I joined ASSAR in 2015 as I was starting my PhD. At that time, I didn’t know – but quickly came to realise – there would be many opportunities to grow as a researcher. In the past three years I have attended training workshops, taken part in local, regional and international conferences, and learned a lot from my peers and senior researchers.
The skills gained through ASSAR workshops have helped me analyse data and present my research in ways I couldn’t before, with conferences giving me the chance to share my work with a broader audience. For example, I recently presented my work on vegetation responses to climate in Botswana at a global conference on geography and geoinformatics in Thailand. Similarly, last year I gave a presentation about societal perceptions of ecosystem service provision in the face of climate change at the International Conference on Energy, Environment and Climate Change in Mauritius. The presentation received so much feedback and has been accepted for publication in the International Journal for Climate Change Management and Strategies.
But conferences are about more than just presentations. For an early-career researcher these are great platforms to learn more and set the foundation for potential collaborations with junior and senior researchers with similar interests to mine.
I have come to realise that some of the challenges I face in my work can be easily overcome by learning from others who have been there before me. Likewise, I have found my experiences are useful to other early career researchers, with whom I can share knowledge gained through my involvement in capacity building initiatives.
My work has benefited from several training opportunities. The ASSAR LULC workshop in India gave me and at least 15 other junior and senior researchers from Africa and India the skills to use and analyze freely available remotely-sensed global datasets on climate and vegetation productivity. The 10-day Climate Science school at the University of Cape Town introduced me to climate portals and allowed me to understand how researchers from different fields can collaborate with climate scientists.
The UCT Climate Science training also enhanced my capacity to integrate historical and future climate and non-climate information to guide decision-making. The interactions with researchers, students and stakeholders facilitated the examination of the adaptation decision-making space under uncertainty and enabled me to appreciate various integrated approaches that can be used to develop adaptation strategies.
A course at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies introduced me to ecosystem services tools and taught me how to select and run models, and interpret and communicate their results. The Vulnerability and Risk Assessment workshop in Botswana taught a methodology for developing consensus among a wide range of stakeholders about the main hazards and issues affecting various social groups and livelihood activities from the local, district and national level. More importantly, this methodology allows stakeholders to agree on actions that can be taken to enhance social and economic wellbeing, and promote resilient development. Through this training, I became one of the facilitators during a two-day VRA training session for District Officer Development (DODs) and Economic Planners from all the 16 districts in Botswana in August 2018.
Considering the multi-disciplinarity of ASSAR, I have become adaptable to natural and social scientists. I have a background in Agricultural Economics but have slowly moved towards Ecology. Although I wouldn’t say the sailing was smooth, it has been worth the effort! I’ve now become a more well-rounded researcher who is comfortable using a combination of methods. For my poster presentation at Adaptation Futures 2018 in South Africa, for example, I used participatory methods with local communities and remotely-sensed data to get a full handle on the dynamics at play.
Each day has been an opportunity for capacity building since joining ASSAR. Each experience has contributed to who I am now and will be critical for my future engagements, especially in such multi-disciplinary projects.