Summer is here in most parts of the world, and that means fieldwork for many junior (and senior) researchers. But journeying afar for days or weeks, though crucial for your research programme, can also mean a lot of prep work, hassle and unforeseen glitches.
How do you navigate these trips if you have children? What should you expect and prepare for if you’ll be living in close quarters with colleagues whom you may not know very well? How do you handle arduous endeavours like scaling mountains or climbing trees?
Some scientists enjoy risky fieldwork and rappel down cliffs or squeeze into tiny crevasses in search of particular flora or fauna, while palaeoclimatologists routinely slog across glaciers for ice-core samples. Everyone’s advice: know what you’re in for, get in shape before you leave — and be flexible. You should also make sure that a passion for science, not penguins, is your motivation. Meanwhile, if you’d like a close-up perspective into what it’s like to scramble around on the ice, have a look at glaciologist Matt Siegfried’s blog about what it’s like to work in one of Earth’s most remote locations.
Even if your field research doesn’t take you to the far end of the physical-risk spectrum, there are social and emotional risks to living aboard a tiny ship or in a cramped tent with colleagues for weeks. Patience, say experienced field researchers, is a virtue – as is careful logistical planning to minimise unpleasant surprises that can lead to arguments and worse.
Children can pose another kind of dilemma when it comes to fieldwork. Do you bring them? Keep them home? Who cares for them in either case? Workarounds can range from bringing your partner or parents to planning the trip well in advance and lining up childcare and grocery deliveries.
And if you want to avail yourself of decades of compiled data, specimen collections and collective knowledge, a field station is a fabulous opportunity. You’ll just need to make sure to consider the weather at the site for that time of year, book well in advance and stay open to connections.
Staying open to possibilities, too, is key to making a field-research trip really work. After all, even if you wind up a little bit off route, you might discover something completely different.