Friday, July 27, 2012

Field Work Tips

Preparing for field work marks a special time of year to the geologist. It heralds the upcoming field season/trip and the culmination of months or weeks of preparation. In fact, the trip itself is the least important part of field work. The work and preparation leading up is what makes a field trip go great or go horribly wrong. If you prepare carefully and meticulously for the field it has a much better chance of being successful. However, if you wait until the last minute to prepare, or fail to anticipate possible problems...well, the results will speak for themselves. I am in the midst of planning my field work for this summer. I leave in 2 days for Whitehorse, Yukon. It is a short trip this year, but that just makes it more integral that no time is wasted so everything gets done, and done right!

Clearly Charlie Brown and the gang did not prepare for this rainstorm....(Peanuts by Charles Schulz)(
I think the first tenet of field work that every geologist, biologist, oceanographer, etc. has to accept is that there is no such thing as a perfect field trip/season. Something will always go wrong! I know that this seems pessimistic, but my experience over the years is that something will always mess up. It doesn't matter if it is a large or a small thing, it will happen, and the only thing anyone can do is to try to anticipate these problems and come up with some solutions for them in advance. Of course, despite all of the planning you do something you did not account for will happen to throw a wrench in things so it is important to realize that you will be improvising solutions as the trip progresses. Things like weather or occurrences that are just out of your control, such as a closed ferry, cannot be prepared for. The only solution for acts of random deities is to just roll with the punches and take advantage of the times when things are going well. Finally, each field area is different and will present different challenges. Try and learn as much as you can about the area you are going in advance and plan based on that knowledge. 

My field area for this summer. All of my sample sites have been mapped and added into a GPS as well as all possible trails within the watershed. Hopefully this will make getting around and sampling much easier. 
The second tenet of field work is: you can only learn how to prepare by making mistakes or watching others.   It is sad, but true. We have all made mistakes in our preparations such as not accounting for something going wrong or forgetting an important piece of equipment. The only thing one can do is try not to repeat the mistake or the mistakes others make around you. We are all learning as we go so it is just faster to try and learn from each other. For example, one of my more costly mistakes was taking the lab pH electrode into the field. Lab pH electrodes are not hardy, durable items. They are precise, but they are not made to stand up to the rigours of field work. Unsurprisingly, the lab pH electrode broke. Luckily, we had planned ahead and had a back-up, but this mistake was easily preventable and we wasted a lot of money, since this item was worth over 300 dollars. I now know the difference between these pieces of equipment and will never make this mistake again! 

Oops! Notice the cracks and chips along the bottom. (Photo: Ian Clark)
So far I have spouted lots of doom and gloom and it is easy to get discouraged and adopt a bad attitude towards field work, especially when things go badly. Obviously this is the last thing you should do since the only way to solve problems is to remain clear headed and positive. This leads me to my third and final tenet of field work: have fun. Field work is fun, so enjoy it. Getting outside and going cool places in order to further scientific knowledge is a pretty rare opportunity that very few people get to experience, so don't waste it by getting depressed. The only way to be successful at field work and rise above its trials, learn from them and enjoy being out there!

Me enjoying some permafrost drilling by a retrogressive thaw slump in Fort McPherson, NWT.  (Photo: Laura Malone)
Have a safe and happy field season. I know I will!!


1 comment:

  1. well-said! it's too easy to get caught up in the "gotta get it done" mentality and forget to enjoy the great out-of-doors!