Research Skills Workshop 2012

Following on from the highly successful Research Skills Workshops held in 2008 and 2010, the Grassland Society of Southern Africa together with the Grootfontein Agricultural Development Institute were proud to host the Third Research Skills Workshop from 13 to 14 March 2012 in Middelburg, Eastern Cape.

Research Skills Workshop 2012

Following on from the highly successful Research Skills Workshops held in 2008 and 2010, the Grassland Society of Southern Africa together with the Grootfontein Agricultural Development Institute were proud to host the Third Research Skills Workshop from 13 to 14 March 2012 in Middelburg, Eastern Cape.

Now available to download

List of Delegates

If permission from the presenter has been received, the title of the presentation will link to the downloadable pdf file of the presentation (last updated 26 October 2012).

Workshop Programme

  • Writing a project proposal – the academic aspect (Adrian Shrader, Lecturer, University of KwaZulu-Natal): Within academic environments, project proposals rest most fundamentally on their scientific credibility. However, project proposals, especially at undergraduate or beginner-scientist level, often suffer from irrelevant information, a lack of logical progression, and unclear objectives.
  • The research question (Tim O'Connor, Observation Science Specialist, SAEON): The research question is central to research, providing a point from which literature is reviewed and experiments are developed. This pivotal aspect of research is often not given the attention it deserves, and many research questions are later found to be essentially unanswerable, uninteresting to the scientific community, or even already answered in other research.
  • Research collaboration (Beth Forrestel, Graduate Student, Yale University): Scientists usually have specialised fields of interest and expertise. Collaboration is, therefore, a useful way to expand the scope of research projects. Despite this, collaboration is an often underused opportunity.
  • Community-based research (Bryan King, Scientific Technician, Grootfontein ADI): Attempts at involving communities in research are often met with difficulties, although community involvement is fundamentally necessary.
  • Introduction to SAEON (Yolandi Els, Co-ordinator, SAEON Arid Lands Node): SAEON is mandated to set up a national observation network aimed at providing long term reliable data for scientific research and informed decision making. Researchers/students in the realm of long term observations can benefit from- and contribute to the network.
  • Finding funding (Wayne Truter, Lecturer, University of Pretoria): Research efforts and opportunities are often limited by the availability of funds. However, considerable monetary resources are available if searched for correctly. Additionally, funds are often renewable if appropriate performance is maintained by the researcher.
  • Managing data effectively (Justin du Toit, Specialist Scientist, Grootfontein ADI): Experiment or monitoring data are often captured and stored in ways that reduce their potential, make them inaccessible, and allow them to be lost.
  • Scientific writing (Tony Palmer, Specialist Researcher, Agricultural Research Council): Peer-reviewed articles (‘papers’) are the accepted means of recording and communicating ideas and findings in science. However, the process of scientific writing, especially for beginner scientists, is an arduous one, and scathing reviews of submissions often permanently discourage promising students.
  • Ecological monitoring (Tim O'Connor, Observation Science Specialist, SAEON): Environmental change, from climate to microsite scales, is of considerable interest and importance to scientists and society. The information that can be gleaned from long-term monitoring is substantial, and has considerable trans-disciplinary value. The value of the information, however, is dependent on many aspects, observing these can mean the difference between invaluable information and useless datasets.
  • Making platform presentations (Wayne Truter, Lecturer, University of Pretoria): Platform presentations are nowadays usually dependent on PowerPoint. Despite this technology, many presentations fail to effectively convey the statement the presenter is trying to make.
  • 11 seconds – presenting a successful poster (Adrian Shrader, Lecturer, University of KwaZulu-Natal): Poster presentations are a valuable, and often the only available, way of presenting work at a congress. This results in many congresses having numerous posters, too many for an individual to read. Therefore, a poster must compete with other posters if it is to be read by the delegates.
  • Current issues in animal ethics (Vanessa Anderson, Veterinary Nurse, NSPCA Research Ethics): In biological research, animals are often necessary as a factor in an experiment, or the subject of the research itself. The way in which animals are treated (animal ethics) is an important consideration, from both ethical and legislative standpoints.
  • Reviewing (Tony Palmer, Specialist Researcher, Agricultural Research Council): The anonymous peer-review system is central to scientific research. Carefully executed reviews can substantially improve the quality of a paper, and in turn the abilities of the author. The review process can also be frightening to inexperienced authors, and the comments of reviewers need to be taken in the correct light. Reviewers who are overly interested in structure rather than content can be of disservice to authors.

Speaker Profiles

Adrian Shrader

Dr Adrian Shrader is a lecturer of Wildlife Conservation and Management at the University of KwaZulu-Natal whose main research interest is the foraging ecology of large mammals. He has taught at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and at the University of Pretoria, and has also been affiliated with the University of Illinois, Duke University, and Ben Gurion University. He has a particular interest in presenting complex scientific findings – be they in the written, poster, or oral forms – in a clear and understandable way.

Beth Forrestel

Beth Forrestel is a graduate student from Yale University, where she is conducting research on how phylogenetic and functional diversity play a role in the maintenance of biodiversity. She has a series of experiments across the world (USA, South Africa, Australia), which has led to collaboration with many different people from diverse scientific and social backgrounds. She has found that that collaborative research can be highly productive, especially when people from a range of backgrounds each offer unique skills and understanding to a common research project.

Bryan King

Bryan King is a scientific technician at the Grootfontein Agricultural Development Institute. For many years he has been involved in working with rural communities in the Eastern Cape (formerly the Ciskei and Transkei) to improve food security. His current research interests include increasing small-stock production through strategic feeding of animals when kraaled.

Justin du Toit

Justin du Toit is a Production Scientist at the Grootfontein Agricultural Development Institute. He has taught in the fields of agriculture and grassland science at the University of Fort Hare and the University of KwaZulu-Natal. His current research interests are climate/grazing effects on vegetation change in the eastern Karoo, and how this affects production agriculture.

Tim O'Connor

Prof Tim O'Connor is an Observation Science Specialist at SAEON. He was previously Professor and Head of the Department of Range and Forage Resources at the University of Natal, and is currently associated with Witwatersrand University. He has published extensively over the past three decades, mainly on plant community ecology and plant/fire/herbivore interactions.

Tony Palmer

Dr Tony Palmer leads a research group in the ARC-Animal Production Institute that focuses on using remote sensing to evaluate landscape water use. He has developed landscape analysis techniques which detect changes in natural rangeland (field survey, remote sensing, forage production modelling) and has defined new perspectives on rangeland condition assessment (e.g. using high resolution infra-red imagery). He was awarded a C2 rating by the National Research Foundation (NRF) for his research on the use of MODIS products to estimate landscape scale plant water use and net primary production.

Vanessa Anderson

Vanessa Anderson is a veterinary nurse, and worked at the Johannesburg Zoo in the zoo hospital for 4 years before moving to the NSPCA Research Ethics Unit in May 2011. She has always been an animal lover, and animal enrichment and husbandry has always interested her immensely. The zoo environment is a wonderful way to gain exposure to a variety of species of animals, and this knowledge and experience stands her in good stead in the work done by the Research Ethics Unit of the NSPCA. The use of animals in research and training has always been a thorny issue, and although the NSPCA would like to ultimately see this practice stopped, that is not going to happen overnight, so they try to ensure, via the Animal Ethics Committees that they serve on, that the “Three R’s” are used in all the facilities they deal with in order to replace, reduce and refine the use of animals.

Wayne Truter

Dr Wayne Truter is currently employed by the University of Pretoria as a senior lecturer and researcher in the Department of Plant Production and Soil Science. His field of specialization is planted pastures, forage crops and the application thereof in land reclamation. He currently manages various research projects for the Pasture Seed Industry, Water Research Commission as well as land reclamation projects for the Coal Mining Research Association of the Chamber of Mines. He also heads the Land Rehabilitation Services Unit at the Business Division of the University of Pretoria. He is responsible for the undergraduate teaching of Pasture Management to Veterinary and Agricultural students. He also presents undergraduate courses in Environmental Resource Assessment and Monitoring, Turfgrass Management, Scientific Writing and Presentation Skills. Postgraduate training is also one of his responsibilities, where he currently supervises 16 students, both MSc and PhD, in the fields of planted pastures, irrigation of pastures, land reclamation and rangeland management.

Yolandi Els

Yolandi Els is the coordinator of SAEON's Arid Lands Node where she is responsible for the implementation and coordination of a number of projects addressing global change issues in the arid regions of South Africa. Her past research experience has been focused on the ecology and restoration of semi-arid and arid environments.

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