#05 2021

The 13th Indibano of SAEON’s Graduate Student Network goes virtual

By Amukelani Maluleke, Corianna Julie, Craig Mahlasi, Nasreen Burgher, Marlize Muller and Lindokuhle Dlamini, SAEON Graduate Student Network

Going virtual for the 13th Indibano seemed very appropriate under its theme “Communicating your observational science using 21st century tools”. 

The Indibano is an annual student conference organised by the SAEON Graduate Student Network (GSN) steering committee where students use the opportunity to congregate and share their postgraduate activities. By being organised by students, this platform is best suited to encourage active participation and widen the network of the student body. This year’s conference did exactly that!

The early morning of 6 September started with an address by SAEON’s Managing Director, Johan Pauw, who walked us through the history of SAEON and the eventual conception of the Indibano. This was followed by presentations showcasing SAEON’s extensive research, exposing students to SAEON’s ongoing long-term projects. The Indibano successfully facilitated connections between students and current scientists in a relay race that sustains long-term ecological research.

Making science accessible 

In the age of social media, Stellenbosch University’s Professor Nox Makunga provided a workshop on the role of social media in science communication, which exposed students to new and innovative ways to harness social media platforms to make science accessible.

To shed further light on access and communication, the National Research Foundation’s Deputy Chief Executive Officer: National Research Infrastructure Platform, Dr Clifford Nxomani, detailed the need for dissemination of information towards increasing the reach of science. Students then shared their scientific research, with presentations from Tamryn Hamilton, Buster Mogonong, Maletsatsi Mohapi and Thembekile Mthimunye. The presentations ranged from the reconstruction of rainfall and fire to drivers of ant diversity, all highlighting the fantastic work done by students.

The second day of the Indibano offered an engaging programme that zoomed into different layers of science. Rhodes University’s Professor Heila Lotz Sisitka spoke on co-engaged research and breaking the boundaries of research to encourage active participation across all members of society towards creating solutions. Here, Prof Heila advocated for the “landing” of science where it is most needed.

Day two student presentations from Patrick Mainaakae, Silke Brandt, Vimbai Rukuni, Naledi Nkohla and Sethu Mnqotho gave interesting insights on marine and terrestrial studies. The day culminated in an activity in breakout rooms discussing the question, “What role can universities and research institutions play in enhancing the adoption of 21st-century tools by early-career scientists/researchers?” This session brought wonderful insights from students as to how universities and research institutions can continue working together in streamlining research where tools are accessible and there is tailored support for students and their varied needs.

The third day kicked off smoothly with student presentations from Noluthando Ndlala, Madodomzi Mafanya, Mlungisi Shabalala, Amukelani Maluleke and Craig Weideman, who discussed some of their work involving remote sensing and the eddy covariance measuring technique. It is these high-end research tools that drive 21st-century research and shape our understanding of ecosystem processes at varying scales.

An intensive workshop on Google Earth Engine followed. Dr Glenn Moncrieff from SAEON’s Fynbos Node shared the process of finding datasets to analyse earth phenomena using freely available platforms to aid open access research – a workshop that got students excited about how they can apply this to their studies!

All things data 

Day four of the Indibano was all things data. SAEON’s uLwazi Node team ran a suite of workshops and gave presentations on the data life cycle, the exciting SAEON open data platform in development, highlighting the value and meaning of scientific data for society by taking data from the research domain into the policy arena. The extensive work SAEON continues to do gives confidence to students that long-term environmental research in South Africa is in safe hands.

Closing off the day was the announcement of winners by Leluma Matooane, Director of Earth Systems Science at the Department of Science and Innovation. His closing remarks reiterated the need for more consistent and supported student meetings to drive networking and communication.

The winners of this year’s Indibano Best Presentation awards were Craig Weideman in the third position, Amukelani Maluleke in the second position and Silke Brandt coming out tops! The People’s Choice Award is conferred by conference delegates that cast their vote anonymously. The 2021 winner was Amukelani Maluleke.

The event was a special one as it was the last Indibano that SAEON’s Managing Director and founder of the GSN, Johan Pauw, attended before retiring. We hope that Johan will continue to contribute to future Indibanos. On behalf of the GSN we would like to convey our best wishes to Johan. We hope he enjoys his retirement!

This year’s Indibano was deemed to be a great success. Hosting a virtual Indibano presents an opportunity to deliver the experience to larger numbers of students and foster collaboration among role-players in different locations. Although not intending to replace face-to-face meetings, we look forward to hosting more virtual events in the future.

This year’s winners of the Best Presentations awards: Silke Brandt (first prize), Amukelani Maluleke (second prize) and Craig Weideman (third prize). Amukelani also won the People’s Choice Award.

SAEON data scientist Dr Glenn Moncrieff gives a workshop on Google Earth Engine

MD Johan Pauw briefed the participants on the history of SAEON and the conception of the Indibano.

The NRF’s Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Dr Clifford Nxomani, detailed the need for dissemination of information towards increasing the reach of science.