Tricks, Tips & Ticks: A spotlight on fieldwork
Spring has finally arrived and its brought new life to our gardens and renewed excitement to researchers and fieldworkers around the globe. Fieldwork can come in many different forms and can range across various disciplines, yet many field-related activities often entail similar preparation and processes regardless of the project’s minutiae. Although fieldwork may seem trivial to some, it can be particularly tedious and exhausting at times, so I’ve put together a few tips and tricks to help get your field season rolling along more smoothly.
Field preparation is key for any successful field study. I usually break field preparation down into three principal areas:
- field site assessment
- equipment preparation
Fieldwork logistics refers to the planning and coordination required to get your project executed properly. Many things should be considered when preparing for the field; whether you’re conducting fieldwork for your own research or for an external organization. Establishing a chain of communication, or booking travel and accommodations are examples of planning and coordination involved with fieldwork preparation. Logistics can vary depending on the type and length of the fieldwork you are doing, so the best advice I can give when it comes to your planning you project is to stay organized and to start planning early!
Assessing your field site is another very important part of the field preparation process and it goes hand-in-hand with logistics. Things to consider before visiting any field site include (but are not limited to):
- location, access and boundaries
- hazards, risks and obstructions
- landscape, land type/use
- sun exposure
- site drainage
- vegetation type
- bedrock geology
- soil type
- local weather conditions
- cell coverage
Something else to consider when you are assessing your field site, is the Environmental Health Risks of your study area. For example, if you were doing a study in the province of Nova Scotia, it would be important to know, as a member of a field team, that the province has an abundance of deer ticks. This raises the concern of Lyme disease transmission, so knowing how to protect yourself and your team is an important part of the field preparation process. Most governments, provinces, states and municipalities will have resources regarding Environmental Health Risks available on their websites for the public.
So tip #1 is to research and understand the Environmental Health Risks at a particular field site, especially if you are new to your study area.
When it comes to field preparation, whether you are collecting samples or setting up an instrument, it is very important to have some sort of equipment preparation checklist, so nothing is forgotten in your lab or office. Preparing and packing field equipment is usually fairly simple, however you may encounter some obstacles if your equipment requires power or cellular data coverage. Field sites (especially in remote locations) don’t always have access to grid power, so another solution may be required, such as setting up a generator or solar power.
So tip #2 is when preparing your field equipment, make sure to consider your site’s power availability.
ARRIVING TO THE FIELD
Arriving to the field can sometimes be overwhelming because often there is just so much to get done in one day. So, how does one know where to start? Before I begin with any sort of sampling or equipment setup, I always take out my field notebook and start documenting.
I think one of the biggest challenges of conducting fieldwork is accurate documentation. Fieldwork itself is typically fairly straightforward whether you are setting up an instrument, performing a survey or collecting samples. The tricky part is ensuring that everything gets recorded properly. Incorporating note-taking into your field routine is thus essential. Train yourself to not only record things properly, but doing so in a meaningful way; it may be tedious, but it will definitely improve the overall quality of your research.
So tip #3 is to incorporate accurate note-taking into your field routine from the start of the day! (Having a template prepared beforehand is also helpful, see image above)
Often fieldwork will involve collecting samples, so ensuring that each sample is labelled properly and accurately is another crucial part of the field-documentation process. Depending on who you are working for or with, a naming convention may already exist. Otherwise, coming up with your own naming convention before the field is always a good idea and it will give you a chance to think about how you want to name your samples.
So tip #4 is to develop a naming convention for any field sampling before you arrive to your field site.
LEAVING THE FIELD
Not many fieldworkers prepare or even thinking about what’s involved with “leaving” the field. The field preparation process is often mainly focused on logistics and coordination, and sometimes procedures related to leaving the field can be overlooked.
One thing to think about is that most fieldwork will produce some sort of waste, so ensuring that you bring a bin or a bag to collect all of your waste will help improve your environmental footprint.
So tip # 5 is that at the beginning of each field day, setup a bin or bag designated for any waste produced throughout the day.
Field days are often long and rigorous, so once you’re home (if you’re lucky enough to not have to camp) the last thing you feel like doing is more work. Any good field technician or personnel will always ensure that the field day’s notes or any relevant documentation are recorded electronically. This should happen daily in case you were to lose your field notebook or your camera were to get water damage. Personally, I like to use the app CamScanner to upload my field notes.
So tip #6 is to record/upload everything (photos, field notes, data etc…) electronically at the end of every field day.
Happy field season 2018!