Women's Month 2021: Daniëlle Seymour

Women’s Month 2021: Daniëlle Seymour

August is Women’s Month, and this year the NRF is celebrating the Women of the NRF who are Advancing Knowledge, Transforming Lives and Inspiring a Nation. We thank all participants for sharing their stories with us and we hope that you are inspired by the amazing women who are affiliated with the NRF through their work or studies.

Ms Daniëlle Seymour is currently an NRF-funded Master’s student in Geographic Information Systems at Stellenbosch University.

This is her story…

I’ve always been drawn to nature and want to know more about it. As a child, I always showed up at school career events saying, “When I grow up, I want to become a nature conservationist”. Once I reached high school, my interest in Geography really sparked and my Grade 10 – 12 Geography teacher ignited and reinforced that interest. She was very passionate about teaching the subject and exposed learners to the different aspects of both human and physical Geography. Furthermore, growing up in Knysna, Western Cape and seeing some of the things we were taught in Geography all around me, really made my passion for the subject grow each year.

I then decided to pursue a degree in Geography and attended the University of the Western Cape where I completed a Bachelors degree majoring in Geography, Environmental Studies and Tourism. It was then that I realised I was really drawn to studying wetlands and using GIS and remote sensing to map and monitor wetland ecosystems. Upon completion of my undergraduate degree, I then applied to continue with Honours, and in 2017 I completed a BA Honours degree in Geography, majoring in Environmental Management and GIS.

Not certain about what opportunities were out there for Bachelor of Arts graduates, I then decided to take a year to gain some practical experience in the work world. I was fortunate to volunteer and further be awarded an internship with South African National Parks’s Garden Route Scientific Services. Here I really got to live out my dream and expectations of a researcher in conservation and environmental studies. After about two years, I decided to continue and expand my academic training and knowledge as an environmental graduate specialising in GIS and remote sensing. I then found a home at Stellenbosch University’s Geography Department under the supervision of Associate Professor Helen de Klerk. I am now in the final stages of my Master’s in Geographic Information Systems.

What role has the NRF played in your studies/career?

I am currently funded under the NRF Innovation, Freestanding and Scarce Skills Scholarship. This funding has really been of great help in allowing me to pursue a Master’s degree and to grow as a woman in science and technology. I do believe that, had it not been for the scholarship, it may have taken me a few more years to be able to reach my goal of completing a Master’s.

What is your research focus on/what is your area of expertise?

My current thesis focuses on testing remote sensing techniques to efficiently identify, classify, and map ecotones within a valley-bottom, fynbos-embedded wetland in the Theewaterskloof catchment. I have a special interest in wetland ecology and find using GIS and remote sensing to map and monitor wetland ecosystems exceptionally interesting. As part of my undergraduate training in holistic Geography, I have sound knowledge of applied Geography and GIS which I have incorporated into my research throughout both Honours and Master’s.

How can your research/work advance knowledge, transform lives and inspire a nation?

With my research, I really hope to contribute to the knowledge within the broader wetland community and also to showcase the efficacy of GIS and remote sensing. The future is technology, and I do believe that GIS and remote sensing is one of the key ways to monitor, predict and make sound decisions on the conservation and management of the environment.

What is the most enjoyable part of your work/studies?

The most enjoyable part of my studies is going out in the field to collect data. I love being out in the field swimming in restios, fynbos and other vegetation. The aftermath of collecting data and then capturing it to create useful and innovative maps for analysis brings me so much joy.

What is the funniest or most memorable thing that has happened to you during your studies/career?

The most memorable thing that has happened during my career is when I was granted the opportunity to attend a short Women in Science course at the Kruger National Park as part of my internship with Garden Route Scientific Services. As a graduate fresh from sitting behind books all the time, this exposure was really the highlight of my career and made me realise that I had chosen the perfect path: to learn about, understand and share the knowledge and wonders of Nature with others.

I am an avid activist for environmental education and science communication. Here are links to an article in the SANParks Research Report 2018/2019 and a blog where I was involved with such activities with Garden Route Scientific Services.

How do you balance work and life responsibilities?

I am currently a full-time student away from home, so it is quite challenging, especially under the current circumstances of the pandemic, to balance focusing on your career and the success thereof, while also keeping in mind that life is really unpredictable at the moment. Being away from family and loved ones definitely affects your well-being as a postgraduate student.

Having a need for more women role models in STEM is something that is often talked about, as it could help young girls foster an interest in science-related careers. In your opinion, what makes someone a good role model?

I am surrounded by phenomenal women in Science, starting from high school through to university and also when I worked at SANParks. The footprint of women in science is really growing and leaving immense impressions on younger women like myself who are hoping to make valuable contributions in the STEM community. I think the crucial way to be a good role model is to constantly share your story and role as a woman in STEM, so as to encourage others that there is a place for us. You just need to work hard and continue to believe that whatever you put your mind to, you will achieve.

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