#04 2022

GSN Indibano 2022: A focus on emerging infrastructures for interdisciplinary research in South Africa

By Buster Mogonong, External Communication Liaison, Graduate Student Network

The 14th Graduate Student Network (GSN) Indibano was hosted by SAEON in partnership with the Expanded Freshwater and Terrestrial Environmental Observation Network (EFTEON) in Kimberley, South Africa, in what was the first contact meeting since the Covid-19 pandemic. The theme of this year’s Indibano was “Emerging infrastructures for interdisciplinary research in South Africa”. 

The Indibano was held at Sol Plaatje University in Kimberley from 16 to 21 October. The programme offered a range of exciting activities which included presentations from SAEON staff members, the EFTEON team and postgraduate students. The Indibano also offered extracurricular activities such as game nights, a visit to the Big Hole in Kimberley and a field trip to Benfontein Nature Reserve to explore the EFTEON Kimberley Tri-Biome (KIMTRI) Landscape core site.    

Reflections on the Indibano  

The programme kicked off on Monday morning with an opening presentation by SAEON’s Managing Director, Dr Mary-Jane Bopape, in which she highlighted the wide range of projects being undertaken by research infrastructures under the auspices of SAEON. Following her address were presentations by Dr Dave Thompson of the Ndlovu Node and Dr Gregor Feig of EFTEON, who gave an overview of the research work at the SAEON nodes and the EFTEON research infrastructure respectively.

The students’ presentations on their scientific research, which took place over three days, were outstanding. Their talks centered around aquatic/marine studies on the first day, atmospheric science on the second day and terrestrial studies on the third day. In between the student presentations, delegates participated in engaging workshops on science communication, remote sensing and Python offered by science communicator Sibusiso Biyela and SAEON’s Dr Glenn Moncrieff and Dr Claire Davis-Reddy respectively.

The overall quality of the student presentations was excellent, with lively engagement between presenters and the audience that stimulated open discussion.

Visits to the Big Hole and Benfontein Nature Reserve  

After a long day of learning and student engagement on Tuesday, the delegates were awarded an opportunity to visit Kimberley’s famous tourist site, the Big Hole, which was dug when thousands of prospectors armed with nothing more than picks, shovels and hope to find diamonds descended on Kimberley and created the largest hand-dug excavation in the world.

On Thursday the Indibano hosted a dedicated terrestrial workshop by EFTEON’s Dr Kathleen Smart and Dr Gregor Feig and marine hands-on workshops by Dr Tammy Morris from the South African Weather Service (SAWS), followed by a visit to the EFTEON KIMTRI core area located at the Benfontein Nature Reserve. The field trip to the KIMTRI core site allowed for an in-situ exploration of eddy covariance instrumentation and an opportunity to find out more about some of the ongoing research in the landscape.

The week’s winners

The GSN steering committee would like to congratulate the following students for winning Best Presentation awards during the Indibano:

Mthobisi Nxumalo – Winner of the People’s Choice award and Best presentation in the category Atmospheric Science  

“The SAEON Indibano 2022 was an amazing experience filled with informative scientific engagements and experiences,” Mthobisi said. “It gave a glimpse of the high-calibre state of research being pursued by early-career scientists from different institutions of higher learning in South Africa. Winning the award for Best Presenter in the Atmospheric Science category was a huge honour, however, I believe every conference participant deserved the award and as a result, I share this award with every one of them. Many thanks to the organising team, the hosts and the presenters, and all the best to the participants in their research endeavours. I am truly humbled.”

Esethu Nkibi – Best presentation in the Marine/Aquatic category  

“The experience I gained from attending the Indibano was immeasurable and will have a great impact on my academic life. The workshops I attended at the conference were very informative. I especially enjoyed the Python workshop because of the keen passion I have for convenient biological statistics.

“Spending a week with fellow students and esteemed academics from all over the country was absolutely refreshing. I was given an opportunity to learn about the different projects fellow students are undertaking and how their findings can impact the field of aquatic ecosystems and conservation. Lastly, being named the overall best presenter in the Marine/Aquatic category was breathtaking and to this day I still pinch myself in disbelief.”

Alekzandra Szewczuk – Best presentation in the Terrestrial category  

“The Indibano created an engaging platform for students to share their exciting research, interact with and pose questions and suggestions to peers. I thoroughly enjoyed this interaction with my fellow graduates. The calibre of research presented was outstanding. The workshops were very well run and informative. I particularly enjoyed the GEE and Python coding workshops, where I learned of alternative tools to create outputs from GEE.”

Nolusindiso Ndara – Runner-up in the Terrestrial category

“The Indibano was remarkable. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to be part of it. The travelling, catering, conference programme and excursions were well-organised, considering that previously things were done virtually. The organising team was approachable, humble and always willing to help, especially Mrs Kogie Govender.

“It was also refreshing to meet and interact with other students. I found the presentations from the staff of the different SAEON nodes relevant. They made it easier for a person to identify which node they had an interest in. The GEE and Python workshops were informative, however, it would have helped if the content was divided/presented over two days instead of one and student engagement was not only focused on delivering content.

“The carbon flux workshop was of particular interest to me; I found it both informative and fascinating. For me, winning the second prize for the Terrestrial category was the highlight of the Indibano. I was happy to know that my work has a significant impact in the field and that I present it well. I would like to thank SAEON for the amazing opportunity to showcase my research, the exposure to the various SAEON nodes and networking with other students in my field from different institutions.”

Nomsa Thabethe – Winner of the fieldtrip iNaturalist challenge 

“The Indibano was a beautiful space for sharing information and learning about the wide variety of research conducted in the field of Natural Science. I enjoyed it the most when we went on site/field to make observations on biodiversity using the iNaturalist app. We took pictures of different species and shared them on the app. For me it was a new experience and I enjoyed taking pictures and sharing them on the app.

“I did not know I would be the winner of the book Photographic guide to the wildflowers of the Limpopo Province by Sylvie Kremer-Kohne. I have always admired different kinds of wildflowers when hiking with friends. For many years, I did not know the names of these flowers. I have started reading the book and find it very interesting.

“I wish to continue using the iNaturalist app. I’ll be taking pictures of the wildflowers in my village. I will share the pictures on the app including where they are found in the village. I will forever be grateful to SAEON for giving me the opportunity to be part of the 2022 Indibano.”  

Vote of thanks 

The GSN steering committee would like to express their gratitude to SAEON and EFTEON for their support in hosting this year’s Indibano. A special thanks to Sol Plaatje University for making their facilities available for the Indibano. We would also like to thank the Arid Lands Node team for their immense support, both before and during the Indibano.

We would further like to thank the node sponsors, SAEON facilitators and presenters –Sibusiso Biyela from Science Link; Paul Avenant from the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD); and Dr Tammy Morris from the South African Weather Service (SAWS). Finally, we want to thank everyone who made the Indibano so successful, and once more, congratulations to the winners of the Best Presentation awards!

Get in touch with us  

Keep your eyes open for exciting opportunities and further progress updates regarding our annual Indibano 2023. Follow us on our Twitter page @SAEON_GSN and like the SAEON GSN Facebook page.

For more information regarding the GSN activities and how to become a member, visit our website: gsn.dirisa.org


Indibano delegates visit the Big Hole in Kimberley, the largest hand-dug excavation in the world

Following a dedicated terrestrial workshop, delegates visited the EFTEON Tri-Biome Landscape core site at the Benfontein Nature Reserve

Mthobisi Nxumalo (right) won the People’s Choice Award and the award for Best Presentation in the Atmospheric Science category

Esethu Nkibi won the award for Best Presentation in the Marine/Aquatic category

Alekzandra Szewczuk receives her award for Best Presentation in the Terrestrial category from Dr Gregor Feig

Nolusindiso Ndara, the runner-up in the Terrestrial Category

Nomsa Thabethe (right) was the winner of the fieldtrip iNaturalist challenge