tsumbedzo’s eagerness to learn new skills is characterised by enthusiasm, focus and good planning.” Rion Lerm (technician)

“He is quite lekker (pleasant) to work with and an absolutely engaged team member.” Thabo Mohlala (aquatic scientist)

He fitted in well and the kids related well to him. He is open to new ideas and shares his views willingly.” Joe Sibiya (science engagement coordinator)

Sincere appreciation goes to my mentor, Dr Dave Thompson, and the entire SAEON Ndlovu Node team for welcoming me and affording me numerous opportunities to learn, grow and develop. I’m looking forward to another fruitful year of learning the Ndlovu way.

Tsumbedzo in action during the Haenertsburg vegetation survey (left) and chemical oxygen demand analysis in water (right) under the guidance of aquatic scientist Thabo Mohlala

Tsumbedzo assists learners with vegetation sampling and their presentations during the grade 11 (left) and grade 10 (right) science camps

Tsumbedzo delivering an intern presentation (left) and accepting the award for best intern presentation (right) at the 2019 GSN Indibano

Tsumbedzo explores part of the Northern Drakensberg mountain range during the 2020 conference of the South African Association of Botanists