During my PhD, I have been conducting research to produce the first peatland map of the Angolan Highlands. As a young scientist, the opportunity to present this research at a conference was extremely exciting. Academic conferences provide a platform in which you can showcase your research to an expert audience, demonstrating your research techniques, results, and conclusions. Conferences are also an opportunity to network with fellow researchers and engage in scientific conversation.
The Society of South African Geographers (SSAG) and Southern African Association of Geomorphologists (SAAG) are professional bodies who specialise in conducting research in both geography and geomorphology within the Southern African context. A joint online conference was held online from the 6th to the 8th of September 2021. My supervisor, Professor Jennifer Fitchett had encouraged me, along with many of her other students, to present my research at the conference.
It was my first time attending a conference, let alone presenting at one. I was scheduled to present results from the research I had conducted. I was due to present on Tuesday the 7th, the Monday was a completely brand-new experience for me. Through my inexperience of having attended conferences, I expected that the conference would simply be filled with many presentations just as my own.
To my delight, the conference was in fact a lot more than just presentation after presentation of research projects and publications. For example, a panel of academics and professionals spoke about their experiences during the pandemic, which gave me a sense of awe. I distinctly remember thinking to myself, ‘I am not alone. The troubles that I have endured, had been endured by many others as well’. Although sad to hear about people struggling during troubled times, their words provided immense comfort to me.
After learning an incredible amount from the first day, I took away some distinct lessons from those that had already presented. The most captivating presentations were by those who were able to convey the message of their research through a compelling story. These storytellers, to no surprise, were usually those with incredible research experience. I truly admired the way in which they simplified complex research into well rounded and comprehensive stories, creating genuine interest and intrigue in me. I also learned that keeping to time is of critical importance in the conference as facilitators place time caps on individual speakers. We had a total of ten minutes to present, with five minutes for questions.
Tuesday came as quick as a flash, and before I knew it, I was called to start my presentation. I was well prepared; I had my presentation ready to go and I wanted to start off on a good note. First impressions last forever, even online ones. My presentation was entitled: Towards a peatland inventory for the Angolan Highlands using Google Earth Engine where I presented the very first peatland map for the region.
The online audience who attended had prominent researchers who have research interests in peatlands, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing (RS). These were the main scientific disciplines and tools that I had used for this research. During my presentation, I felt that I presented well. I kept to my time limit, and I felt that the message of the research was conveyed effectively. I received positive feedback, and I was able to answer all questions adequately. It was a great success; all the hard work and practice had paid off.
The remainder of the conference was an absolute blast for me, I could finally relax and enjoy the presentations even more so now that I had finished my own. It was a breath of fresh air for us geographers who have been away from our research sites. Seeing new research, faces and ideas was much needed.
All good things must come to an end, after three academically stimulating days, the conference had ended. I am so thankful that I could participate alongside my colleagues, supervisor, and fellow researchers, some of which I had only read their work and never met. In the end, I truly felt as though I was made to feel part of the SSAG and SAAG family. I cannot wait for the next Biennial SSAG Conference at the University of Pretoria in 2022.