When my supervisor, Dr Jodie Miller, suggested to me last year that we could potentially look to crowdfunding to fund my master’s project, I almost fell off my chair in hysterics. As a BSc (Hons) student, who was not even considering doing my masters at all, my passion for science and South Africa’s water resources has sky-rocketed in the last 6 months. This is apparently common amongst science postgraduate students, that become exponentially more electrified by their field of study as they realize that their work isn’t just numbers and experiments, but has significant real world applications.
Once I had committed there was no turning back. The slope into a crowdfunding campaign is steep and slippery. As much as it is dangerous and even reckless, it is fulfilling, fun and full of surprises. The biggest obstacle is one that most modern day scientists are confronted with already: How do I make my research attractive to everyone else that doesn’t have years of passion behind your work?
Well, the answer is not simple.
I have done a large variety of modules in my tertiary studies but none in any forms of multi-media marketing skills. So naturally when I had this crowdfunding campaign in front of me, I was so far out of my comfort zone that I felt like a tourist in Siberia asking for a boerewors roll. After numerous conversations with my peers, who had experiences in marketing and graphic design, I had gathered a basic understanding of the inner workings of an unfathomably enormous machine.
From the very first day I arrived back in Stellenbosch I was drowning in ideas and admin. Setting up the accounts alone was a mission. Little did I know that running a social media campaign takes days of preparation and planning each post to a tee, including the posts time, target, goal and context is it’s own demon. Each post, for each platform had to be vetted and boosted appropriately. I was genuinely missing the late nights combing through over-complicated scientific articles and pounding through textbooks.
Making the campaign video was by far the hardest but definitely the most fun. The hours and hours of footage I have of retakes and droning culminated in, what I believe, is the pinnacle of my creative career (which is minuscule).
About a week before the initial launch date we ran into some red tape within the University. Naturally as someone who has never done more than post couple rocks on Instagram, I had no idea that a project like this needed to go through a number of stages before being approved by the university which included: legal, ethics, corporate, marketing and the faculty itself. A couple panicked meetings and documents later, we were ready for lift off, although a week later than originally planned.
As a geologist, I am not afraid of hard work, so engulfing myself in learning as much as I could in the little time I had, came more naturally. What was most intimidating, was the thought of putting myself and what I am passionate about out there. Publicly declaring that what I wanted to achieve was not funded was daunting at first, but in time became a revelation in self-awareness and that asking for help can be more constructive than turning your back.
I believe that postgraduate crowdfunding may prove to be invaluable in the future of postgrad students. Not only does it allow for the financial security of your project and the skills in running this sort of campaign, but it attracts people that are interested in your field, to you and to your work. Meaning that when you graduate you already have a network of people in industry that know who you are and your potential.
As the campaign unfolds and we’ve raised R25 000 in the first two days it is all becoming worth it. Now all the hours of planning, filming and editing are paying off, but only time and the generosity of people will tell. Just being able to have the opportunity to embark on such an endeavor has been so incredible.
Lastly, the only reason the campaign is LIVE, and I’m sure will also be for it’s success, is having a steadfast and critical team behind it. My supervisor and the two honours students, that have given enormous amounts of time and energy, have been integral to the campaign’s existence.
By Jared van Rooyen, MSc Earth Science Student.